What to do if a teacher tells you that your daughter’s progress at school is hampered by the use of the minority language at home? How to react if the school thinks that you are making her learning more difficult by insisting on her becoming bilingual? Hearing comments like this is worrying – you do want to give your little girl the best possible support.
Unfortunately these kinds of situations are not too uncommon, and they are particularly difficult to deal with for multilingual families. After all, teachers are professionals and as such authorities that you have been taught to listen to and whose advise you would normally take. The sad fact is that not all teachers are aware of what bilingualism entails and may even jump to conclusions about what effect it has on learning. Research has however showed that being bilingual is not a disadvantage, but actually the very opposite.
Besides the obvious advantage of being able to speak more than one language, bilingual children get a better insight into how language works (‘metalinguistic awareness’ is the technical term for this). This awareness makes it easier to learn further languages and to understand their structure. In a previous blog I wrote about how bilinguals can focus better. Bilingual children on average attain better grades than those who only speak one language. They are also more open to new concepts compared to monolingual children.
So what to do if you find yourself sitting in front of a teacher saying you should stop speaking your language? First of all, arm yourself in advance with information about bilingualism – teachers listen more intently when presented with facts. Showing that you know what you are talking about also makes it easier for them to look at the situation from a different angle. Then address the real issue: if the teacher thinks that your daughter is not making progress at an expected pace then find out from the teacher in which way your girl is not keeping up with her classmates.
Once you have had the teacher’s view on it, ask your daughter how she finds school in general, not only regarding the subjects and homework, but the teachers, other schoolchildren and so on (do not ask in front of the teacher, though). Listen carefully what she says, children do not always openly admit things they find difficult. Discuss any issues she brings up and try to find ways to help. Also make sure there are no physical issues, such as hearing loss or need for glasses.
To put it simply: Speaking more than one language is not a hindrance but a great benefit for your daughter on her way through school and the rest of her life for that matter, so be brave and stand up for your multilingual family.
May the peace and power be with you.