Dear Abby: “Left Out in Florida” (Sept. 2) feels it is inconsiderate of her daughter-in-law to speak only her native language (not English) with her children in front of their grandparents. You advised that the mother should speak English in this situation.
My son attends a bilingual immersion school, and I have experience with this issue. I have attended lectures about raising bilingual children.
It is extremely difficult to pass on a language other than English to kids living in America. As the children grow, they will be increasingly drawn to English. The most successful families are those who do exactly what the mom in the letter is doing. They speak only their native language with their children and are very persistent about it. This is the recommendation of the experts in the field.
What should also be happening is translation for others when necessary. Ideally, there is a level of support from family and friends who understand what a worthwhile, yet difficult, task this is. Grandparents don’t need to understand everything that is said, and their job is to speak English with the youngsters so they become truly bilingual.
Bilingualism is an incredible gift to give a child. It goes beyond just learning another language. It broadens mental development, thought patterns and world perspective. It must be done during childhood while the brain is still pliable, and continue until adulthood or the language will be lost.
These parents obviously understand the value of what they are doing. I hope the grandparents will support it.
Thank you for lending your insight. I heard from others who, like you, have firsthand knowledge on this issue:
Dear Abby: My son also married a woman from another country. She has spoken only her native tongue to my granddaughter from day one. My son speaks English to his daughter. My daughter-in-law speaks English to me.
I care for the little girl three days a week. She’s 4 and completely bilingual. I thank my lucky stars that she has this opportunity. And I’m glad for her other grandparents, who do not live in this country or speak English, but can communicate with her. I don’t worry that they’re secretly talking about me. “Left Out” should be grateful her grandkids have this huge advantage.
Dear Abby: I wish you had suggested to “Left Out” that she and her husband try to learn the language of their grandchildren. It’s not difficult to learn a few foreign conversational phrases, or even be able to carry on a coherent conversation using free or inexpensive tools available at the library or online.
Of course, in order to do that, they have to want to reach out and make the effort. Perhaps if they did, the daughter-in-law might feel a little more welcoming and less distant.
Ever since my grandkids started attending a bilingual school, I have been studying to try to keep up with them, and so have the other grandparents. Communication is a two-way street!
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.