Children are not, by nature, racist. Nor are they born with damaging assumptions about people in any definable group.
We all begin with a winning trust in others, an expectation that people will be good to each other, and that life with others will be safe and fun. When a child feels close to his parents, gets to play freely with lots of laughter, gets plenty of affection, and has sensible limits set by grown-ups who don't attack him, a young person can feel at home with himself, and relaxed with others.
Contrary to popular belief, children have a keen inborn sense of justice. They are built to protest loudly when they or someone else is being treated badly. This sense of justice runs deep. You probably can remember times in your childhood when you or someone you cared about was attacked, verbally or physically. You didn't have to be told that this treatment was wrong and should be stopped immediately. You just knew.
We don't have to teach children respect for people of other ethnic groups and abilities. We simply need to preserve their trust in themselves and others, and their inborn sense of justice. If children feel safe and strong, they will respond with indignation to racism, whether it's directed at them or at someone else. They will know that the racist attitude they have witnessed is wrong, and won't adopt it as their own.
How to raise unprejudiced children
1. Make sure you're a good role model - Who are your friends? Who do you invite over to the house? If there's not a lot of diversity in your life, your children will pick up on that.
2. Examine your own biases. How do you react when someone from another culture is around or approaches you? Children have the ability to pick up on the slightest amount of anxiety. If your behavior changes, they will pick up on that.
3. Watch what you say. If you make fun of those who are different, your children will copy your behaviour.
4. Start the dialogue early! Don't wait until a "situation" occurs (e.g. your child is made fun of, or makes fun of someone else). Remember how young children learn stereotypes. Make sure you begin dialogue about difference early on. Communicate the message that different isn't automatically a bad thing.
5. Keep your eyes open. Who does your child play with? Do they exclude other children? Children who are different? Encourage them to develop friendships early on with children who are different (e.g. different gender, cultural background, age, etc.) Engage them in dialogue and help them determine what's fun or good about playing with someone who's different from them in some way.
6. Examine your surroundings. What are the messages in your neighborhood or community? Do the only people who are different own the neighborhood store, teach your children, clean your house, or live somewhere across the railroad tracks? Exposing your child to different cultures and lifestyles early on, enables them to learn about difference and sets the expectation that not everyone is the same.
7. Explore and discuss differences within the family - highlight ways that you differ amongst yourselves and help them to make the connection that different is not always a bad thing.
8. Read books that depict diversity and educate your children about other cultures.
9. Listen for signs of intolerance - others may make jokes or say hurtful things about other groups to be funny and your child may not understand the difference. Figure out how to respond to others who say intolerant things, and listen for your child's imitation of those messages. Listen to your child's experiences. Do not belittle or exaggerate his or her feelings and experiences.
10. Deal with racism if and when it occurs. Teach your child to always tell about racist behaviour to an adult.
11. Help your child to be proud of their background and support their bi-cultural identity.
12. Celebrate difference and provide your child with positive experience and roles models.
For intercultural couples being together means that at least one partner moves to a new country and the couple has to deal with the expenses that an international relocation entails. Unemployment at the beginning of immigration is quite common and increases economic pressure. It is important that both partners understand the situation and take it into consideration. It is also important to understand that it might be crucial for the foreign partner to regularly visit their home country and to keep contact with their family back home as well as to support them financially. For it not to become a problem both partners need to be flexible and make adjustments to their budgets.
Very few relationships have problems because of money itself, but many have problems because money is being used in a power struggle, and symbolises one partner having power over the other (or one partner feeling loss of control to the other).
The best way to avoid money arguments is to make a mature, responsible deal that both people in the relationship can and will follow. If one person in the relationship cannot follow through with his/her part of the designated responsibilities, then perhaps it is a good thing to put the relationship into review. A common mistake that is made is that one person decides how everything is going to be in regards to money, with little or no input from his/her partner. This, too, will lead to nothing but trouble.
If you are arguing about money, sit down with your partner and agree to do all finances together. Jointly decide what needs to be paid, and how the remainder should be used. If you work with money as a team, it will become less of an argument source.
The way you and your spouse save, spend, earn and invest can actually be points of bonding and affection if approached in the right way.
For many couples religion unifies and strengthens their relationship. For others, it tears them apart. When individuals from two different religions form a relationship, they sometimes begin a lifetime of disagreements. The differences can stir up difficult conflict over religious upbringing of children, over decisions about how to handle life events such as birth, death, and holiday celebrations, and over the absence of a religious bond in the relationship.
One of the most important things interfaith couples can do to minimize conflict and increase unity is to focus on what they have in common. Below are specific ideas about how to do this.
Commit to your relationship
Settle once and for all that you will stand by your partner despite religious differences. Put aside your differences and decide to love each other even though you disagree about religion.
Learn good communication skills
Good communication skills are essential to success in every marriage, and they become all the more critical in an interfaith marriage.
Respect your partner and religious differences
No one likes to be put down for something they believe in and criticizing one another on the subject of religion can be devastating to the relationship. So it's critical that both partners respect the beliefs and values of their partner. To build respect, work on the following behaviors:
Compromise and find commonalities that bring you together
Finding a religious middle ground can strengthen your relationship. Learning about your partner's faith and religion can help you find the values you hold in common. As you find shared values, you'll gain greater understanding of one another and arguments will diminish. The following ideas can help you compromise and understand one another:
Talk and make a decision about your children's religious upbringing
When interfaith couples have children, they add a new and powerful potential area of conflict over religious differences. Couples need to decide what religion they want their child to belong to or if they want their children to learn from both religions. The following questions can help couples make this important decision:
Make the best of the holiday dilemma
Dealing with differences in holidays can cause conflict in what should be a time of unity and togetherness. Holidays can be extra difficult because they involve not only immediate family but relatives as well. Families can take several approaches as they work to solve this dilemma:
Interfaith marriages can be successful and happy if both partners are willing to work hard at committing to one another, showing respect for one another, and focusing on shared values. When children come along, it's important to place the best interests of the child first as decisions are made about how to religiously raise the child and how to celebrate holidays. As interfaith couples carefully consider these issues with sensitivity toward one another, they can avoid most of the conflict around religious differences and will be able to build a loving and unified relationship and family life.
People have different expectations when it comes to romantic relationships and marriage. People may also have relationship bias and as early as during a couple’s wedding ceremony some people might be speculating about the durability of the marriage or about children and their names etc. Other people´s expectations, presumptions and bias lay pressure on every relationship, but external pressure is often more intense if a couple differs from the norm. Societies and the world as a whole are changing rapidly but assumptions about marriage and family life are still somewhat tied to certain traditions and rules.
External pressure and expectation can make the couple try harder, which is a good thing, but they can also become the most stressful factors in a relationship. Traditions and norms change very slowly as well, and are bound to cultural and social contexts. Intercultural relationships are not new or uncommon phenomena, but people still have stereotypes and sometimes prejudice on the subject.
Intercultural couples create their very own family culture tht is also called 'a third culture'. Third culture combines both partners' cultures and creates new. Third culture brings along compromises and arrangements that might not fit the expectations of others. Cultural differences are usually other people’s main focus even if the couple has more in common than a couple sharing the same national culture might.
The most important things in any functional relationship are common values and a shared worldview on the most significant things. The ability to communicate, openness and respect for one another are also very important. Even though our ways to communicate, values and worldview are developed in a certain national culture and its context, they are not necessarily a permanent fixture and can evolve when people come into contact with different social and cultural contexts. Our childhood and adult experiences as well as our personality make us what we are and getting to know different cultures, even if only through a partner from a different culture, have a lasting effect into our lives.
You can find bias existing in different and sometimes unexpected places. Our environment (families and friends, and the society as a whole) has often unspoken definitions about which two people are suited for each other and what are the conditions of love. Unfortunately some nationalities and couples face more prejudice than others. The geographical and cultural distances as well as economical and political factors seem to define the conditions of love in intercultural relationships. For example, spouses coming outside the European Union are treated differently by the immigration authorities than those coming from inside the EU. Some intercultural couples feel annoyed by having to produce facts concerning their dating history and documents such as travel tickets and rental agreements.
Unfortunately prejudice exists also in places where you wouldn´t expect it exist. Faced with a new situation some people react and reveal a new side to them which isn’t always a positive one. Negative attitudes and stereotypes can become evident in the words and behavior of people you thought you knew very well and these people can include family and friends. Sometimes this could mean that you have to choose between your partner and a good friend, but sometimes it might also be a relief to have an explanation to why a friendship has not been working: you have not shared common values on the most significant things after all. When a biased attitude is exposed in close relationship, for example with a family member, it can be a shock and signify a turning point from which onwards you might have to revalue your own identity and what is important to you.
Prejudice works both ways and sometimes intercultural couple sees prejudice in others’ behavior when there isn’t any. No one is completely free from biased attitudes and stereotypes, but we can and should be aware of them. By being critical about the information that surrounds us and by being open-minded and willing to change our views, helps us to cope with biases of our own and others’.
Intercultural relationships and transnational marriage are not new phenomena. The stories of influential intercultural couples can be read from history books and poems and intercultural couples appear both in the Bible and the stories written by William Shakespeare: Cleopatra and Marcus Antonius, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, King Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter, Othello and Desdemona and Joseph and Asenath.
Though there is nothing new to intercultural relationships, what is new is that during the past few decades the number of intercultural relationships has risen sharply worldwide and Finland is not an exception. In 1990, there were 12,500 intercultural couples in Finland but in 2009 the number of intercultural couples in Finland exceeded 58,500. That means there was a four-fold increase in the number of intercultural families in Finland in less than twenty years.
The reasons for this continuing trend are manifold but they include people's increased possibilities to meet potential partners from different cultures. The possibilities contain voluntary and involuntarily migration as well as foreign holidays, international job opportunities, exchange programmes and social networking sites.
A slight majority of Finnish-born people in intercultural relationships are men (53 %). Finnish-born men’s partners are most often from Russia and the former Soviet Union, Sweden, Thailand, Estonia, Germany, China and the Philippines. Finnish-born women’s partners are most often from Sweden, Great Britain, Germany, Russia and the former Soviet Union, Turkey, USA and Italy.
From the 3087 new marriages of Finnish citizens with foreign citizens in 2006, 1655 were performed between a Finnish man and foreign woman. Marriages where the female spouse was a Finnish citizen and the male spouse a foreign citizen were 1432. Finnish men concluded mixed marriages most often with women from Russia, Thailand and Estonia. Finnish women concluded mixed marriages most often with men from Great Britain, Turkey and the United States.
Communication problems are common to most, if not all, relationships and are not only about having different mother tongues. In fact, many communication problems are gender-related and thus exist in both intercultural and monocultural relationships. Therefore all heterosexual relationships may be said to be intercultural in that they bring together the different cultural worlds and experiences of men and women. However, since gender roles often are culture-specific, a woman and a man who have grown up in the same culture surroundings will generally share an understanding for their different roles in a relationship. This shared understanding may help them to overlook and overcome the communication difficulties caused by gender differences.
Gender roles aren’t necessarily complementary in intercultural relationships, because partners may come from two cultures with very different ideas of female and male roles. When this is the case, the success of the relationship will depend on the couple being able to satisfactorily negotiate a new kind of gender complementarity agreeable to both partners. The satisfactory negotiation requires both to adjust their perceptions of gender roles, selfhood and identity.
The lifestyle and living conditions of the country where the couple lives in will influence the range of choices available to the couple. There are also differences between, for example, city and countryside, and between different social classes. The views of friends and relatives may also come into play and sometimes take the couple by surprise.
Gender is a socio-cultural construct and gender identity is acquired largely subconsciously through interactions with others within the same socio-cultural environment. Gender tends to be understood as nature rather than culture, and thus people tend also to experience their own perceptions of gender and gender roles as the only possible and acceptable ones. However, no culture (and the gender roles it contains) has the monopoly on being “natural” or “right” and all models for gender-role distribution are culturally determined.
In intercultural relationships the culturally determined gender-roles are often re-examined and revalued. Discrepancy in a couple's perceptions and attitudes predicts relationship dissatisfaction in both partners. As with other culture-specific concepts, it helps to be aware of one’s own background and the influence of upbringing. A couple will also need to communicate their expectations and needs clearly. What matters ultimately is the couple agreeing on the gender-role distribution; not what the gender-role distribution is (for example egalitarian or traditional).
Bilingualism is a process, it doesn't simply happen... But we can work at it. To enable your child to speak a language well, you have to communicate as much as you can. The more opportunities your child has to practice a language the faster this language will be learnt.
Here is what counts in successful language learning:
Set your goal
Decide what bilingualism suits your child and your family situation. Do you like to have your children just understand the family language or enable them to speak, read and/or write it as well?
Only when the child grows into an adult, who is fully functional in the family language, he/she might be able to teach it to his/her own children.
If you speak in a language other than your partner, stick to it! Be persistent, perseverant and patient.
Lots of Encouragement
Encourage the child to speak in the other language.
Repeat the child's words in the correct form.
Follow up with music, books, stories, tapes and computer software in your language. Create language games according to your child's development. Make your own collection of rhymes and riddles that you can use over and over again.
Invent a language routine. For instance, when you go to the shops or on a walk, when travelling in the car or brushing teeth, use the family language to tell certain stories or speak about certain topics.
Speak your language properly
Parents and other adults are role models for their children's language behaviour. Talk about your life, about what you see, feel, want, like and share your thoughts.
Speak your language well. Use the appropriate names and make whole, short sentences. Develop your own language skills by reading, talking and writing in your language.
And please, don't mix your languages!
Broad range of Conversation Partners
Show the child that other people speak your language, too.
The child needs to hear the language from many different speakers (old, young, male and female voices, various accents and dialects, different media like phone, radio, tape). Enlist the help of family members of your language, like grandparents.
Mix with other people who speak your language in different situations and environment. The child learns how adults communicate while listening to communication between same language speakers.
Make it Fun
Support the child at its own pace. Focus on the fun involved and avoid stress. Try to give your child incentives that work.
Enjoy every little progress and focus on small success.
Take your language to school
Let teachers, other parents and children in your child's school know, what languages your family speak.
The second language lessons are organized in different ways in different municipalities, both during the school day and outside school hours, and teaching is usually realized with the help of a separate state aid. Although providing instruction is voluntary, municipalities are usually willing to provide it.
As a general rule, a child has an opportunity to have language instruction in his/her second language two hours per week. Language instruction is not necessarily given at the pupil’s own school. According to a study by the Finnish National Board of Education the main reason for municipalities for not providing instruction was lack of teachers.
Language instruction is provided in 40 languages in Helsinki, in 33 languages in Vantaa and in 32 languages in Espoo.
Statement: Bilingualism is an exception.
Fact: Monolingualism is the exception. Two third of world population speak more than one language.
Statement: More than one language confuses the child and it mixes the languages.
Fact: No research has yet shown that one language only gives advantages to a child.
Bilingual children between 2-3 years often go through a stage when they mix languages. Their vocabulary in both languages is seldom equally developed. They not only have to learn which word is appropriate in each language, but also which word belongs to which language.
Just repeat mixed sentences in the correct form and flow on. Try to balance the vocabulary in both languages, i.e. talk about out-of-home activities in your language.
Statement: A language is nothing more than language.
Fact: As language is the means of communication it is heavily involved with culture. Language learning means understanding the culture the language belongs to as well.
Statement: Bilingualism means speaking more than one language without accent.
Fact: It is not unusual for bilingual children to speak one language with a foreign accent. The dominance of one language to another may change from time to time.
Myth: Learning two languages confuses a child and lowers his intelligence.
Old, poorly designed studies done primarily in the United States claimed to show that bilinguals had lower intelligence than monolinguals. Newer research has revealed several flaws in the studies. The most obvious flaw is that the bilingual children were recent immigrants, with poorer knowledge of English and more stressful life situations than their monolingual counterparts. Newer studies with more careful controls have shown that bilinguals are better at some specific tasks, such as language games, but that otherwise the differences between bilinguals and monolinguals are negligible.
Myth: A child should learn one language properly first; then you can start teaching the other.
As in the myth above, this is an old belief based on flawed research. Children who learn two languages in a loving, supportive environment learn them both well. Children who learn two languages in a stressful environment may have language development problems - but so will children learning only one language in that same sort of environment.
Myth: A child who learns two languages won't feel at home in either of them. She'll always feel caught between two cultures.
Relatives, friends and strangers will often caution about the "identity problems" children may develop if their parents insist on maintaining a bilingual home. The children, they believe, will grow up without strongly identifying with either of the languages and, therefore, the groups that speak them. Adults who have themselves grown up bilingual, however, generally report when asked that they never had problems knowing what groups they were a part of. Some even find this concern to be rather bizarre.
Children who feel accepted by both their cultures will identify with both. Unfortunately it happens that two cultures have such unfriendly relations that a child who should belong to both is instead shunned by both. This is not however a specifically bilingual issue.
Myth: Bilinguals have to translate from their weaker to their stronger language.
The overwhelming majority of bilinguals can think in either of their two languages. They do not, as some monolinguals assume, think in one language only and immediately translate into the other language when necessary.
Myth: Children who grow up bilingual will make great translators when they grow up.
By no means all bilinguals are good at translating. Nor have any studies shown that growing up bilingual gives one an advantage or a disadvantage over those who became bilingual as adults when it comes to translating. There are many other skills involved, and bilinguals, just like monolinguals, are too different to allow for easy generalizations.
There is one important exception here, however. The sign language interpreters you may have seen on television or at public events are most often hearing children of Deaf parents, who grew up bilingual.
Myth: Real bilinguals never mix their languages. Those who do are confused 'semi-linguals'.
Bilinguals sometimes "mix" their languages, leading monolinguals to wonder if they are really able to tell them apart. Usually, the problem is not genuine confusion - that is, inability to tell the languages apart. Far more common problems are interference, when words or grammar from the one language "leak" into the other language without the speaker being aware of it - analogous to a slip of the tongue - or "code-switching", when the speaker more or less intentionally switches languages for effect - analogous to mixing jargon or slang in with standard speech.
Many, if not most, bilingual children will use both languages at once during the early stages of their language development. Semi-lingualism is a far more serious, and relatively rare, situation that occurs when a child in a stressful environment is trying to learn two or more languages with very little input in any of them.
Myth: Bilinguals have split personalities.
Some bilinguals do report feeling that they have a different "personality" for each language. However, this may be because they are acting according to different cultural norms when speaking each of their languages. When speaking English, they assume the cultural role expected of them in English-speaking society. This is different than the cultural role expected of them in German-speaking society, which they assume when speaking German. The change in language cues a change in cultural expectations.
Myth: Bilingualism is a charming exception, but monolingualism is of course the rule.
No accurate survey of the number of bilinguals in the world has ever been taken; for fairly obvious practical reasons, it is likely none ever will be. But it is very reasonable to guess that over half the world's population is bilingual. Most of those who will read this live in countries where monolingualism is the rule, but are seeing a very unrepresentative sample of the world.
Myth: Be very careful; if you don't follow the rules exactly, your children will never manage to learn both languages!
Some people maintain that "the only way" to raise bilingual children is to follow one specific pattern, usually by speaking both languages in the home. Practical experience, on the other hand, has shown that children learn both languages regardless of the pattern of exposure, as long as that pattern is reasonably consistent (and perhaps even that is not a requirement!).
Myth: You'll never manage to make him bilingual now. People really can't learn a language after age X.
Language learning is easier the younger you are when you start, and there are biological reasons why very few adults can learn to speak a new language with a native accent. However, people can learn valuable language skills at any age. Establishing a bilingual home when your first child is born, if not before, is the easiest for all, but it can be done later if you for some reason must do so.
In an intercultural relationship, one or both partners often speak a language that is not their mother tongue, their native language. Sometimes one of the partners can speak their mother tongue, for example English, while the one for whom English is a second language has to put significantly more effort and time into communicating with their partner. Not only does this cause some strain, it can also be the source of numerous misunderstandings every day. All the little signs and signals, that are so natural to native speakers of a language, are missed, or misinterpreted, by someone who learned English only at school.
In other relationships, for example when a Finn dates a German-speaking Austrian, both partners are often speaking a foreign language (English) when they talk to one another. While this puts equal strain on both parties, it often happens that the communication lacks some depth. Most often, both partners speaking English works well for the first few weeks or months of dating, but as a relationship becomes more serious, one or the other partner may begin to feel that they cannot fully express themselves to their partner.
Communication is absolutely vital to any relationship being sustained and developing further and more deeply. If both partners are keen on working on their communication, and they are both willing to put a lot of extra effort into communicating in their intercultural relationship, the relationship has a good chance of blossoming. On the other hand, if one or both partners are unwilling or unable to spend substantial time and effort on communicating with each other, the relationship will, most likely, eventually fail.
Of course, the actual information that partners share with each other is important, but there is also the level of communication that makes people feel connected with one another. Intimate relationships are about forging connections with another person, and as human beings, talking is one of the biggest ways that we can connect with one another. This is why communication of a high quality is so important in a relationship, especially as it develops from casual dating into a more serious relationship.
Here are some tips to develop communication in an (intercultural) relationship:
Listen carefully, not critically
When your partner is speaking a non-native language, their sentences will take longer to come together and longer to come out. Be patient, listen carefully, and by all means, don’t cringe at every grammar or pronunciation error.
Pause before finishing another’s sentence: sentences taking longer to come together sometimes results in one partner trying to finish the other’s sentences. While this is sometimes helpful and sometimes necessary, don’t let it become a habit, and when you do do it, make sure that the person has had a chance to find the words at their own pace—don’t jump in while (s)he is still thinking.
Don’t ever laugh at errors
While it’s sometimes difficult not to laugh, many people are very sensitive when speaking a second language. Support your partner’s efforts by keeping that laughter internal.
There are many instances when correcting (politely and in a supporting way) is not only constructive, but can help build your relationship. Finding a way to approach the subject in a neutral way gives you both a good opportunity to connect with one another, and a good opportunity to improve each other’s language skills, to save you from making the same mistake in the future, in front of a less supportive audience.
Take turns in struggling
If you’ve just begun dating someone, you might not each speak the other’s language, but as your relationship develops, many couples become fluent in each other’s languages. When this is the case, it’s always a good idea to reduce the linguistic burden by swapping languages so that sometimes, one partner is struggling in their second language and other times, the other partner is struggling in their second language. Not only is this fair, it gives both partners the experience of being the one speaking the second language. This experience of being the struggler is how we learn how to be supportive when it’s our partner doing the struggling.
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