“Speaking Valencian is a waste of time.”
Just in case you hadn’t added it to your calendar, today is International Mother Language Day.
It’s promoted by UNESCO which “encourages and promotes multilingual education based on mother tongue or first language. It is a type of education that begins in the language that the learner masters most and then gradually introduces other languages.”
The education system is out of the hands of parents, and it’s unusual to find educational authorities that provide tuition in a student’s native language to bridge the gap between school and home. Despite Trumps “English only” rhetoric, California does provide a program for Spanish speaking immigrant children.
If you are a parent that speaks a language that is not spoken in your country of residence, you have to make a decision to pass on your language to your children. Rather than seeing it as a “foreign language”, it’s more useful to describe it as your “heritage language” as it carries with it your identity and culture, and that is what is so valuable about raising your children in your native language.
I remember visiting a family in Castellón (Valencia) in which both parents spoke Valencian as their mother tongue. The surprising part was that neither parent spoke the language to their children, and in fact added that they didn’t because it was “a waste of time.” Despite enjoying each other’s company up to that point, both my expression of disappointment and the consequent ‘heated discussion’ meant that we never spoke to each other ever again.
I can’t think of many situations in which knowing another language is a disadvantage, and there are so many cognitive benefits to being bilingual or multilingual that it should be a no-brainer.
In the Guardian today, the journalist Samir Mir laments, “My children don’t speak my mother tongue (Urdu) – as a second-generation migrant, it fills me with sadness.” She then goes on to give a rationalisation about how it didn’t happen. Now her 9-year-old son says he wants to learn it to speak to his grandparents. I’ve interviewed many children who feel resentment about not being bilingual.
Many people who are not in these situations are often puzzled why the children of foreign families don’t speak their foreign parent’s or parents’ language. There are many reasons or excuses behind that, including “It’s a waste of time” (prejudice), “It’s not good to mix languages”(ignorance), “I tried but it didn’t work.”(discipline) and the one nobody admits to or says out loud, “I wanted to feel more like a local person and only speak that language at home (assimilation).” The main reason is that parents just spend enough time speaking their heritage language to their children.
If you see your mother tongue as an educational benefit and a heritage language, the decision is much easier, and with will-power and the right strategies the chances of success are practically 100%. I’ve brought up my son to be a perfect English-speaker, and based on my experience, and extensive studies and interviews with bilingual parents, I’ve created a set of simple to follow principles and strategies that you can find in my book entitled THE 5 KEY STRATEGIES OF SUCCESSFUL BILINGUAL FAMILIES (available in Spanish. as Las 5 Estrategias Clave para Criar a un Niño Bilingüe). Both available on Amazon in ebook and paperback.
If you’re in this situation, and are not sure how to do it, I recommend reading the book that has helped so many parents like you.
If you want to find out more, you can read more articles about language learning and bilingual families right here on my website.