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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Say “no” to the naysayers and “yes” to your child

I’ve been reading about finding ways to say “yes” to your child. Yes, you can swing for 2 hours. Yes, you can help me cook. Yes, you can paint on the floor. Yes, yes, yes. If I’m not too tired, I try to find ways to say “yes”, even though it sometimes means more work for me. Now, of course, as I’m getting more and more pregnant, saying “yes” can be difficult, but I’m doing my best.

There is another way of saying “yes” to your children, especially if they’re bilingual. I have recently joined a Facebook group for Polish parents raising multilingual children. In it, I shared my story and complained how Polish is not a priority language in the Netherlands and how difficult it is to raise children with Polish because of all the silly comments and stereotypes.

One member gave me invaluable advice: “Then, turn your back on these naysayers, and face your child”. Meaning: “ignore them and do whatever you find best for your child”. I think this applies to all parents, who have to take all kind of well-meant advice from strangers. Parents of multilingual children often hear that they’re confusing their children, and that their children’s level of the majority language is just not enough.

But we know that we are doing the right thing by speaking our mother tongues with our children. We are doing the right thing by prioritizing our languages. This is also a way of saying “yes” to your child. “Yes, I want you to speak my language”. “Yes, I want you to communicate with your grandparents in their language”.

Saying “yes” to your children also means doing what’s right and beneficial for them. And, in case of multilingualism, we know that it’s good for our children. Studies prove it. Successful stories of multilingualism prove it. In short, multilingualism is good for the brain, for the child’s future, for the parent-child relationship- if you decide to pursue it, and have the resources to do it.

It also means saying “no” to the doctor who says that your child doesn’t speak enough of the majority language. It means saying “no” to the family members who are unsupportive and worry that your child won’t speak any language well. It means saying “no” to “kind” strangers who comment that you shouldn’t speak your language with your child.

It means saying: “yes” to doing your thing- raising multilingual children. 

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  1. Thanks Olga Thanks ! Thanks :)
    Saying YES to your child is sooo easy! At the beginning can be a bit strange for some parents but then you can see your child growing. Growing with you. Priceless. If you don't feel absolutely happy saying NO to "kind" strangers my advise is ... do practise :)

    1. You're very welcome! Oh well I've been saying "yes" to my children for a while- in both ways I describe in this article, but actually only now have I realized how hard it is, when you always hear things you know not to be true. The problem is that it's not always strangers who say these things and this hurts a lot... but you are right, I'm getting better at doing my thing, and they're seeing the results- and they are positive ones. Thanks for the inspiration, Krzysztof!

    2. And who, may I ask, besides strangers, insists/suggests you should speak Dutch (Dutch is it?) while in Holland? Family members? Friends? Are they Polish? As you said, it all comes down to what you see fit for your child. You're the parent and you decide what's best for your kid--as you rightly noted in your post. On another note, I just can't imagine having a stranger (no matter how kind) lean over my shoulder and say "M'am, don't you think you should speak--in my case--English with your child?" Not in the United States. You may get sound or not-so-sound language advice from a school counselor, but a total stranger would not walk up to you and offer his (her) advice. I think it would drive me nuts! ;-)

    3. Oh well, I wrote a whole blog post about how my children were not allowed to speak Polish at daycare. A friend of mine was told not to speak her language with her child...As for family, if the grandparents are not bilingual themselves, they may not always understand why ALL languages are important for multilingual children rather than just one (theirs). This is why comments by family are not always helpful, because they usually focus on just one language, or say ignorant things. I also wrote a post on all the stupid comment I got and some of them were said by family. I know many other families that are in the same situation. It seems that when you're a parent, you're subjected to scrutiny and somehow it supposedly justifies strangers coming up to you and telling you how you should raise your children- and that happens to multilingual families due to stereotypes and false impressions of the country. Of course, I do what I need to do, but I would prefer to to have to listen to all these comments.

    4. Besides, you can read these posts here: http://www.incultureparent.com/2012/09/10-things-not-to-say-to-parents-of-multilingual-children/ (that's the one with the comments), and here: http://www.europeanmama.eu/2012/11/a-polish-child-and-dutch-teacher-walk.html (here's the one where I got really mad about a teacher's comment)

    5. Gosh... Still can't believe it. The Dutch I've met were not bilingual but spoke some German or English and were much more open-minded...

    6. I know, unbelievable! But, to tell the truth, I don't know if I just got lucky, or speak fluent Dutch, but this was just this once. Other comments I were rather positive. I do know, however, of other people who had even worse things said to them... Ridiculous.

  2. really strange...
    here in the uk children are encouraged to speak their own language
    teachers themselves advise it
    no one really minds everyone i met so far believes it to be beneficial for the child
    what's wrong with Netherlands?

    1. Yes, my doctor encourages me to speak Polish with the children, but she doesn't seem to know more about the topic. I guess many people are changing their minds about multilingualism and it's great! SO, I am happy for everyone who doesn't have to put up with these kinds of comment. Luckily, I also get them rather sporadically, but I know of other families who are not so lucky...

  3. I fully agree with you when you say that we should keep speaking our own languages to our children. We should prioritize the interests of our children and our family. At the same time, I know there are countries where it's not polite to speak a foreign language in front of people who can't understand it. If we can just ignore stranger's complaints, it's much more difficult when it comes from a relative. It happened to me once when my husband's uncle blamed me for speaking Spanish in his house (we live in Moscow). It was both unpleasant and unexpected as I had been doing that for 10 years! Anyway, I think that instead of feeling offended, we should focus on thinking how to deal with this kind of situation (translate to others, teach them some words in our language, explain why it's so important to us to speak the minority language, ... any other ideas?)

    1. Hi, Spanish4 kids, thanks for stopping by, great to have you here! Yes, it is important to speak our own languages to the children. And it is so much worse when comments come from family members...
      There are ways of dealing with it, and each family does it differently. Many familes do switch to the majority language around strangers (for example friends of mine speak Dutch with their child- she is Russian, he id German), and it's fine- you just have to explain why you're doing it. We decided to stick to our languages, and translate for guests if necessary. Last but not least, some people think that what happens between a parent and their children is no business of strangers and just continue talking to the child in their own language, without translating. After all the children often translate by themselves... Your idea of teaching guests a few words in your language is great! I think it depdends on the family- and it requires a great deal of diplomacy- you can explain to strangers. 'We only speak... with our children but we will be happy to translate for you", and explaining to the children why we speak (whatever language we have chosen)- it's like being a mediator...


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