Raising a bilingual child: is it important? How much hard work is it? What are the benefits? Jonathan Ervine, who runs the blog Dad’s The Way I Like It, explains why he and his wife decided to raise his son in both English and Welsh…
Parenting can bring with it quite a few challenges and adventures. For my wife and I, part of this has involved raising a bilingual child. Although we have both lived in Wales for quite some time, neither of us is from Wales or grew up speaking Welsh. Nevertheless, we decided to bring up our son using both Welsh and English right from the day he was born. Here are five reasons why:
1.We live in an area where we are surrounded by both Welsh and English and hear both of them on a daily basis.
Since moving to North Wales, I’ve done my best to learn Welsh and try to use it as much as I can both in professional and social situations. This can involve discussing work matters with colleagues and talking about football with friends whilst watching Bangor City. Since our son’s birth, my wife has started going to Welsh classes again and we now read him stories and sing songs with him in Welsh as well as English.
2.We want our son to be comfortable with both Welsh and English.
We’d love our son to be comfortable using both Welsh and English so as he can enjoy participating in all sorts of cultural, sporting and educational activities in our local area that take place in both languages. He may not remember it, but he was at the National Eisteddfod in Denbigh as a three and a half month old baby.
3.Starting early is a good way to learn languages.
I have heard experts on language development talk about the way that kids absorb languages well at a young age, and quickly become able to switch from one to another. Even though our son often responds to me in English when I speak to him in Welsh, what he says often shows that he has understood what I’ve said to him in Welsh. I also think that not having grown up with Welsh isn’t necessarily an obstacle to bringing up children using the language. I only started learning Welsh in my late twenties after moving to North Wales in 2007.
4.Learning languages can be fun!
Although I’d learned Welsh to quite a high level before our son was born, I’d not learned a great deal of expressions to use when changing nappies or burping a baby! Thankfully, some friends gave me a book that featured pages and pages of expressions to use when changing nappies or dealing with wind. I’ve enjoyed boosting my own vocabulary in Welsh and also seeing Welsh language versions of television programmes that I remember from my own childhood. Our son now prefers watching Sam Tan in Welsh rather than the English language Sam Tan.
5.We knew we’d not have to do everything on our own.
We’re really fortunate that there are lots of resources available online for parents who want to bring up their children using both Welsh and English. The Welsh government’s website is a great place to start if you want to learn more about bringing up your child using Welsh and English. I’d also strongly recommend the Welsh/English dictionary app ‘Ap Geiriaduron’. It comes in really handy when our son comes out with questions like ‘how do you say woodlouse in Welsh?’, which he asked on the way to nursery earlier this week.
As our son, who’s now three, has grown his use of Welsh has varied. As a toddler, there were times when he’d ask his grandparents if they wanted to play football or play trains with him in Welsh rather than the English, despite none of them speaking a word of Welsh. He would also count to ten in Welsh before he had done so in English.
Over the last year and a half, he has responded to a lot of things I say to him in English and asked why I spoke to him in Welsh. Nevertheless, being at a nursery where he sings songs in Welsh seems to have led to him coming out with Welsh a bit more frequently and spontaneously in the last few months. This means that I will now have to expand my repertoire of Welsh language nursery rhymes, one of many fun challenges that bringing him up bilingually has presented!
A bit more about Jonathan and Dad’s The Way I Like It
Jonathan is a blogger and lecturer based in North West Wales. Since the birth of his son in 2013 he has spent lots of time thinking and writing about what it means to be a dad and how dads are represented in society. In his blog, Dad’s The Way I Like It,Jonathan reflects on these issues and share his experiences as a father raising a bilingual son.
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