A New Year’s Plan For Parents Of Bilingual And Multilingual Children

I’ve always loved New Year’s. They bring hope and make you feel as if you could start your life all over again. From now on everything is going to be different. It’s going to be better. I’m going to change. I won’t make those idiotic mistakes ever again. I’ll be good. I’ll lose all those surplus kilograms. I’ll have more quality time with my family. I’ll eat healthier. And so on…

However, this year will be different. I’m not going to make any New Year’s resolutions. Nope. No more. Instead, I’ve made a plan. We all know what happens to most of our New Year’s resolutions. Plans are plans, though. Plans are made to be followed and make them a reality. Point by point. Or, a little bit of each point every day. 2016 has brought to me many changes and some of them helped me prepare for what will be in 2017.

My little boy is now 6 and a bit. For the last six months, with a changing regularity (read: rarely) I have been writing about his language adventure. Even though my idea from the start was to raise him bilingual and for all those years I have been doing it as a very conscious parent, only when I actually started writing about my son’s language adventure I began to truly understand what a precious gem it is to help your child speak more languages. My initial goal was simple: to introduce him to the community language at a level that would be enough for him to communicate and comprehend the language of the majority. I wanted him to be as proficient an English speaker when he starts school as his English peers.

Today, with 2017 already stroking us with its little chubby fingers of a baby-year, I know that our language journey is not going to end any time soon. One thing is that our boy, Ka, spends most of his week days at school and hears more English than Polish, so as a parent I need to be even more cautious and make sure that we’re keeping the healthy balance between his two languages. That is, Ka should be exposed to Polish as often and as much as possible to make his minority language stronger.

At the same time, we’re going to face one more challenge because this little man is keen to speak Chinese and for the last few months he’s been learning Mandarin! I’m trying to keep calm and carry on but I know that I’ll have to set certain rules and stick to them if I want my six-year-old to keep his minority language at the same level as his English and at the same time efficiently introduce the third language.

Here’s my plan for 2017, then:

#1. Read more books in the minority language

Ka is an avid reader and it would be a great sin not to use it for good cause and help him have even more reasons to use the language (other than speaking with his family). Of course, to purchase a book is not enough. I’ll be reading to him and I’ll make sure that he’s reading in our minority language, too.

#2. Watch more films in the minority language

During his allowed screen time Ka will have increasingly more options to watch films in Polish rather than in English. As a family, we’re proud not to have a TV at home and therefore we’re limited to YouTube, Netflix, and DVDs, which is both good and a bad thing. We’re pleased to be the ones who make conscious choices about what to watch and when to watch, at the same time, though, it’s easier for us to find films and programs in English because this is our majority language. I’ll need to make this special effort to find more interesting programs in Polish.

#3. Make the minority language learning fun

- Solve crossword puzzles in the minority language

- Play scrabble

- Make up rhymes

- Etc.

#4. Find the new ways to ignite the interest in the minority language culture

Once a week make a meal from the country, of which the language we are learning. For us, it’s going to be Poland and China. Well, maybe I’ll make it easier and in one option I’ll go for a Chinese take-away from our friend’s grandpa. With Poland, I shouldn’t have much problem, I suppose.

#5. Play more songs in the minority languages

During Christmas, it’s been amazing to hear Ka singing Polish carols. I felt truly blessed listening to him sing in Polish, then in English, and then beginning to sign the same tunes in Mandarin. Let’s keep going.

#6. Get my son writing more in the minority language

We will be writing more cards and emails to his grandparents. We will also start writing the Chinese characters. I’m saying “we” because it’s always easier for a child to learn with a parent’s support, isn’t it?

#7. Language learning apps

Test some new apps and choose the best ones for a further introduction of Mandarin.

#8. Find a way for Ka to learn his third language, Mandarin, from a skilled tutor

We had great hopes about this Chinese school we had found in the nearby town but this proved to be both a great disappointment and a great lesson. In short, not every native speaker can teach you a language and besides the language skills, they need to have even the basic knowledge about how to teach, especially when it comes to teaching young children.

#9. Find a way to interact in the new language

We’ve heard of only two people in our neighbourhood who speak Mandarin, both of them being elderly adults; other Mandarin speakers live at least half an hour drive away, so it won’t be easy. I’ll need to find a way, then. I’ll keep you updated.

#10. Never give up

I won’t give up when it comes to introducing the third language to my son. With our first minority language, Polish, there is no doubt. This is my mother tongue and I see no option other than my son speaking both our community language and the language that both his dad and I, and the rest of our families speak as a first language.

With Mandarin, though, it’s different and much more difficult. What makes me feel stronger is that from the start this has been my son’s idea to learn Mandarin and he is truly keen to continue learning. Besides, Mandarin is a language of the future, I have no doubt about it. Until recently, I was happy that I could offer my son the gift of bilingualism. Now, I would love to add this one more language. Just to whisper: no, Ka, my little boy, in the near future we won’t be adding Japanese or Latin, even though I know you really want me to. Let’s stick to Mandarin and do our best to make it a reality.

Happy New Year! May all our plans become true. Lots of strength, patience, understanding, and goodwill to all of us!

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