Reinforcing the minority language (Duo´s lecture 14.10.2013) & Making family bilingualism work in real life (Duo´s online lecture 17.10)
In these two lectures Annika Bourgogne, a language teacher and the author of “Be Bilingual-Practical Ideas for Multilingual Families“ shares ideas and tips to combine bilingualism and real life parenting in intercultural families where children need the reinforcing of the minority language.
The online lecture starts with a citation that raising your children bilingual is like breastfeeding - something very natural, costs you nothing and is good for your children. But as those who have experienced it know, breastfeeding is not always as easy, painless or simple as it sounds. You can also spend a lot of money to make it work.
You could think that bilingualism is also something that just happens when you just do it. It is quite common belief that children are like sponges when it comes to language learning. In fact research suggests that a child needs to be exposed to the minority language at least about 4 hours a day for that sponge to absorb enough. Making bilingualism work in real life takes both parents´ time, commitment, determined decisions and actions that don´t always come without a cost either. Travelling to meet relatives in a minority language country is one of the most effective ways to support bilingualism but it requires both time and money. Reinforcing the minority language and motivating children to speak both of their parent´s languages are the most important steps towards successful bilingualism. In her inspiring lectures Annika shares her good practices, ideas and research based knowledge on how to take these steps in everyday life and have fun while doing it!
In this online lecture, Therese Bogan will give all the ingredients that go into making an addition to an intercultural couple: spouses' original attachment style, development as an individual, development as a couple, tasks for a couple to consider when expecting, common trouble and what to do about it.
Intercultural families face extra tasks of blending their cultures, languages and sometimes opposing attachments into one new baby. This lecture will provide a broad view of human development.
When our children were small and we would talk about their bilingualism with people in France, many of them would say that it was too bad that English wasn't their second language. This would upset me greatly a) because I knew they meant instead of Finnish and NOT instead of French and b) because I couldn't understand how anything could be as useful to my children as having access to the native languages, and this way to the cultural heritage, of their parents.
Rationally I knew of course that I could have also introduced English (or another language) to my children when they were small, after all countless children around the world are raised trilingually! Still, I must admit that I was scared that it would somehow detract from them learning the two languages that mattered the most to our family. English was definitely going to be important one day in the future, but French and Finnish were necessary for communication right now. And quite frankly – it wasn't like achieving just bilingualism was a walk in the park either!
Most Finnish children start learning their first foreign language at the age of nine and while depending on the school there can be many choices, most choose English. At the French-Finnish school that our children attend, however, they consider French to be the first foreign language (even if it’s the language used for teaching other subjects, too) and English doesn't come along until two years after their peers in monolingual schools have started studying it. I felt this was too late and figured that since I was teaching 3rd grade English anyway, I could maybe do it with Emma at home, too.
I ran into something called resistance. Not sure if you've ever heard of it, but it’s very frustrating. I tried to go around it, bought music CDs for the car, fun DVDs (Magic English with Donald Duck) and looked for websites (www.englishbyyourself.fr) to try to make it fun. Emma was 8 when we started and with our priority being to reinforce her French, the progress with English was very slow if not unnoticeable. When she was 9 I bought very cheap Easy jet tickets to Manchester for the two of us so that she could hear the language. It was a fun trip and even if she probably didn't utter a single word in English herself she could now associate the language with fun things like Halloween candy, soccer and Fish & Chips! The year after she was slightly more motived as she knew we were traveling to the US for my high-school reunion. She could form basic sentences and could ask her new American friends simple questions, but still needed a lot of help to understand the answers. She discovered peanut butter and Dr. Seuss and asked us if we could, please please mom, travel to the US again.
This year we did, but with a crazy work schedule and husband out of the country for five months I was back to being the French language police with no time for English. The language classes at school finally started for Emma last fall and I vaguely noticed that she seemed to take an interest in the Girls magazines that I subscribed her to, but which had been too difficult for her until now. The first week in the US we were invited to dinner at friends’ house. Sara went to play with their children, but Emma, twelve years of age, preferred to stay with the adults. Her expressions and a few comments (in Finnish to me) showed me that she understood most of what we were talking about. The next night another dinner at another friend’s house who also had a preteen daughter. We did not see Emma all evening. “They’re talking!” exclaimed Sara when we asked her what the older girls were doing.
The iron was hot, it was time to strike – in other words look for language learning opportunities. Knowing that reading is Emma’s favorite way to learn we looked for anything that might be interesting. Here’s a great example from Denny’s which helped make our dinner both entertaining and educational as we looked for more questions online and made some up ourselves.
As we were driving from California to Texas, the Kids ultimate U.S. road trip atlas was a great find and each time we crossed over to a new state we asked Emma to read us the fun facts, boredom busters and crazy traffic laws.
I could tell that she was starting to feel very good about her improving language skills and the proof came at a Walmart in New Mexico. “Mom, can you buy this book for me?” I had to control myself not to buy the whole series then and there, this was a definite déjà vu from when she had finally started to read in French.
The little sister is now the one resisting to learn English. It’s still happening, know. Slowly, but surely.
About the author
Annika Bourgogne holds a Master of Arts degree in French and English from the University of Helsinki. She has written her master’s degree on bilingualism, and is mother to two bilingual daughters. Annika is also the author of the Be Bilingual: Practical Ideas for Multilingual Families book.
This article was published originally in the Journal of a bilingual family
Relational dialectics in intercultural couples’ relationships
The main purpose of this study is to describe and to understand the intercultural couples’ relationships in Finland from the relational-dialectics perspective. Relational dialectics supports the idea that tensions (relational contradictions) are a fundamental feature of a relationship, and are thus distinct from conflict or problems. In this qualitative study, data were collected from 18 heterosexual intercultural couples (36 persons), utilizing the multi-method approach.
The intercultural couples in this study experienced internal and external dialectics. Internal dialectics were specifically related to intercultural adaptation, e.g. need of support, uncertainty about the future, and identity confusion issues. Externally, the couples encountered challenges of inclusion and exclusion regarding, e.g. family support, access to a social network, which are facilitated through disclosure, which is at times problematic regarding the host community’s language.
The effects of intercultural couples’ cultural background on their relationship concerned continual negotiations, that constitute their lives -internally and externally- and entail repeated decision-making and compromising about friends, religion, traditions and celebrations, and their acceptance in the larger social network, the upbringing and education of their children, values and gender issues, and adaptation.
The common thread surfacing in the couples’ accounts of how their different cultural backgrounds are reflected in their relationships is unquestionably the continual re-negotiation between the two partners themselves and between the couples and their social networks. In a sense these define their intercultural relationship; all their moves are negotiated moves.
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).
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