For most Americans, this is not even a question to consider. English is the language spoken in this country so likewise it would be the language spoken to a child at home. But for immigrants and children of immigrants or those who marry into a different culture from their own, the answer to this question is a bit more complicated.
Before I even met my husband, I knew I wanted to speak to my future children primarily in Polish. The fact that I happen to end up marrying a fellow Pole who felt the same way as me really is just pure luck ; ) The benefits of growing up bilingual are well documented and I figured it certainly couldn’t hurt so why not give it a go? Experts agree that for maximum benefits starting early is recommended, so we chose to incorporate this into our lives from the get-go. We speak to our daughter in Polish but of course she is exposed to English as well simply through our day-to-day lives, so essentially she is around both languages. This article has some great information about the six research-based models that can cultivate bilingual and multilingual children.
On a more personal level, I couldn’t imagine visiting Poland with my children and them being unable to speak the language. It was important to me that my children be raised in a home with an emphasis on their heritage and language is a huge component of this. Speaking to our daughter in Polish feels completely natural and is what works for us.
But I realize it’s not always so simple and I’m aware that my situation certainly makes speaking in Polish to our daughter pretty easy. We are surrounded by a Polish community and speak the language very often so it was a natural extension of our daily lives. The one part we did have to get used to was speaking to one another in Polish! As most people who were raised in the States, English is definitely easier for us but we both want to maintain a certain level of Polish fluency, not just for our daughter but also for ourselves, so we motivate ourselves to speak in Polish to one another. It’s been a little bit of an adjustment, but it’s slowly starting to feel like the new normal : )
I realize that every family is different and what’s right for one family, isn’t right for another. Among my own friend/family group, there are a wide variety of situations. I have family members who are raising trilingual children, (each parent speaks to the children in their primary language and they’re also learning English in school.) I have bilingual friends who married individuals that were raised speaking in one language but have decided to raise their children in a bilingual household. I also have friends that have decided to simply do what feels most natural and to them it’s speaking to their child in English even though they are both bilingual. There really is no wrong or right way, simply a way that feels best to you and your family.
How about you? Are you raising your children in a bilingual household? Why or why not? I’d love to hear!