“If culture was a house, then language was the key to the front door, to all the rooms inside. Without it, he said, you ended up wayward, without a proper home or a legitimate identity.” – Khaled Hosseini (from the book And the Mountains Echoed)
I don’t think anyone can deny the benefits of having your child/children speak another language and be raised bilingual. However, this is not always easy to do. From my personal experience and reading a little bit about this topic here are my suggestions:
- If both parents speak Persian, make sure that that is the only language you speak to your children at home.
- Often parents worry that their children will not be able to communicate in English (or the other language spoken in your country of residence) if Persian is the only language spoken at home. To address this, I made sure to speak English with my child during play dates, on our outings, classes, and interactions with other kids. And of course your child will also hear you speak this language outside the home with others and surely pick it up. So don’t worry about this. I often see parents speak to their child in English so that they will be comfortable in preschool. But what they don’t realize is that once the child is in preschool/school, the dominant language becomes English and the child’s tendency to learn the recessive/minority language (Persian in this case) diminishes greatly and teaching them becomes a struggle. Planting the seed of Persian language in them from infancy is key to success. However, if you are already past this stage, it’s time to throw in the towel. JUST KIDDING!! The key is not to give up!
- If one parent is non-Persian speaking, allow the child to speak to that parent in English (or whatever language the other parent speaks), but make sure that your child speaks to you in Persian. Try to stick with it. Consistency is key!
- Form a playgroup with Persian speaking children or parents. For the child to be surrounded by the language is important and shows them that there are uses for the language you insist that they learn.
- Read them books in Persian. Start from birth! Reading is one of the most effective ways of teaching your children. If you do not know how to read Persian, I suggest you translate some of your favorite stories to Persian for them.
- If your child watches TV, let them watch Persian cartoons. (GLWIZ has a free app for smart phones http://www.glwiz.com/player.aspx and I let my kids watch the cartoon channel)
- Sing! Add some hand movements, and dance to make it interactive.
- Ultimately the best way to learn the language is to be in the environment. A visit to Iran would surely boost their language and enthusiasm for it. I have yet to make this happen with all three children 😉
- Flashcards are a great way to start with smaller words.
- Sometimes pretending that the grandparents don’t know any other language other than Persian can “force” the kids to tap into their Persian vocabulary and use their skills.
Here’s a recent study that came out that shows the benefits of bilingualism: