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How to Raise a Bilingual Child; Protecting Our Children from "Bad" Kids

Sep 25, 1995

We are an "international couple", my husband is Dutch and I am French. We communicate in English, and every 3 or 4 years we are moving from one country to the other. We are planning to have a kid and our question is, what language do we have to use?

We both want our kids to speak our mother tongue plus English. Will the kid have some problems to follow three languages? On which points should we be very careful? Today more and more people are travelling and the chances to meet someone from another country are greater. As a result, bilingualism is going to be of great concern for a lot of couples.

I am doing some research on my own, but answering these question through the Net could be a great help for couples in the same situation. (If you know anyone that is working on the same subject feel free to communicate to them my e-mail address or give me their address, or maybe you are working on these issues.) Thank you for your answer.
Nathalie van Ee

Through my work, I have formed many friendships with couples who happen to be from two different countries, and who speak different languages. In fact, one of the highlights of our soon-to-be-launched newsletter, The HeartThread Journal, will be articles from international couples about their experiences in marriage and in child-rearing.

I have a friend from Singapore, who has four children. My friend grew up speaking Cantonese, Mandarin, Malay and English. His mother (who was Chinese) taught him Cantonese and Mandarin, and his father taught him English. The Malay was from public school. I asked him about his experience growing up with multiple languages, and if there were any problems because of that.

He told me that he had absolutely no problems at all -- and in fact considered it a great boon to be able to speak more than one language. From his own experience, he said that children have a great capacity to learn multiple languages, and to keep them straight.

One method he recommended is that the father speak his language to the children, and the mother speak her language to the children. At certain times, such as meals, when the whole family is together, English could be spoken. Thus, through normal ongoing give and take with each parent in their native language, the children would have the opportunity to learn all three.

The benefits of speaking multiple languages far outweigh the difficulties. Your children will be able to communicate with all their relatives from both sides (and that's important for family relations.) They'll get a jump-start in their academics because of their fluency. Their linguistic capability will help them in their careers, and in their life. I think your future children will be very fortunate in this regard.

We live in a nice neighborhood, but there's one little boy who comes over to play all the time. Through no fault of his own, he really isn't very nice. I'm afraid that he will influence my children in a bad way. I want to be a nice neighbor, but how can I protect my children?
Worried Mother

To me, this is one of the big dilemmas of being a good neighbor. We don't want to be churlish and make our neighbors angry at us for being "stuck up" -- but at the same time, we must protect our children. One method is to chaperone your children when that little boy is at your house. At least you'll be able to see and hear what's going on.

Ultimately, you may have to refuse to allow your children to play with him. Your children's innocence is the priority. It may sound hard-nosed, but your children are not just items to be experimented with. The little boy may need help -- but it's not your children's responsibility to give it to him -- especially since your children are not old enough to take on that responsibility.

I've heard of parents who finally just moved out of the neighborhood. I hope that you don't have to do that. Good luck!

Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”

~ Deus est auctor amoris et decoris. ~

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Peter Falkenberg Brown
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