Nurturing a Bilingual Family

Nurturing a Bilingual Family

Juggling a bilingual family isn’t an easy task, even when both parents come from the same linguistic and cultural background. In the latest chapter of our Parents’ Feelings Matter, we explore the experience of a family where linguistic and cultural harmony seems to be the norm, yet the challenges they encounter while focusing on “just” two languages are far from simple.

Navigating language dynamics

Gisele and her partner are both native speakers of Brazilian Portuguese and this commonality has made the choice to speak Portuguese at home a natural one, creating a harmonious linguistic environment.

Embracing Opportunities

One of the driving factors behind multilingual parenting is the recognition of the immense opportunities that languages can offer. For Gisele, this motivation is particularly strong, although with a twist. While she greatly emphasises her child growing up proficient in Portuguese, her focus is not solely on her mother tongue. Having learned English during her schooling back home and working as an au pair in the US, Gisele’s relationship with English has been marked by both positive and negative experiences. She aims to equip her child with strong English skills to prevent him from encountering the same challenges she faced. Gisele’s determination to provide her child with the tools to navigate an English-speaking world showcases the role of parental foresight in language acquisition.

Confronting Societal Bias

family with a young toddler

Gisele’s journey has not been without its fair share of societal biases. The prevalence of English as a global lingua franca often leads to misconceptions that speaking other languages can be confusing or isolating for children. Some may perceive the exclusive use of English as a path to cultural integration. 

I think it depends on the person, someone would tell you that it's better to speak English to your child all the time, for many reasons. Maybe for your children to feel more part of the culture, you know?

Gisele has encountered these perceptions, reflecting on how others’ judgments may influence the linguistic choices parents make for their children. The internalized societal bias can be a significant challenge for parents seeking to nurture multilingualism.

Sometimes I speak English with my son when we are outside. I try to speak Portuguese all the time at home, but I think we feel bad in front of others. Maybe because of their judgment? I don't really know why we do it.

Even though Gisele’s family has a relatively simple linguistic background, it’s important to understand that societal pressures and misconceptions can still make raising bilingual children challenging for committed parents, even in seemingly uncomplicated situations.

When parents need assistance in reinforcing home language development, they can also take advantage of Mother Tongues’ resources, such as the Learning Hub or, if they live in South Dublin, attend Language Explorers, our free creative family workshops

The stories shared throughout this series of articles remind us that each linguistic journey is unique and shaped by diverse factors and that every step taken towards multilingualism contributes to a richer and more understanding society.

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