Back when I was reading up about bilingual parenting, I found one book that wrote about the importance of understanding which tier your languages fall into. It went on to explain that you might find your language incredibly important to teach your child, but your outside environment decides how valuable those languages are. I tend to think that each country has its own tier system. This judgement of value will dictate how many teaching resources are available, how well you yelling across the playground in that language is accepted (but you should always do it anyway!) and how much support you receive in your teaching endeavors. Language tiers should not influence whether or not you choose to impart your beautiful language, but it can make a huge difference for any parent teaching a minority language (as well as the child, who obviously will never remain unaffected). For reasons beyond my control, Welsh or Basque are deemed to be less prestigious than teaching your children French or German. (Note: Some languages will inevitably fall outside of the tier ranking out of pure ignorance. I’m thinking Faroese, Sarsi, Njerep but some might think the same of languages as widespread as Urdu or Polish). My linguist’s heart bleeds when faced with these realities. I definitely believe that any second language is an invaluable gift to the plasticity of a child’s brain, his mind and cultural upbringing: no matter if it is Wolof or Mandarin.
Back to language tiers. The more I converse in public with Ayo, the more I realize how lucky I am to be starting off by teaching him French. I often contemplate the uphill battle that is teaching an infant a minority language, but I have yet to come across rude remarks or “SPEAK ENGLISH!” sorts of comments. If anything, cashiers, postal clerks and playground parents test out their “bone-djor” and “o-voi”s. It’s pretty sweet. There is a lot of power in that. Based on these reactions, I feel confident to speak (not whisper) to Ayo in French in public. This, in turn, hopefully sends Ayo the message that speaking this language outside the home should never be reason for embarrassment. Compare this to immigrants in your country speaking their mother-tongue(s), the reactions they might receive and how often they have been reticent as a result to cultivate their language at home.
In America – specifically in the city – French comes with a few advantages of language resources like the Alliance Française (20 steps from our garage door), an [unaffordable] private immersion school, a few opportunities for French playdates and several ‘French for kids’ classes. We still live in what I would call a medium-sized American city, so there isn’t exactly a wealth of French resources by any means, but it could be way worse. Being one year old opens up lots of doors, too. Today, we went to a free trial French class for 1-3 year olds. I know at least three places that offer such classes. This one, funny enough, was taught by a gal from one of my adoptive hometowns: Geneva! We sang songs, played with puppets, read a book, played with stickers and ate…ehem..played with play-dough in French. Of course, I could have done all these things myself at home with Ayo in perfect French, yet such a big part of language acquisition is hearing other people (especially peers) speak your language. Thanks to the tier our language falls into, resources like these are available to us here, so why not take advantage of them, especially if they are free! You meet parents with the most interesting stories along the way.
If you speak a minority language with your children, do you have a sense of how accepted your language is? Have you ever received comments (positive or negative) about the language you are teaching your children? If so, how has that affected you and how openly you speak with your child in that language? If you think you speak a less popular language, where do you access relevant language resources in your language? What are some ways you have chosen to educate the world around you about your language?