A Father’s Language Anxiety

Ethan – second blog post

I’ve just read some wonderful blog posts like Hsinhua’s and it seems the buzz word in our recent discussion is language anxiety. I want to talk more about it, but not like Lauren Godfrey-Smith who talks about her own experience as a French learner and speaker in Montreal.

I would like to talk about language anxiety from a parent’s perspective. It might be difficult for those who have never had the experience of L2 learning or raising a baby to make sense of the meaning of ‘a parent’s anxiety for his child language learning’. Well, I might have coined this term, but I believe I’m not the first to be concerned about it.

When my wife and I decided to take our two-year-old son to Montreal, we thought it would be a great opportunity for him to have access to three languages at an early age (Chinese, English and French) and have the opportunity to learn them all. We were lucky in that we were offered a place at a public daycare after a month of our arrival. The teachers and administrators there speak French mainly and our best hope was that our son would be able to learn to use this beautiful language. But soon, we realized the potential problem: since neither of us could speak French, could this input at the daycare be adequate for a two-year old to learn about a new language? And since we haven’t really decided about the future, would it be more beneficial for him to receive education in a more global language? We became intensively worried especially when we couldn’t communicate effectively with the teachers. As a result, we started to doubt our decision in the first place. Then the opportunity to change came from an English-speaking daycare — there was also a vacancy in this daycare. After careful consideration, we had him transferred to this new daycare.

Now that the decision has been made, we start to worry about the consequences (Yes, parents just love to worry about their kids). In the book Trilingualism in family, school, and community (Charlotte Hoffmann and Jehannes Ytsma, 2004), the authors of the second chapter mentioned about the case of transition multilingual and the perception of identity of multilingual groups. According to them, ‘Language is not only a symbol of identity but also the main instrument upholding or promoting the groups’ ethnic identities… When language is the defining characteristic of an ethnic group, it is necessary to understand and speak it in order to belong to the group, or at least in order to be recognized as belonging to the group’. If this were the case, wouldn’t it be better to have our son share the same linguistic identity with kids in Montreal.

Multilingual families are common in Montreal; however, their identities vary from one to another. What are our identities? Will the decision made by us benefit our son in the long run? Would it be better for him to pick some French as early as possible? I would really like to listen to your comments.

Reference

Ytsma, J., & Hoffmann, C. (2004). Trilingualism in family, school, and community. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

 

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9 thoughts on “A Father’s Language Anxiety”

  1. Hi Ethan,
    Your parental language anxiety sounds very familiar! And, as you point out, parents do indeed like to worry a lot. It feels like such a massive responsibility to have to make decisions that will influence your child’s future! But, I think it might help you to remember that daycare is not the only place your son will be socialized into and through language. At the moment, it may feel like he is only exposed to home and daycare, that will change faster than you may want to believe. So, while your choice of daycare is important for early language socialization, your decisions now are not setting in stone a particular limitation for your son’s future. Rest easy. You’re doing a great job! Or, if you want to not rest so easy, you can explore the quickly growing scholarship on FLP. 🙂
    ~Alison

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    1. Hi Allison,
      Thank you for the comfort you gave me. After reading your reply, I do feel that I’m limiting my son’s language learning only to daycare; but here’s the dilemma: if I had not been dealing with second language education, I wouldn’t have worried so much. Some of the students I used to teach in China were born abroad in an English speaking country, but they were not able to use either English or their heritage language fluently. Maybe that was my concern. However, since I am learning more about L2 acquisition, I should also be more confident about providing a suitable language learning environment for my son. Anyhow, my son will always be himself (no matter what language he speaks) rather than be a unicorn =>

      p.s. as for the FLP scholarship, do you mean Family Learning Program? Is there one in Canada?

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      1. Your son will not be a unicorn! Though he will be full of magic and wonder.

        FLP = Family Language Policy. Here are a few resources to get you going (you’ll find their reference lists are probably useful as well):

        King, K. a., & Fogle, L. W. (2013). Family language policy and bilingual parenting. Language Teaching, 46(02), 172–194.
        Curdt-Christiansen, X. L. (2009). Invisible and visible language planning: Ideological factors in the family language policy of Chinese immigrant families in Quebec. Language Policy, 8(4), 351–375.
        Curdt-Christiansen, X. L. (2013). Family language policy: Sociopolitical reality versus linguistic continuity. Language Policy, 12(1), 1–6.

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  2. Hsinhua: Hi, Ethan, I read your reply to my post. I have limited knowledge of early bilingualism. One of studies I read suggests to expose young children to formal L2 before L1 is fully development. There are many reasons to explain it, 3 reasons make sense to me are (1). There are more and more evidences showing L2 learning is facilitated by L1 competence. p.s But, I didn’t look for more information about this (2) L2 exposure affects L1 development and family language interaction (parents may start to speak L2 to kids) (3). The role of input is much more important in the bilingual setting. After children start the school, they hear L2 more than L1, have more chances to speak L2 than L1, the imbalance language circumstance may lead to L1 lose. In other words, your son will surprise you.

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    1. Hi Hsinhua,
      Than you for your reply. To be honest, I haven’t consulted much to research for fear that I will get contradictory answers. But the points you listed really comforted me. I myself also believe that input is of critical importance in children’s early language learning. What I’ve been trying to do is to remind him of what he learned at the daycare while speak to him in his heritage language at the same time.

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  3. Miss Education says:

    Hi Ethan,
    I couldn’t help but to put myself in your son’s shoes as I was reading your blog post. If I were moved to Montreal and put into a setting to socialize but did not possess the most necessary tool (in this case, the language) to be able to communicate, I would feel very anxious. Everything seems to downfall after that.
    I think there are several ways you can encourage your child to make efforts to engage in conversations and break some of the barriers that he might face in a French daycare. I have a few suggestions on how to do that, but I am no expert!
    1) You can ask your son’s educators about the list of songs they learn in class and review the key words at home
    2) You can get to know a parent and invite them with their child to a play date where you can practice your French and so can your child; this will give your child something- or someone- to look forward to as they prepare to go to daycare
    3) watch shows in French with your child AND ask them to tell you the words they remembered and explain what they saw (I know you son is only in daycare, but they can still retain words)
    Hope this helps!

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    1. Hi there,
      Thank you very much for your suggestions. Like you said, not being able to speak French makes me feel dispirited. Though my son has been transferred to an English daycare, he will still have exposure to French in his later life. For that reason, I will try to create as much French input for him as I can and I will try these suggestions you provided.

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  4. Hi Ethan,

    (Raheel)
    I can understand your feelings as I am facing the same issue and having the same worries. Actually, I switched my six-year-old daughter from an English school to a French immersion program. The main reason for doing so is because of what you mentioned and pointed out by Hoffmann and Ytsma (2004) that not sharing the language of the surrounding group lead to isolation and exclusion from society. When we go to public places especially parks with playgrounds where the majority of the kids speak French she feels sad and excluded as she lacks the ability to speak the dominant language constrains her social engagement. That really make me feel bad because the whole point of sending her to French immersion program is to protect her from feeling excluded, but she feels that way any way. In fact, she feels more excluded now than before.

    I think in your case, because your child is so young, you can register him in a bilingual daycare. In my case.

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  5. Hey, Ethan, I have thought about the similar problem before. Since here is such a special place, if you can not speak French, you will feel isolated and frustrated for sure, maybe not so much in Montreal, but the life will not be so convenient for sure. For us, I think we have the strong heart to deal with the embarrassment and frustration for not speaking French, but for children, it will be a terrible time if he could not communicate with his friends and teachers. What I am trying to say is children have the best talent for learning and speaking a language, they are much faster and more efficient than us. And they learn a language in a more natural and functional ways, not with any special reasons, they maybe just want to speak the language for asking for a toy or having a candy. Like what Alison said yesterday. So for me, I really suggest you have your son immersing in Chinese and English at home and French at school and with his friends. You don’t need to be so anxious now since he is only 2 years old, but you do need to consider what is best for him. This can also help him shape his identity when he grows up.

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