When I first decided to teach my son Chinese (and later Arabic), I was terrified, to say the least. I had more questions than I could handle and the thought of trying to find language resources for him kept me up all night.
If you’re starting on a language learning journey with your child or picking up a new language yourself, this can be an equally exciting and nerve-wracking time! Maybe you had the same worries or questions that I had, and perhaps, in this blog, I can shed some light on what I did to get over the language anxiety hump.
Where do I even start?
First things first…you have to pick a language. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer with this. I chose Chinese and Arabic from the list of critical languages because I felt they would give my son more of a competitive edge than Spanish or French. But, that was my decision. I come from generations of English-speakers, so there wasn’t a family heritage I had to consider. Perhaps you have grandparents or parents that speak another language, and in this case maybe choosing that language makes the most sense. Or, maybe you live in a community of Spanish or Italian-speakers and choosing those languages will be easy for your child to get exposure to the language. Whatever language you choose, be sure it is one that you think you can stick with long-term and one that you can find resources for.
What if I don’t know the language?
Chances are if you’re learning another language then you won’t know it when you start, right? Chinese sounds like a cool language choice, but I was extremely intimidated at first. The characters, though very beautiful, didn’t carry any meaning to me and my English programmed mind. So, yes, I did have days where I doubted if what I was doing would work or if I was making the right decision for my son. I have friends that took an easier route and chose Spanish for their child – and that’s ok! They felt it was easier for them to personally understand and to learn themselves, if needed. Over the past four years, I have learned with my son (as much as I could), but there are a lot of times now that I have no clue what he is saying or what his teacher may say to him for that matter – and that’s okay too!
What if my child is “the only one”?
My son is biracial, and I did struggle with how I would talk to him about his mixed heritage. So throwing Chinese and then Arabic into the mix did worry me about his sense of self. Would he be confused? Would other kids make him feel different somehow? My son attends a Chinese immersion school, and he is the only non-Asian child. He understands and sees that he looks different than the other kids, but his school is welcoming, and he learns, plays, gets frustrated and succeeds just like any other child. For me, I did have to adjust my mindset and be okay with being the only non-Asian, or the only non-Arabic-speaking parent at his recitals. In a world where English dominates our everyday life, it can be a bit of a culture shock to be in a setting where you do not know what is being said and are not sure how to interact with those around you. But, it is always okay to be “the only one.” My son’s teacher loves teaching him so much that she is reserving other spots in her program for non-native speakers like my son. By me being willing to be the only one, my son and I are paving the way for other kids, maybe even yours, to join in on the language learning fun!
What if it’s too hard?
Learning another language isn’t easy, especially if you choose a hard one like I did. But, guess what? There are so many resources and cool things you can do to teach your child the target language! You may need to be creative and be willing to step outside of your comfort zone (a lot!), but you can do it!
When I decided to teach my son Chinese, I remember questioning and doubting if I could do it. But, fast forward to today, and when I see him reading his Chinese homework like it is the easiest thing ever, it makes me so proud of him and my ability to keep pushing through. If I, a monolingual mom on a budget can get my son the Chinese and Arabic exposure he needs to build fluency, then you can do it too!
What other questions or concerns are keeping you from teaching your child a second language? I’m sure I’ve had many of the same questions, and I’m always here to help you through them. Let my story be an example that the sky is the limit and learning any language is possible!