Identity shifts to embrace multilingualism

Identity shifts to embrace multilingualism

Language is a window into culture and identity which often shapes the way we perceive the world. The story we share today is an original perspective on bilingual upbringing and the choices made to pass on parents’ language(s) and culture to their children. In this chapter of our Parents’ Feelings Matter series, we share Maria’s experience, challenges and strategies to nurture a multilingual family.

Maria's Unique Path

Born in Spain, Maria’s family moved to the US shortly after. When she was 10, she moved back to Spain, finally settling in Dublin as an adult. As a result of her family’s background and geographical shifts, her childhood was a rich blend of Spanish and English. This cross-cultural experience offered Maria a unique perspective, infusing fluency in both languages and fostering a profound attachment to English.

A Tug of War: Language and Identity

While Maria’s fluency in both languages was unquestionable, her relationship with them was nuanced. English, her chosen language of connection, was a constant presence, nurtured by interactions with extended family and her education. Spanish, though native, found itself in a more complex space—utilitarian and occasionally rejected. This intricate dance between languages shaped not only Maria’s personality, but also her decision-making as a parent.

The Decision to Pass on Heritage

Maria’s journey into parenthood presented an unexpected twist. Initially inclined to raise her children solely in English, her move to Dublin—a predominantly English-speaking environment—prompted her to reconsider. She made a conscious shift to preserve her Spanish heritage, passing it on to her children. Moreover, Maria’s extended family’s expectation to pass on Spanish highlighted the significance of heritage languages in bridging family connections and cultural bonds.

It was sort of a chore at the start when my daughter was a baby and I remember I switched a lot. When she couldn't really understand, I remember saying a lot of things in English. And when she was starting to get a little more aware, I decided to make an effort. It had to be all Spanish and now I don't even think about it, it feels very natural.

Confronting Societal Biases and Myths

Maria’s narrative sheds light on popular misconceptions that often influence multilingual parenting decisions. Such as the myth that introducing multiple languages to children leads to confusion and interferes with the achievement of proficiency

There are all these myths and misconceptions. Despite my own experience, I feared them as well. They really put the fear in me at the start. People say [that children will] speak later on, they will not be as proficient as monolinguals and you're gonna have to probably put them in speech therapy, they're gonna be confused. That's a big one. [...] And I actually experience the complete opposite growing up bilingual.

Maria confronted these misbeliefs head-on, determined to provide her children with the gift of languages.

I think when they get older, I might incorporate a little bit more English, just for my sake. I’ve been keeping a little journal since I was pregnant with them to sort of document the pregnancy, their first years and things like that. It's like a diary I'm keeping for them when they're a little bit older. And I keep that in English. I think that will be maybe a bit strange for them to see me as not only a Spanish speaker but an English speaker.

Maria’s journey shows the great lengths parents go, to pass on their heritage and enrich their children’s lives. Sometimes, as in Maria’s case, it requires a conscious shift in identity, a redefinition of roles and a commitment to weaving languages into the fabric of family life. If you feel you need support in navigating the challenges of raising a bilingual child, Mother Tongues can help. You can browse our free resources online and also book a one-to-one consultation with Dr Francesca La Morgia, a national expert in children’s multilingualism.

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