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Bilingual Special Challenges


From the Bilingual Family Web Site Cindy, the author, did such a great job! Respecting her copy write, we have copied the information below since it is hosted in Norway. Very useful.

These pages are and can only hope to be a brief overview, to give those who are interested in bilingualism in the family a place to start. If you want to know more, turn to the Books and Newsletters page to find good sources. The Bilingual Families mailing list, biling-fam, is a great place for parents and future parents of bilingual families to ask for help and advice on the matter, or just to share your troubles and joys with people in a similar situation. If you'd like to know more, there's more information back on the main page.


Monolingual Relatives: Monolingual relatives can be a great joy to bilingual families, especially if they speak the minority (non-community) language. They then give the child(ren) an extra reason to learn that language. But long visits by monolingual relatives may temporarily disrupt the language pattern a family uses at home. The visit will proceed more easily if everyone knows this and is prepared for it.

Learning to Read and Write: Bilingual parents often want their children to be able to read and write, not just speak, both languages. Since the children will generally only learn one language in school, the parents have to find ways to teach the other. If the languages use the same alphabet, the child may actually transfer reading and writing skills from one language to the other - though they may need help with phonics (relating sounds to written letters) and spelling! If the languages use different writing systems, parents might consider special evening or weekend classes if they are available, or self-teaching resources from the home country if this is practical.

Family Resistance: Well-meaning relatives may be uncomfortable with the whole idea of bilingualism, and believe it will do the child more harm than good. This is especially true if they can't see any "practical" benefits from knowing those two languages - it won't help the child get a job, for instance. The best answer to this concern is probably gentle education. Point out the benefits you see for the child (being able to speak to certain relatives, for instance), introduce them to bilingual families you know, or encourage them to read books you have found useful.

"Authorities": Much the same is true of "authorities" in the child's life, for instance the doctor, as it is for relatives. They honestly want to be helpful, but the advice they are giving is unsupportive. Again, the best answer is probably gentle education, but the simplest answer may simply be to ignore them! Remember that no matter how much the pediatrician, for instance, may know about your child's sniffles and scratches, he or she is not an expert on language.

A useful method for brushing off unwanted advice has been brought up frequently in the Usenet newsgroup misc.kids. Just listen politely (or give the impression you are doing that!), nod seriously, and say "Thank you for the advice, I'll be sure to think about that!" Then take the advice you think is sensible and useful, and forget the rest. This works with relatives, in-laws, nosy neighbors, and most medical personell. I recommend it!


Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998 by Cindy Kandolf. The copyrights of individual contributions are held by the respective authors of those contributions. Use and copying of this information are permitted, as long as (1) no fees or compensation are charged for use, copies or access to this information, and (2) this copyright notice is included intact.


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