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Culture Baby Blog
  • Getting to Bilingual Bliss (or at least less yelling...)
  • Monica Dreger
  • bilingual kidsraising global citizensraising kids abroadraising world citizens
Getting to Bilingual Bliss (or at least less yelling...)

The arguments in our house with my children are pretty predictable nowadays (my children are not yet teenagers when I know it gets more creative). My kids are in different age brackets and have different personalities so we have a wide range of annoyances. Daughter-clothes, boy-mess, toddler-survival...

One argument that they all have the pleasure of sharing however, is hearing their father or me yelling...SPEAK GREEK. They are raised bilingual, which means they get extra yelling from their parents (their interpretation). Our interpretation is that we are, not only providing them an essential means of communicating with their extended family, but widening their cultural horizons and even strengthening their brainpower and health ("...a multilingual brain is nimbler, quicker, better able to deal with ambiguities, resolve conflicts and even resist Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia longer." Time 7/18/13, How The Brain Benefits From Being Bilingual)

 

We live in the US now yet both my husband and I have some Greek background so we were very adamant about teaching them Greek. We started with the idea that a child's brain is a sponge and they will soak it up. Effortless. Uncomplicated.

HA! WERE WE WRONG! We never anticipated the resistance and/or indifference through this entire process. Yeah, at first, it was easy. It was easy when we had just moved to the US and we were in a little isolated cocoon, barely interacting with anyone else because we didn't know a single sole! But from the moment that we made eye contact with the first English-speaking person in the US...she knew what was up! And that's when easy switched to hard in mili-seconds! From that moment, English became the chosen language and everything else became a struggle. A feasible struggle but a long-lasting, harsh one.

 

Fast forward nine years and the older ones understand and speak perfectly. Our daughter knows how to read and write because her dad tutors her for 1 1/2 hours a week amidst the groans and the moans. We strictly only speak Greek when we are home and don't speak back or even acknowledge anything in English.  We read Greek books to them, listen to Greek music and often have gatherings with Greek friends. We go to Greece every summer so they can have the exclusivity and exposure of the language (and the sun...the food...the ocean!)

However, on any given day you can hear the words "Speak Greek" about 20 times in our house. Their first response will still be in English; they will still try to tell us a story in English because "it was told that way"; they still think, dream and wish in English. And from what I have read and asked around that is understandable and normal. They relate to the land's language and feel a great affiliation to it. And because it's normal and understandable, it's easy to let up and become more flexible with the minority language. But that's where ease and normality don't and shouldn't coincide with parenting. 

Raising your child bilingual is probably one of the best gifts you can give them for the future. But it is not without great long-term effort and time. The benefits are there - from the momentary ahhhs you will receive when they hear your little one speak the minority language at a gathering to the future job offer because they had that added advantage. Only then you will know that those million, vein-pooping, nerve-hitting  "Speak ____" were worth it. 

And you should sit back and have an extra tall glass of wine because you deserve it! 

  • Monica Dreger
  • bilingual kidsraising global citizensraising kids abroadraising world citizens

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