Your child is learning a second language. It’s exciting. It’s engaging. And, it’s isolating. Isolating?
While being bilingual is certainly something to be proud of, your child will never be a native-speaker. They might speak well, read well and eventually become fluent in the language. But no matter how immersed your family is in your child’s second language, it isn’t part of your culture.
You know this. So what exactly is the problem?
The problem is that there are times when your child feels like the odd kid out, or is told that they don’t sound like a native speaker.
It happens when your child is the only non-Asian student in a Chinese class or when the well-meaning French tutor criticizes a not-so-natural accent.
The harder your child tries, the more they feel like an outsider. It’s completely normal to wonder, “Is this whole bilingual learning idea hurting my child’s self-esteem?”
Recognize Your Child’s Efforts
Learning a language isn’t easy. Add on the fact that your child is feeling left out, low or like they’ll never speak well enough, and you have a recipe for foreign language learning disaster. That said, you don’t have sit back and watch as your child’s self-esteem takes a dive.
Recognizing everything that your child is doing to learn this language is an easy mood lifter.
Point out the hard work, hours of study time, and devotion that your child is putting in. Keep in mind, your child may be doing much more than simply studying. Recognize the time they’re spending learning about the native country’s culture and the effort they’re putting in when it comes to total immersion. This might mean praising your child for spending the summer at a language immersion program instead of the playground and pool, or telling your little learner what a fantastic job they’re doing trying new foods from the language’s mother country.
Find the Cause
The mega-watt smile that used to cross your child’s face every time they went to a Chinese lessons is fading. Don’t jump in and assume that you know why. Ask what the problem is and find out why your child no longer seems excited to learn.
Before you ditch the idea of your child being bilingual, make sure that the problem isn’t just temporary. It’s entirely possible that your child’s dip in self-esteem or lack of interest is short-term or has an easy-to-fix cause.
If asking, “What’s wrong?” isn’t getting you an answer (or an answer that makes sense), get more specific. Start asking about the other children in class, the teacher or the material itself.
Maybe your child feels uncomfortable around the other kids in class or is the only one who doesn’t have a good buddy at language school. Offer to arrange a playdate to slowly coax your child into becoming more social.
Not only will having friends in class make learning more fun, but your child won’t feel like a non-native speaking outsider anymore.
What happens if the teacher is the problem? As much as you love the teacher (or the language program), you’ll find that there are times when there just isn’t a perfect educator-student match. The teacher might not appreciate how hard your child is working or might make your child feel like they aren’t speaking correctly (that is, when it comes to the accent of a native-speaker). Address the issue right away. Talk to the teacher, asking what both of you can do to make the learning experience better.
If you can’t reach a resolution, you can always choose to move on. Chances are there is more than one foreign language learning program available to your child. If not, hire a tutor or get creative in your quest to have a bilingual child. This might mean talking to the head of the foreign language department at the local college and asking if any students want to teach your child. Or look for help at a local cultural center/organization.
Remember, learning a second language is supposed to be an advantage, not a detriment. If your child’s studies are causing a real problem, don’t continue pushing. Take a step back, regroup, and look for a new way to keep the bilingual education going!
How has your child overcome an obstacle that’s gotten in the way of his foreign language learning? Share your story in the comments below.