Thanksgiving is a special celebration in the US and Canada and as we often get comments from parents who struggle when it comes to raising their bilingual kids, we thought it might be a good idea to ask a “really old bilingual kid” (a university student 🤪 ) why she thanks her mom every day for raising her bilingual.
Here Natalia’s story, an 18-year-old international student:
Thanksgiving was always a confusing holiday in my home. My mom, having moved to the U.S. in her 20s, never grew up with any of the traditions. Yet, every year she tried to do something special to keep our American identity strong. Since neither of us knew how to prepare a turkey (or were particularly fussed about it), what would usually end up happening was we’d sit around with store-bought pumpkin pie, discussing what presents we needed to get our family when the Black Friday sales hit. Though this might not seem like much to a typical all-American family, for us, that was more than enough.
The one tradition that we did keep throughout the years, though, was saying what we were thankful for. Even though I’m now studying in Hong Kong, far away from my mom, I want to uphold this custom. So, for this Thanksgiving season, I’m thankful for being raised bilingual.
“Growing up as a bilingual child was not always easy.”
Growing up as a bilingual child was not always easy. I would wake up, speak Polish at the breakfast table, switch to English when I was at school, use some Czech, Ukrainian, or French (depending on where we were living at the time) when playing with kids from the neighborhood, and go back to Polish in the evening. Language learning was a daily struggle, and if I felt like giving up at times, I can imagine my mom felt the same way. But now that I’m in my 20s, the same age when she accepted another nation into her identity, I cannot be more grateful for our perseverance.
“Though difficult at first, I’ve learned to appreciate this gift of bilingualism,…”
Though difficult at first, I’ve learned to appreciate this gift of bilingualism, with several moments where I can pinpoint when I was most proud to be a bilingual kid. One of these was from when I was working in Greece during my gap year. After a few weeks had passed, I called my mom to give her an update on my adventures. My British roommate was casually scrolling through her phone in bed, and the shocked face she made, sitting up when she heard me break into a completely foreign language all of a sudden was priceless. After the call, she looked at me in disbelief and asked what language I was speaking and where was I really from. When people hear my strong American accent, they don’t normally bother asking, so it’s always a fun secret to have up my sleeve.
“I do want to thank my mom for raising me as a bilingual kid, but she did so much more than that.”
I do want to thank my mom for raising me as a bilingual kid, but she did so much more than that. She raised me to be open-minded, culturally aware, and to identify with two unique and beautiful cultures and embrace them as my own. Learning languages is difficult as it is, let alone integrating into a culture and continuing its traditions when not living in its immediate environment. For a multicultural family, every day might bring new challenges in communication and understanding. But, I can now fully attest that the end result is worth it. Especially now that there are so many resources, online and offline, this process doesn’t have to be the headache that it might seem at first. (for example – hint, hint – a bilingual book is a perfect gift so multilingual families can spend time developing skills in two languages while having fun and enjoying each other’s company) Plus, these multicultural kids may one day raise their own children in the same way, continuing this cycle until a generation of diverse, accepting, open-minded individuals rule the world.
My version of Thanksgiving might not be the most authentic, but I always have something to be thankful for. Now, I spend the day to reflect on the experiences I was lucky to get, the people I’m surrounded by, and the languages I treasure. These contemplations make the absence of a turkey, or even my favorite store-bought pumpkin pie, feel not that significant.
A final note from TimTimTom: for all those parents trying to raise a bilingual child, it is not easy, but it is well worth the effort, so please don’t give up. We are often asked for advice on how to make the children speak the home or minority language, especially once the kids start school. The easy answer is every little bit helps. Even if they do not answer in the home language, they understand you when you speak “your” language, so the good news is they are already bilingual, you now just need to keep it up. Be patient, the moment will come when they appreciate it and realize that speaking a second or third language only has benefits. Something will trigger it and they will start using the second language. We have heard of many kids, once as adults, asking their parents why they were not raised using a home language, but we have never heard of grown-up kids, complaining about having learned a second language as a child. So, our bilingual parenting take is: Just speak it! And for more help we have just started a bilingual parenting group on Facebook, where we will be posting ideas and advice on how to keep up a home language (Bilingual kids & parents worldwide – moms & dads raising bilingual kids). Of course, we are biased (but for a good reason it worked for our families) and we truly believe in the power of reading with and to your kids.
A bilingual and personalized story that will spark your kid’s imagination and language ability.
You can customize the name and look of the child and choose two out of ten available languages.
TimTimTom – Playfully Reading and Learning Languages