When we were in Spain recently, my parents were staying in one apartment and Max and I in another and we’d meet each night to enjoy dinner together. After one particularly lovely evening enjoying good food and chatting in French, as Max and I were strolling back to our apartment together he said something that made my heart sing.
“You know Mum, it’s kind of cool to be bilingual. I’m going to do this with my kids.”
This spoke volumes to me for a number of reasons.
When Max was little, like most kids he just wanted to fit in and be like everyone else. Me being French marked us as ‘other’ and different. When I dropped him off at nursery, he’d hiss “Don’t speak French Maman, the others will hear – talk to me in English!” Of course, I understood his childish need to fit in, and I never told him at the time the little stab of pain I felt every time it felt like he was turning a little further away from French.
Bringing up your child bilingual is hard.
It’s not something that happens without a degree of persistence,
commitment and even a little sacrifice.
Because Max has never exactly thrown himself into his French. I can say now, after years and years of persistence, that he is bilingual. He’s at ease in France. He watches French movies and TikToks. He supports the French football team (that matters a lot in our household!). But for much of the time he’s been reluctant, and French has never been a passion for him. His bilingualism is a quality he’s quietly owned but never seemed to truly embrace.
I came to accept that bilingualism might not be something that was passed down the line, should I be fortunate enough to end up with grandchildren (and maybe even great-grandchildren!) Knowing that Max could choose to spend his life in England, with English being his primary language, I told myself that I’d done the best I could – I’d given my children the key to bilingualism and it was up to them what they chose to do with it. But I can’t pretend it didn’t hurt to know that I might not be able to gabble in French to my grandkids.
So, when 15-year old Max said those words, when he told me that he wanted his children to have the gift of bilingualism, I was elated.
Elated that he saw the value in bilingualism.
Elated that he finally thought French was cool.
Elated that he finally saw that being “different” might be a great thing.
This is a message to the parents out there who have committed to guiding their child through the language learning journey. I see you!
I know that you think about how their language programme will broaden your child’s horizons, introduce them to a community of language learners, stretch them a little.
But have you ever thought to yourself “If we stick with this, one day my child will truly recognise the gift they have been given? One day they will be thankful for this powerful key, which is theirs to do with whatever they want”?
Believe me, I understand that sometimes the journey feels like a slog. Over the years we’ve had our fair share squabbles about it! But you must go into the language-learning journey with the mindset that instant gratification isn’t the name of the game here. Anyone who tells you to expect instant results is a charlatan!