Bringing up children is a fantastic journey but it’s also a challenging one. More than you might imagine you’re propelled into your own childhood and have to consider what you want (or don’t want!) to pass on to your kids. For my book project Bilingual Families: Bringing Up Bilingual Children between Cultures, I talked a lot with parents about their experiences in their own multi-cultural and multi-lingual lives. One unexpected thing that came up is how much the adventure of life changes when kids arrive on the scene.
Being bilingual is not the same as having a responsibility to transmit your mother tongue and culture to your child. Especially when you realize that the first person who has to learn is yourself! When you live abroad you find out that you are no longer used to speaking your mother tongue; you have lost a lot of vocabulary on the way if you don’t speak regularly with native speakers; you remember music from the time you were living there (let’s say 20 years ago…) and don’t even think about the culture of childhood which has changed a lot since you were living in your home country…
So first of all, dear parent who wants to raise (or indeed who already raises) bilingual children, take some time to consider how you relate to your mother-tongue and home country. This is and will remain an integral part of the adventure of raising children between cultures.
Here are some extracts from my interviews on the themes of identity, nationality and culture!
Alice (French, married to a Welshman; she has lived in France, Africa and the US)
“I don’t feel as French as I perhaps should. When you leave home, you feel a stronger association with your home country. French is really my identity, but my culture is more a mixture of cultures. I travelled a lot, and I like some aspects of other cultures, British, French and some others…”
Zhang (from China, married to a Spaniard)
“Since I got here I love putting pictures of my family all over our place (when I was living in China before I hated doing that), and it feels important to me to decorate the house with traditional Chinese stuff. And of course, we have some posters from Spain.”
Milena (French-Swiss, single mother, she has lived in France and Switzerland)
“When I was young I called myself a citizen of the world – and that’s fairly true today! I have two nationalities but I don’t feel “at home” in both countries, especially after adding a third country, England, when I was twenty. When I was studying I could go without speaking French completely or only with my mother on the phone. That’s no longer possible with children. I’m really attached to the French language; it allows me to feel good emotionally. I love listing to French music, it’s sacred!”
Claire (French, married to an Irish)
“Since the children arrived, we’ve experienced a sort of refocusing of our life on our home-culture and origins. My culture is very important to me; it touches every aspect of my life. For me, being French means that I want to give that part of myself to my children.”