When my little boy was born, we made a deliberate decision that he would not be speaking English for the first couple of years of his life. We did this because we wanted him to learn our native language. This meant, he would not start school until we felt he needed to and until he spoke.
For close to two years, we spoke to him in only our native language. Rather funny because we have a lot of friends from different cultures, which means English is the medium used to communicate, but we ensured to switch back when talking to him. Everyone around us had to be aware of this. This was not an easy task, especially living in a large city. But it sure made for some fun time.
When strangers would naturally speak to him in public or greet him in English, he would stare back with a blank face, not understanding. This meant we often had to explain that he didn’t understand English. It also meant dealing with interesting comments from other parents who thought our decision was a bad one and setting our little boy back.
Luckily we knew better. We knew that our boy would pick up English easily, especially because his world would mostly be English. We also knew wouldn’t pick up our native language as easily if we didn’t take these measures. We wanted him to know his culture, and language was one of the ways to ensure this. We also knew of the great benefits of having a bilingual child, including the ability to learn new concepts quickly, great cognitive development, amongst others.
The time did, however, come, where my baby had to start school, and because we didn’t want him to be left out on his first couple of weeks, we decided to start speaking English with him. It was also time given that we were called into an admissions interview for a school we applied for and wanted to get into since he was four months old.
It was however a tough decision, we were worried that he would lose his native language. We felt it was too soon. So we decided that only one parent would speak to him in English and the other would firmly stick to our native language. Let’s say he surprised us, in a little over a month, he was fully conversant in English, this was just before he turned 3. Just then, we felt comfortable that we were ready for school.
The biggest challenge has been keeping the native language now that he’s at school and speaking English all the time. We’ve had to start consciously asking him to speak his native tongue.
Luckily we’ve also found and used books we got from Lingua Franca to help keep the language. I love how the books use images and colour to show kids both the English and native language words. I imagine for parents who just want to teach their kids native languages, it works just as great, and even better if you are simply starting to teach your child English. Also great that they have different languages.
At the moment, we are successfully teaching animals, colours and numbers, and even words weren’t naturally speaking and teaching him.
It’s not an easy journey, but thanks to the books, we now have a bilingual three-year-old, who is thriving at school. I couldn’t be prouder.
I know it’s a challenge for most parents, especially in the city, to ensure that their kids speak their native language, but with a bit of work, it’s so doable.