Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

Language Guilt

Being a bilingual parent in the U.S. may be just as bad as being Jewish when it comes to guilt.  If you insist on speaking a non-English language as a bilingual parent in the U.S. and the child complains, you feel guilty.  If the child insists you “speak English!”, you may feel ire, but also a degree of guilt.  If you don’t speak your second or third etc. language at all and raise your child completely in English, as if the ghost of your other language didn’t exist–you feel guilty.  If your own (grand)parents speak another language and you didn’t learn it and thus aren’t able to pass it down to your own children, you mostly likely feel some guilt.

Some questions (guilt-ridden) bilingual parents in the U.S. might ask of ourselves: Why didn’t I take my child abroad more often? Why didn’t I enroll him or her in classes or insist on the L2 (second language) at home? Why didn’t I make more L2 playdates, buy more L2 cds, books or movies; restrict certain times, days of the week, places etc. to the L2? Why didn’t I “go home” more often (where home = L2 language)? Why is part of me disappearing into the gulf of English?  A working-parent colleague asked me the other day about childcare and time with my children: “What do you do with the guilt?” she asked–as if there weren’t heaps and mounds of bilingual guilt and Jewish guilt already!  What do I do? I feel guilty!!!! Of course–it’s in my blood! But I also say hello to my guilt, nice to see you again old friend! Aha, so you are worried you are not doing enough? Doing too much? Not doing what someone else is doing to raise their perfectly happy, socially adept multilingual brainiac children?

“Do your best and that’s all you can do,” says the nurturing multilingual-multicultural-multitasking mama on my shoulder.  Doing my best this year means counting the steps in Spanish when we hold hands; visiting with my Spanish speaking friends as often as possible in Spanish, spending two weeks in Mexico in December, and sending Oren for one week to a local Spanish camp this past summer.  It’s not enough but it’s the best I can do at this time.  We read Buenas Noches, Luna (Goodnight Moon) in Spanish last night and my son didn’t complain, didn’t ask me to read it in English.  When we read about the “Globo rojo,” I pointed to the picture and he smiled, said “Oh! Balloon.”  He is doing the best he can do, too!


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