How to deal with the bilingual rebellion?
Everything is going well and suddenly parents find it very challenging to maintain their child’s bilingualism. This often occurs when your child starts school. Here are a few tips to overcome this “bilingual rebellion”:
1.Don’t give up: I have had parents coming to me in distress saying things like “my child refuses to speak French to me”. This phenomenon is natural and happens a lot with a minority language, especially when the child starts school. Don’t take it personally; your child is not rejecting you they are just trying to build their own identity. They are trying to fit in with the others but speaking a different language is being different. Be strong about your own cultural heritage. If it really harms your relationship with your child maybe find a compromise that meets you both. Maybe set up a (flexible) rule such as speaking the minority language at certain times during the day, or different places in the house. I met a family that had geographical limits within their home: The living room was English, Dining room French etc… Such rules are hard to maintain on the long run but are worth trying. The key is to remain consistent and to make the experience fun.
2. Value bilingualism: A strong partnership between both parents is essential in maintaining bilingualism. This doesn’t mean both of the parents need to speak the language fluently. It just means both of you need to value the language spoken at home.
3. Encourage your child: Both of the parents need to encourage the child in his “bilingualness”. It is important to encourage your child and to understand what it means to be bilingual (see section The bilingual child below). You need to remember that although bilingualism is common, the world still sees it as an exception and if your child is in a mainstream school they will be seen as someone different because of their bilingualism. It is therefore important that they are assisted in growing up with this gift so that it is seen as a gift and not a handicap.
4. Maximise the exposure to the second language: I have found that although parents don’t need to both be fluent, it does help to understand the languages spoken to maintain bilingualism within a household. When the child interacts with Mum or Dad, if everyone understands the languages spoken, it means everyone is included in the conversation. If only one person speaks the language, make sure you interact with them as much as possible and supplement it by turning the TV/radio on, travelling to the country, talking to family members etc.
3.Find a motive: It is important that the child realises that the minority language is spoken elsewhere, not only at home. They need to see that many people speak their language, not just Mum or Dad. If children can interact and play with their language, they will understand the need to speak the minority language. Having friends over, or enrolling your child in a playgroup where the minority language is spoken will really help.