why many experts think families who speak multiple languages should go with the flow
Many of us not only live in diverse societies, but what anthropologist Steven Vertovec calls “super-diversified” companies. More and more people are moving and bringing their languages and cultures with them.
United Kingdom, 20% of school children are multilingual. They speak at least one other language besides English.
Parents, of course, have a lot to do to keep their children fed, safe and educated. But if you have more than one language In your familythen decisions must also be made on how to navigate this terrain.
If linguists have long paid attention to the idea of bilingual parenting, a new appreciation of linguistic and cultural complexity in super-diverse societies has seen the advent of a new approach. What experts call plurilingualism views language use as fluid and dynamic.
Previous theories on language learning at home, where multiple languages are present, have often advocated strict rules. The one-language-one-parent The policy is that each parent only speaks their native language to the child to avoid confusion. Other immigrant parents, for their part, decide to speak only their mother tongue at home, while the local language is learned at school.
Adopt a multilingual approach, on the other hand, brings some relief. This suggests that you can just go with the flow. You can mix things up, using different languages in different situations.
Celebrating linguistic diversity
We already know the importance of plurilingualism in education, both for academic success and for the well-being of multilingual pupils.
In order to understand how this translates in the hospitality field, in 2018 I conducted a study with 20 relatives who immigrated to Canada from nine Central and Eastern European countries. I found that the type of parenting that they instinctively adopted is really multilingual.
The parents I spoke to believe in the fluid and dynamic use languages in their family. Many send their children French immersion programs, where teaching takes place in both English and French. But parents accept that their children’s French skills are unlikely to match their English skills.
On a daily basis, parents and children switch from one language to another. They can start a sentence in one language and end in another. When the grandparents come from Europe, the children have to switch to the language they speak. But if a friend comes for a play date, then he opts for English.
Plurilingual parenthood involves a liberal language policy. Many parents do not believe in punishing children who speak the “wrong” language at home. Even those who were strict when children were born soon found out that their children were changing their language. And the parents are okay with that.
Finally, an important principle for plurilingual parenting is the interdependence between language and culture. Immigrant parents cross borders and also take their culture with them. Language is crucial for identity and belonging and immigrant parents regularly negotiate this issue at home.
Speaking Bulgarian in Canada connects children to their parents’ country even if they consider themselves Canadian. It is especially important for parents to keep their native language and they also communicate this importance to their children. As one Ukrainian parent said:
This is our history, this is our heritage.
Be open to language learning
You may have heard that having two languages in the family confuses children, delays their language development, and hurts academic success. These are actually myths that researchers have spent decades debunking.
On the other hand, research has also shown that there are cognitive benefits to bilingualism. However, many bilingual parenting approaches have variously warned against the too early introduction of new languages into the life of the child or the mixing of languages. Another common advice is to ensure that the child only learns with so-called native speakers to achieve a perfect accent, impeccable grammar and a rich vocabulary.
These types of self-imposed rules bring discord in family life when parents try to ‘control’ their children’s language use, but usually meet with resistance.
Plurilingualism, on the other hand, stems from a new understanding how languages are used. In particular, in the area of English language teaching, it emphasizes a more fluid approach to how students can be taught.
This school of thought values all the languages that a given student is able to use, even to varying degrees. It aims to strengthen their linguistic awareness, cultural knowledge and openness to language learning while improving their target language.
And according to previous studies of multilingual learners, in my study all the students did well academically, whether they were in English schools, bilingual French immersion schools or the International Baccalaureate. There is clearly no harm in retaining one’s original language and culture. And this flexible family language policy saves parents and children so many battles.