Thoughts on planning my (yet-to-exist) children’s linguistic futures
My life has entered baby season. My Facebook news feed is filled with pictures of toddlers dressed up for Halloween and sitting on Santa’s lap. I’ve been spending time with a close friend’s newborn, and—although I always thought it was a myth—it turns out I do have a biological clock. And it’s ticking. Oh my.
Along with thinking about all the regular questions that come with kids (will you raise a baby in a city or move to the suburbs? and what kind of school will you send your kids to? and how can you possibly afford a family in Vancouver?) something else is nagging at me: what linguistic landscape do I want to shape for my kids?
I want my kids to be multilingual. But in which languages are we going to invest our time, effort, and money? Because we have to be realistic—at some point we’ll have to pay for classes, drive them to lessons, buy books, and probably cajole them into doing their homework. Heather’s post Which Language and Why? has inspired me to think about our options.
It’s almost not even fair to the other languages to list English. It’s the dominant language of where we live and the language they will be schooled in. It’s inevitable that this will feature prominently in the landscape.
Why: It’s the other official language of Canada. If we continue to live on the west coast then it won’t make a huge difference, but if we ever move out east then it would help. And if they ever want a federal government job, then English-French bilingualism is a must. (These kids don’t even exist yet, and I’m already thinking about their careers in government!)
How: They’ll be required to learn it in school, up to a certain grade (it varies, as far as I know) and after that they could take it as an elective. They other option is to put them in French Immersion.
Why: I have a strong connection to it, and I’d like to live in China with my family at some point.
How: We’d start in the home, with books and videos and play dates with Chinese-speaking friends. There’s the option of sending them to Mandarin bilingual schools in Vancouver.
Why: This is their father’s heritage language and would allow them to connect with family in the Philippines.
How: It would have to be lessons, although I’ve had a hard time finding any information online about Tagalog lessons in Vancouver (let me know if you know of any!). This could be a perfect family learning activity, and we could get grandparents involved as well.
Why: It’s the language I grew up speaking and still speak with my family. Ukrainian played a huge role in my life growing up, and my parents made it the cornerstone of our Ukrainian-Canadian identity.
How: My own Ukrainian is decent, but certainly not good enough to explain grammatical concepts. It’s also out of touch with the Ukrainian spoken in Ukraine. So Saturday-morning language classes would be a must. We could also use it in the home and they could speak it with their grandparents.
So, four contenders, plus any other languages the kids themselves stumble across and show interest in. It’s tempting to divide them into two categories: the instrumental (Mandarin, French) and the heritage (Ukrainian, Tagalog), but that would suggest classifying them based on their “usefulness” and there’s a lot of value and “use” in connecting to one’s heritage. I also don’t want to overload my kids—I know that children have an amazing capacity to juggle languages, but I also don’t want to pressure them into becoming little linguistic geniuses (and let’s be honest—satisfying that small part of me that wishes I was a linguistic genius).
What to do? I’ve been told that I’ll have plenty to worry about—diapers and sleep deprivation all that—but I feel that we need to make some conscious choices around language. Landscapes generally benefit from planning—but the wild ones are beautiful too.