The Art of Raising Bilingual Kids during Covid
Parents of bilingual children have been facing problems that went largely unnoticed by their communities
Few times have been as challenging for the current generation as the past year. We have all lost a big chunk of normalcy (some of us even lost a loved one) and so, we have needed to adjust abruptly to less than comfortable situations.
Even though there have been many difficult moments, we have risen to the task, and more often than not, succeeded! Parents juggled family life and work from home. Kids quickly adapted to the new formats of their online classroom and grandparents to new ways of connecting with their grandchildren. We can celebrate these little wins.
However, parents of bilingual kids have been facing a set of unique problems.
In an effort to record those problems, I decided to reach out to a vast number of bilingual parenting forums to find out which were common challenges that had resulted from the current pandemic.
Lack of Access to the Second Language
Of course, every kind of parent has suffered what it means when the schools and daycares shut down. Our children needed to stay home, where we are supposedly working, they and their teachers needed to adapt to the use of new technologies, and the amount of screen time definitely increased.
However, it seems that for bilingual families, the closure of schools has brought about another set of challenges. As in many other families, younger kids may have been too young for school online. In many cases, that meant that those children lost access to the community language spoken outside of the child’s home.
They often showed little interest in using the community language inside their home and then had trouble adapting once their schools welcomed them back for in-person learning.
The Trouble with Full Immersion Programs
Several parents also report that due to the pandemic, their younger children lost the possibility to enter direct immersion programs, thus forgetting the minority language. In many cases, this means that this generation of kids will not have the chance to enroll in said programs in the near future, forcing their parents to look for other options, including a change of home and school districts. Even when the children were able to attend their schools’ immersion programs, the immersion was rarely comparable to what would have usually happened, still resulting in a decrease in language fluency.
The Downside to Wearing Masks in the Classroom
Another difficulty that arose during in-person lessons was triggered by the use of masks. Few people will argue that masks became a crucial tool in keeping the pandemic at bay. However, speech becomes muffled once we cover our faces. Muffled speech is not an ideal situation for any kind of learning, but in the case of language learning, it can be highly detrimental. When pronunciation and unknown vocabulary make a foreign language already hard to understand, we can only imagine what kind of hurdle face masks add. That actually goes both ways — children having difficulty understanding their teacher and teachers having a hard time understanding their students. In fact, several parents have reported that they refrained from having their children tested for immersion programs because they feared the examiner would not be able to understand what their children were saying.
A Positive Twist
Nonetheless, there were also those families who reported the positive impact the pandemic had on their kids’ language development. Children spending a more considerable amount of time with their parents were finally able to catch up with the minority language spoken in the home. Others have been able to postpone their children’s enrollment. This way, those kids had more time to become fluent in a second language before entering a full immersion program.
bilingualismThe Impact of Travel Bans on Bilingualism
Many bilingual families spend a substantial time abroad every year. It gives their children the possibility to learn the language in a country where it is spoken and accommodates full immersion in the language and its culture.
However, due to recent Covid travel bans and restrictions, families had to cancel their trips, and their children lost the opportunity to practice the minority language. Many have also been kept from their families who reside abroad. Seeing them had always been an opportunity to refocus their children’s language learning efforts and validate the second language. Travelling helped them find books and toys to purchase in the second language that are otherwise unavailable in their home countries.
Nonetheless, travel bans have not always meant a negative development for a second or minority language learning child. Some families were stranded abroad or had the opportunity to travel, and work from home in another country. That undoubtedly allowed their kids to develop a higher proficiency level in that country’s language.
Some parents complained that their children’s nanny, who was the single source for the minority language, could not come back due to visa restrictions and travel bans. However, other parents only introduced their children to a second language because the nanny they ended up hiring when schools closed was fluent in it.
Many families also reported that thanks to spending less time commuting and more time around their children, their kids’ level of the minority language spoken in the home improved quite drastically.
In the end, as with everything, the pandemic has had a significant impact on bilingual families, and it will be interesting to see how bilingualism might be further impacted by the new opportunities that arose through the worldwide connectedness brought about by the surge in e-learning. Maybe, learning mandarin, Spanish, Dutch, or Arabic with an online teacher will be the new norm. Our kids have adapted way faster to it than one may think, and new technologies erased our physical borders even further. Let’s hope this pandemic had a good side as well as all the doom that came with it.