I speak three languages, English, Swahili (which is out national language) and my mother tongue. A lot of people who are from where am from do speak more than one language. Research shows speaking more than one language has its own benefits,
Speaking two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age
It is also much easier for someone who is bilingual to learn another language.
So why is it so hard for me, and a lot of other immigrants, to teach our little ones our languages. I know the generation before ours thought that, if they taught their children their mother tongues, then it would confuse them and maybe they would have a hard time adjusting in school.
But today we know better, we know it doesn’t confuse kids, having grown up in a multi-lingual environment myself, I know speaking more than one language has never been an obstacle in class.
I was and still am determined to teach my daughter at least Swahili, it will not only benefit her to know it, but I feel it would be crucial for her to learn it so that when she goes back home she is able to interact with other kids, who mostly speak Swahili. Every time you speak to people back home the first thing they ask is if we speak our language to our daughter, to which I always respond yes, but I know I rarely do. They ask it, as if your parenting skills are judged by your ability to teach it.
I have bought books and try to speak it to her, but mostly she just speaks English and I feel like if she doesn’t get it now when she’s still so young then it will be lost forever. I always thought this was just a Kenyan problem, we would always ask each other how come the Hispanics are able to teach their kids Spanish. Until I spoke to my Vietnamese friend who told me it was the same with them. For her she only spoke Vietnamese to her kids when they were growing up, when they went to school they didn’t even know English. And now they are in their 20’s and cannot speak it anymore. They understand some of it, but like when they visit Vietnam they are completely lost in terms of language.
So is it worth it to struggle and teach our children another language while living in an English speaking country? (well now its English and Spanish).
I also have another friend from Iran, who recently went back to Iran for 6 Months so that she can enroll her 4 year old son into school so he can learn how to read and write Persian, which they only speak in the house. Is all her work going to pay off?? I don’t know but I highly doubt, I have seen and heard of many stories where kids could only speak one language for a long time but eventually forgot it.
One documentary I watched on immigrants said it best; as parents you need to accept that English will be your kids first language.
So what does this mean? Should we just give up on teaching our kids our languages? How are the Hispanics capable of doing it? For one thing, I believe they have a large community and they live around each other with family members who don’t know English. So they are forced to communicate in Spanish. The population of Spanish speaking people is growing so rapidly that now if you don’t speak Spanish, its becoming more difficult to get jobs.
Knowledge is never a waste, the more we know the better. So the struggle is real but not a waste. I know of many kids who are older now and they ask their parents, why didn’t you teach me our language. So we will keep trying and hopefully it will be enough to just understand it even if they cant speak it.