Before Lil’ A was born, Mr. X and I had made an agreement that we will both teach him our native languages. Meaning, I’ll be talking with him in Indonesian while Mr. X in English. Sounds easy right? Not so much!
When we were still living in the US, I have to admit that sometimes I speak to him in English simply because it’s easier to say things like “No!” or “Please, don’t do that…” than to say them in Indonesian. Living there means he’s more exposed to his father’s native language but that changed after we moved to Jakarta.
Although my families mostly understand and can speak English, it is of course much easier for them to talk in Indonesian. Lil’ A quickly picked up the language too at a lightning speed.
Living back in Jakarta did make me a little worry that he might ‘forget’ his English. Even after Mr. X convinced me that he won’t, I noticed his Indonesian getting better by the day. While Mr. X was still working in China and I mostly stays here I would be the one that speaks English with him although sometimes I still speak in Indonesian. I’m trying to balancing his bilingual environments by speaking to him in English more and reading his books in English also Indonesian.
Maybe my worrywart self have to stop worrying about him forgetting his English because lately, I noticed how he would always speak in English to his father (sometimes he used Bahasa for some words he didn’t know in English) even if his Daddy talks to him in Indonesian.
“Alex, kamu bicara dengan Daddy bahasa Indonesia atau Inggris?” asked Mr. X one evening, it means Alex, are you talking to Daddy in Indonesian or in English?
The boy looked up, silent for a minute then with a huge big grin said “English!”
I also noticed how he will speak in Indonesian when he’s around my family or just talking with other Indonesian people. Even if they asked him in English he’ll reply in Indonesian. With me, he mixes things up…most of the times in English.
Being a ‘product’ of a mixed marriage, I do not wish for him to grow up not mastering his Indonesian or English. I wish he would be fluent in both! Unlike some ‘artist’ whose Indonesian accent is so poor it became a national joke!
One problem I noticed Lil’ A is having is with the letter R. He’s used to the English way of pronouncing R which is rather soft, unlike in Indonesian where we roll our Rs. This has caused some people to teased Lil’ A when he says things in Indonesian with a soft R and I always have to remind these people they don’t need to make any remarks. Most Indonesian kids always have a hard time rolling their Rs in the first few years of their lives anyway. Second, it is wrong to make fun of little children in learning to master any language! He will eventually grow into it but let him do it at his own time. I never once criticized him for saying it the ‘wrong’ way…I will show him how to roll his R and he is trying but he just can’t master it yet.
Raising a bilingual child is not easy but it is doable and I’ve seen plenty of success stories from my friends who are in the same situation. Plus there are plenty of good reasons to teach our kids more than one language. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language :
- is beneficial to the development of problem-solving abilities, memory skills, reading abilities, ability to hypothesize in science, and even mathematics*
- correlates with higher academic achievement, including standardized tests and college level academic performance
I personally would add other advantages: it will allow the child to know and understand two cultures, of being able to communicate with a wider variety of people and of possible economic advantages in their future.
Trying to keep the balance is probably the key. To raise a child here with just one language like in English but does not introduce them to the native language…I personally think that’s just wrong. Why put a limit to our children’ capability of mastering more than one language?