Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Preserving the Language of Our Grandparents

"Buono venedi! No lavoro domani!" 👨🏻

"Yes! Hurray for fini de semana!" "Ancora una giornata!"👩🏻

"Oggi una giorno di sole." 👨🏻

"Si, it is nice.  Make sure to mangi buono dolce later."👩🏻

"Si, ci vendiamo domani. Tu voluo bene."👨🏻

"Sounds good, ci vendiamo domani, love you sempre."👩🏻

Ever since my grandpa passed away one year ago, my Uncle Nick texts me in Sicilian.  This is an example of one of our conversations, with my sentences mostly being a mix of Sicilian and English.  My uncle knows my deep yearning to keep our family's language alive.  I was never fluent.  My grandparents always spoke English around me.  Now that my grandpa isn't here, I feel a desperation to hold onto every sound and syllable that his tongue once spoke so naturally.  I struggle with the vowels and the conjugations and the vocabulary.  They feels clumsy in my mouth, and I imagine the words slipping from my brain like sand through fingers, like that item on the top shelf your fingers graze against when you can't quite reach.

Me and Grandpa

As Speech-Language Pathologists, we understand better than many the frequent unfortunate demise of  family's native languages.  As people immigrate to new countries, it's only natural that they try to acclimate.  The first way how, is by learning the language.  As they begin having children, these children go to school and learn the new language quickly and fluently- often much more fluently than their parents ever will.  The children may become embarrassed by the way their parents speak, and then refuse to use their L1 (first language). Alternatively, in the past and unfortunately sometimes in the present, doctors or other professionals recommended parents stop speaking their L1 to children to avoid "language confusion" or a language delay.  This myth now has been proven false by many, many research studies.  It is our responsibility as professionals, to educate these families on the facts and on the importance of maintaining their culture through their language. 

Here are five ideas for helping your children become bilingual, if you yourself are.

1. Split up the language. Have yourself speak only one language to the child at all times, and have your partner speak only the second language to the child.  Make sure that the language you are assigned is one that you have native-like proficiency in!

2. If you do not have a partner to split the bilingual responsibility with, no problem.  Divvy up the languages by day.  Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays get one language, and Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays get the other language.  This way, children hear full day vocabulary, rather than speaking one language every morning and a second language every night.  If you do this, they may only learn how to say "breakfast" in one language 😂

3. Make sure to read your child books in both languages that you hope they become bilingual in! Books are known to have much more extensive vocabulary than we typically speak in day-to-day life.  It will also expose your child to written words in both languages.

4. Do your parents have more fluency in a language than you do? Insist that they speak only this language to your children at all times! Don't be flexible about it.  I so wish that my grandparents had only spoken Sicilian with me, because when growing up I was at their house pretty much every other day.  I'm sure it never occurred to them, but now that you have the knowledge from reading this blog, share it with your parents.

5. If your household all speaks the same second language fluently, another option would be to speak ONLY this language at home with your child.  They will learn the country's dominant language at school and out in the community, so there is no need to worry about this.

Bonus Tip!

Do. Not. Give. Up. It is HARD and a lot of work. This is why in many families the first born child is the most fluent in the parent's native language as well as their environment's language, and the second and third born children are not.  With every child they have, parents are busier, more tired, and more overwhelmed with day-to-day responsibilities.  But please, do not quit.

One day your child will speak the same words that your grandparents once spoke to you, and your heart will flutter with happiness, pride, and nostalgia as you feel your ancestors smile down on you.

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