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Social pressure is, in many cases, a reason why bilingual immigrant parents raise their children monolingual. The United States has the highest number of immigrants in the world. Yet, it is the country where the vast majority of children are still growing up monolingual – speaking English only.
Living in the United States for over 17 years, I’ve met many immigrants like myself, but also many American-born people with at least one immigrant parent. A lot of these people regret not learning their parents’ native language. Others, who have learned, are happy to have had this opportunity.
Unfortunately, many parents give up on speaking to their children in their own language because they feel a social responsibility to speak the majority language instead. These parents miss out on the opportunity to raise bilingual kids because they feel pressured to speak only in English by an American spouse, by the new American side of the family, by the pediatrician, by the teachers at daycare or school, by the other parents, by friends, etc. Social pressure hurts and we don’t want to feel hurt. Moreover, we don’t want our children to feel hurt.
Many times, when this kind of social pressure arrives in a multicultural family, the parents end up making the decision to stick with the majority language: ENGLISH. They think that by doing so, they will create a comfort zone for their children. So their children can “fit in” and grow up just like most American children: MONOLINGUAL. They can “feel the same” instead of “feeling different”.
If you are an immigrant in the United States, chances are that most of your family live abroad. Chances are that you have many friends here or back home that speak the same language as you do. So, the comfort zone you created to put your child in it and protect him or her against being “different” is not the zone you live in.
If that is the case, how fair and comfortable do you think it is for your child to grow up unable to communicate with your family abroad? How fair and comfortable it is for your child to grow up hearing mom or dad often speaking a language which he/she cannot understand?
Well, the reality is that bilingual children have some powerful health and well-being advantages that monolinguals don’t! That’s because speaking a second language improves cognitive skills such as problem-solving, multitasking and decision-making. Being bilingual also opens up infinite social and cultural opportunities. Have you heard about The Bilingual Advantage? Bilingualism is an amazing gift that immigrant parents should give to their children. Read this to learn why.
A child of a bilingual immigrant parent (or parents) who was not brought up to speak his or her heritage language will miss all the benefits that bilingualism can bring to life and, even worse than that, this child will lose a part of his or her identity. Our identities are formed by all the things we learn and experience. Our family, our friends, our relationships, the books we read, the places we travel to and, especially, the languages we speak. All these experiences and the feelings associated with them come together to make of us who we are.
It’s very hard to hear that you are making a mistake in the way you are raising your own children. I’m a mom, so I know that. But, think about all the advantages and benefits that a heritage language can bring to your kids… If you are a bilingual immigrant parent raising monolingual children, maybe it’s time to reconsider the reasons behind your choice. Your children deserve the gift of bilingualism.
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