Bilingual Parenting Isn’t Just About Language

bilingual parenting bicultural family

Bilingual Parenting Isn’t Just About Language

So many times I’ve been asked, “Why is raising bilingual kids so important?”  Since the language of study is Spanish in our home, it’s usually framed with a series of assumptions.

Comments like, “You’re daughter’s half American, you know.  Don’t you want her to learn English?”

“Ok…” I reply, “…you know we’re teaching her both right?  She’s going to be BI-lingual. That’s different than monolingual.”

So the strange thing is…teaching your child a second language in the U.S. can erupt into all kinds of debates about politics, patriotism and everything in between.

That’s why I believe that bilingual parenting is about more than just teaching your children a language.  In addition to being intertwined with culture and specific daily events, language also has a context in the lives of bilingual children that makes being bilingual a very unique experience.

Bilingual learners realize that there are certain places or times when their second language may not be accepted.  They realize that a language may be connected to certain expectations about who they are, how much money they make or where they were born.

On the other hand, they also become aware of all the benefits of bilingualism.  It can connect them to their heritage, provide them with an edge ahead of the competition in both education and career, and even help them to relate to multiculturals and multilinguals from a variety of backgrounds much more easily than monolinguals might.

I think it scared my family a lot the first two years because they feared that Lily wouldn’t be able to communicate with them, but as time went on, they quickly realized that this wasn’t the case…that bilinguals can communicate in two languages.

The fact that there are so many who don’t understand that ‘bilingual’ means speaking two languages though, often makes me wonder…what exactly are Americans being taught about bilingualism and biculturalism?

If it’s anything like the mixed-race discussions happening around the country, the consensus seems to be that you can’t have both.  Multiracials are often pressured to “pick one” or identify more one way than another.  Sometimes individuals have a stronger pull one way than another, but what about those who truly do feel like they have a dual identity?

These are the types of discussions that parents of bilingual children navigate, which makes it a very unique experience for both the parents and children.

How about you?  What are some things that make bilinguals and multilingualS unique?  In what ways do you parent differently than those who don’t take on a second language?

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South Texas Foodie, Traveler, Photographer, and Designer.