Raising Bilingual Kids

My son was born in RussiaImage, and, certainly, Russian was his first and, literally, his mother language. His grandmother, babysitter and all the country around him, and I spoke Russian.  But he also spoke English with his Dad.  We didn’t have any battles back then. He was simply bilingual, and it didn’t bother him at all.  Quite the opposite, he was proud of that. Once, I remember we had a transfer in the Paris Airport and we were waiting to check in.  He was around 4 years old, jumping between us and talking freely Russian to me and at the same time in English to my husband.  He charmed two Ukrainian ladies who were sitting nearby.  They asked him impressively:  Is it English and Russian you speak?!  How do you do that? He said, immediately looking sad: “Well, what else to do? My dad speaks bad Russian and good English (I smiled because I completely agreed with that statement), and my mom,”- continued my son, “speaks bad English and good Russian.” (I was kind of surprised to find out I have bad English, but what to do).

Now we have moved to the US and everything has changed…”I don’t want to go to the Russian School!!! “-I hear every Saturday morning from my son, when we start packing Russian books in the car… “Why?”-  I every time look upset and surprised. “ I thought you like Natasha (the teacher) and the kids there? “ “I do! BUT I want to be normal! It’s America, Ma! I don’t need to talk in Russian here.  I want to have weekends free like all the kids in my school.  Why should I study on Saturday?!”  This weekly battle is going on and on.

The same goes for speaking Russian at home.  I pretend I don’t understand English and answer in Russian.  “My English is bad-remember? “- I told him several times. “Speak Russian to me, please.”  It’s not too bad, – he says now,- if only you stop making that Russian accent.”  And here we are-he is talking in English again.

I know for many immigrants if not all it’s a battle you don’t want to lose. It’s hard, but you want your child to keep his bilingual skills. We all know how important it is.  Does anyone have any advice???


10 thoughts on “Raising Bilingual Kids

  1. I spoke to our Russian teacher about a similar concern with my sons. Both were born in US to Russian speaking parents. Both attended Russian pre-schools before starting school. My older one was told that a baby did not understand English- that made him speak some Russian at home. He is 12, can converse in simple Russian, can read and write at the level of 2nd grader, plays guitar and sings Russian songs. My 7 yo flatly refused to speak Russian about 2 weeks after he started K. I spoke to his teacher about my concerns, and she re-assured me that it will come back. She said that once they start school at 5, they wan to fit -in, be like everybody, don’t want to be different. This is why they abandon second language, especially in public. If we continue to converse to them in Russian, read, take lessons, there will be a poin in their life, around teenage years, when the’d want to be different. They’ll get more interested in Russian Language and culture then, especially if they have some friends with Russian heritage.. She is very experienced teacher, has American husband herself and assured me that the day will come ! I am patiently waiting and continuing my portion of the deal 🙂

    1. Hi Sveta! I hope that your Russian teacher is right. I know that even in families with two Russian-speaking parents kids often tend to reject speak Russian, but in bilingual family-it’s even harder. And yes, probably kids will tell you “Thank you” later, but it is a straggle.

  2. Мои сын тоже отказывался говорить но русски, устраивал истерики и говорил мне ,но я упорно без давления продолжала внедрять русскии .. в один прекрасныи день мои сын сказал мне .. мама говори со мнои только по- русски… я думала, что ни когда не услышу эту просьбу

    1. Поздравляю! Значит мальчик повзрослел) А во сколько лет пришло прозрение (если не секрет, конечно)?

  3. – Как вы воспитали такого умного хорошего мальчика?
    – Ложь, угрозы, шантаж.

    1. Методы воспитания-это вообще отдельный разговор. Похоже, что в этом мы расходимся с американскими педагогами с точностью до наоборот)

  4. Дети естественно не хотят быть русскими в Америке. Они хотят быть как все и говорить по- английски. Тем не менее, есть способы как без насилия и ссор все-таки сохранить русский язык у ребенка. Один из многих приемов- договориться с ребенком, что 3 раза в неделю все дома говорят только на английском, три- только на русском, а один кто как хочет. Делая это вы даете ребенку знать что его new identity is accepted by you.

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