Long time before my first child spoke his first word, I asked myself: What language should I speak to him in public, when I am surrounded by other people who do not speak my language? Should I switch the languages and speak to my child the community language so everyone understands? There should not be any harm if I do it (right?), since I am bringing up my child trilingual anyway.
However, after giving this matter a thought, I decided to always speak the minority language to my child and this is why:
When a child surrounded by more than one language, a non-community language speakers' best strategy is to ALWAYS speak the language of his choice in order to help a child separate the languages and start speaking, (See more on this in Bilingualism and speech delay. How can you help?) and to avoid the situation when your child suddenly refuses to speak your language and starts speaking the community language.
Love. Pride. Embarrassment.
Children are very sensitive creatures. They can read what we feel just by looking at us. They might interpret your preference to speak majority language in a wrong way or they will read what you feel deeply inside and will follow your example.
This little story made me think and might make you think too:
When I was looking for an apartment to rent at a university town in the states, I went to an open house and met with a bunch of students from all over the world. We chatted and then the landlord asked us where we were from. Everyone named their home country except for one boy. He spoke with a heavy foreign accent but still said he is an American. I remember there was a long silence pause, we looked at each other and then someone asked him about his heritage. The boy repeated again: "I am an American". We just let it go. I do not know his story, he obviously did not want to share it with us. What I know is that I don't want my children feel inferior or different just because their parents came from a different country. On contrary, I want them to have pride in it and see it as an added value.
Politeness and Respect.
I respect people around me and I would like them to respect me. I am passing my mother tongue on to my children and this is important to me. When I come to a playground, I greet people I do not even know. I greet people who live on my street. I greet people who work at local stores, even if I go there once in a blue moon. I speak my mother tongue with my children outside and translate or make a brief outline of what my conversation was about to others. I explain them that I have to speak Russian, because this is the only way for me to pass on my language. Many are happy for my achievements and say: Wow! Your children are bilingual! and speak words of encouragement. Others express concerns that my kids may not integrate well or study well at school, but they stop the moment I tell them that the kids should be fine, as they already know how to read in Russian and that is a transferable skill. I do respect the people around me and I am more than happy to translate relevant parts of my conversation with kids if they are interested. I do not have language limitations, I speak the community language - Italian.
To those who need an encouragement to speak their mother tongue to their kids in public:Do not think about what other would think about you or about the country you came from. An educated person will take a hat off to you, and as for others ... why should you think about them?
If you work and there is no other language support, every minute you spend with your child speaking your mother tongue is precious. Just do it! Speak it everywhere and set yourself free from judgments!
Why do I encourage you to speak your mother tongue in public?If you consistently speak your mother tongue with your child, you have a better success rate for your child not only understand the language you speak, but to actually speak it.
Also translating back and forth is not easy. Just start early and you will get used to it and will even feel comfortable speaking to your older child and to his friend in two languages at the same time.
What is your experience and feelings about speaking non-community language to your child in public?
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