Parent to Parent: Raising Bilingual Children is About Much More Than Bilingualism

by multilingualmania on September 12, 2011

in Raising Bilingual Children

Our first interview to kick off the Parent to Parent interview series is with Deonne Knill, a mother of a second grader who is in a Spanish immersion program. Deonne is also a school board member of Arco Iris Spanish Immersion School.

devlin_deonneTell us a little bit about yourself and your family.
I am a mother to a 7 year old son who just started 2nd grade in a one-way Spanish immersion program. I grew up in rural Montana, went to engineering school in Indiana, and work part-time for an engineering firm in Portland, Oregon. I’ve been married 13 years. Our family loves the beach. I love to cook, read, run, and do what I can to be outside as often as possible.

Are you monolingual? Multilingual?
Neither my husband or I speak a second language. Not unless you count Pig Latin. I took German in high school and college, and like most people who don’t begin to study a language until their teens, I have forgotten most of what I learned.

In which way are you raising bilingual children?
Our son just started his second year in a Spanish Immersion charter (public) school in Beaverton, Oregon. This year he also attended a Spanish summer camp.

Why is it important to you that you raise your children to be bilingual?

Our world is becoming more global with each passing year. We think it is important for children to learn about other cultures, including mastering other languages, to prepare for adulthood. Learning a second language early in life will help our son learn other languages, if he so desires, down the road. We think that being proficient in a second language, not just speaking, but also reading and writing, is just keeping up with other countries around the world. The U.S is an anomaly, building a society on a single language, while most other countries citizens speak multiple languages.

Why is bilingualism important to you?
It’s not just bilingualism, but multi-culturalism. The study of a language helps develop an understanding and appreciation of other cultures and celebrations. To me, raising our child with an open mind and appreciation of others is critical to our future.

What challenges have you faced as a parent who is raising bilingual children?

Well a year into this journey, we’ve really just begun. The first few weeks it was fatigue, and all the things that go along with a kid being tired. We moved his bedtime earlier by 30 minutes and added extra protein to his breakfast. That sure helped! Once he was settled into the school routine, there were challenges with expectations (my part). I wanted him to want to read books and watch videos in Spanish. He flatly refused to do these things at home. Realizing that all things come with time, and that I needed to be patient, was important. Now he’ll read books in Spanish, but he still refuses to play computer games or watch movies in Spanish at home. I know that this will change, and it will happen when he’s ready. Until then, I’m just happy he’s loving school.

What have been your greatest successes or celebrations in raising bilingual children?
Watching him interact with his teachers, follow instructions given in Spanish, and answering questions in Spanish. As a parent, I don’t get to see his language development like his teachers do. So to quietly witness him developing his confidence and actively participating with his budding second language warms my heart.

What tips or suggestions do you have for other parents who are raising bilingual children or would like to raise bilingual children in the future?
Have patience! Toddlers don’t speak much because they can’t, but they DO understand most of what is said to them. It’s the same for our kids learning a second language. The speech part develops last. Students in bilingual immersion programs have a steep learning curve, they are processing loads of information, and they really do understand the basics in the classroom quite quickly. It can be overwhelming for them as they adjust, so parents need to give lots of gentle encouragement. Celebrate the little things. And don’t put pressure on them to perform at home. Students in bilingual programs need time to adjust and their time at home should be more relaxed. They’ll speak and practice their new language when they are ready. It will likely take months before they are willing to share with you. I have seen some parents be very disappointed the first week of school that their child isn’t speaking Spanish right away! It takes years for these skills to develop, just like it did for us when we learned to speak.

You can read more about Deonne’s experiences with raising a bilingual child on her blog United by Language. Deonne also blogs on the Arco Iris School blog for her son’s Spanish immersion school.

Parent to Parent is a weekly interview series that features parents who are raising bilingual children. If you would like to participate in the interview series and share your experiences with other parents, please contact us at multilingualmania(at)yahoo(dot)com.

More Parent to Parent Interviews:
Multilingualism Fosters Greater Acceptance and Understanding of Other Cultures
The Brain Changes When Exposed to Another Language

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah @ Baby Bilingual October 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Thanks for sharing this story! I hear about more and more monolingual American parents who are finding ways to help their children learn another language–this makes me hopeful for the future. I’ll look forward to reading your blog and hearing more about your son’s experiences.

Christine Jernigan November 25, 2011 at 10:47 am

I LOVE the openness and sincerity I see on this site. It’s good to see that you view language as a way of life, not just how we speak. You might enjoy some videos I made for parents teaching their children a language they’ve learned later in life. Such an amazing lifelong endeavor. Best of everything to you!

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