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Raising Bilingual Children: An Interview with Professor Christof Demont-Heinrich

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to interview Christof Demont-Heinrich, Associate Professor of Media, Film & Media Studies at the University of Denver about his views on bilingualism, and also his experiences of raising bilingual children.

I first came across Christof on the brilliant sociolinguistics website Language on the Move where I was immediately fascinated by his articles on the costs of raising bilingual children in the United States. What is interesting about Christof is that while his father was German, Christof was raised to speak only English, and learnt German later at university. He now uses the one language one parent approach to teach his two daughters German and English, but as a non-native speaker of German, he has also employed at various times German au pairs, a nanny and then sent his daughters to an international school in the US.

Michelle: Some people from English speaking countries feel that due to English being the (unofficial) lingua franca of the world at present, that being bilingual is unimportant for native English speakers. Why was it important for you to raise your two daughters to be bilingual in the US?

Christof: I believe strongly in the ideal/ethic of meaningful multilingualism for all, including mother tongue speakers of English. I also believe that simply talking about how important multilingualism is — which a lot of well-educated mother tongue speakers of English do — but not actually living that multilingualism in a meaningful way is highly problematic. We need to live that which we preach/believe in, create the social structures and practices we believe in by living them, or they will not come to be viagra rezeptfrei preisvergleich. Plain and simple. I recognize this is highly idealistic, of course, and the fact of the matter is that, while a small but also growing percentage of the U.S. population with English as a MT are waking up to the fact that multilingualism has to be lived in order for the ideal to survive, for instance, by building language immersion schools, the vast majority of people for whom English is a MT in the U.S. either have little interest in multilingualism, or, if they do, do not bother to invest themselves significantly in building the social structures and participating actively in the social practices needed to develop multilingualism in a meaningful way.

In short, while I recognize — in a painful way, actually — that instrumental language learning means that very few mother tongue speakers are going to invest in becoming meaningful multilinguals themselves, I want to build a world in which this changes, even if very slowly. I view myself, and the bilingual living and education of my daughters as integral to actively building the multilingual social change I believe in. I’m not so naive as to believe that we, alone, will change much of anything. But if enough people “walk the walk”, then, hopefully, change will happen on an incremental basis. Of course, being somewhat of a natural born pessimist, I often think that what I’m doing is rather hopeless.

Why did you choose the combination English/German?

C: For heritage reasons. My father emigrated to the U.S. from German in the early 1960s. He did not pass his linguistic heritage on to me or my two siblings (my mom is an American who was, when we were kids, an English monolingual). We lived for 8 months in Stuttgart, Germany when I was 7. I went to school then, along with my younger brother, who was 6. I acquired something very close to a native accent as a result of this well-timed experience. However, I never really learned German until college (the late 1980s), when I chose to major in German and I spent a full year studying abroad in Freiburg, Germany.

Why did you choose the one language one parent approach? Would you recommend this approach to other parents who might not be a native speaker of the language?

Everything I have read — and I have read extensively on the topic of raising children bilingual — points toward this being the most effective approach, at least if the goal for the children to use the minority language regularly on an everyday basis and, ideally, acquire high-level spoken fluency in that language (I recognize this is not always the goal for all parents raising their children as multilinguals, that there is a continuum of goals/hopes for the children ranging from a “a few words/sentences” and simply a general appreciation of the minority language to receptive bilingualism only to full-scale, near “equilingualism” for the children. I believe my stubborn and consistent sticking to German — which, as you probably know, is not a first language for me — with my daughters, Alina (7) and Kyra (6) has been absolutely integral to them using German everyday. I’ve seen many situations in which parents, for a variety of understandable reasons, do not stick to one parent one language and, in those case, I see that the children often speak very little German at all. While I think one parent, one language, and sticking to that is absolutely crucial if the goal is high-end spoken fluency and regular use of the minority language and the family situation is one in which only one parent speaks the minority language (that is our situation), I think an even better situation is one in which both parents speak the minority/less powerful language in question, for instance, German in the U.S. In those instances, I would support a two-parent German at home model, frankly.

What have you found most challenging/rewarding?

In terms of challenges, fighting the system, frankly. The entire U.S. public education system is rigged against multilingualism and for monolingualism. Indeed, it’s specifically designed to ensure the erasure of the languages of immigrants who are educated in English only. Because there is only a tiny percentage of public charter schools in the U.S. that offer language immersion program — far less than 1% of schools in the U.S. offer language immersion — and because “our” language, German, is not a powerful language in the U.S. context, we have been forced to send our kids to a private language immersion school. I’ve estimated by the time my daughters are 13, we will have spent $250,000 out of pocket on their bilingual education. This because the American public education system simply does not support bilingualism. Nor does the larger American values system — if we truly valued meaningful, deep multlingualism for all, we would see that reflected in investment in multilingualism in our education system. The monolingual U.S. public education system is nested within a cultural and political environment that is largely indifferent, often very antithetical, to multilingualism, especially actually lived, everyday multilingualism where people actually use multiple languages on an everyday basis in multiple domains outside of the home.

Are there any books or journal articles you would recommend for other parents wanting to raise their children to be bilingual?

I’m going to have to check on this. While I’ve read quite a few, I haven’t kept track of them, for the most part. That’s because my area of research as a professor at the University of Denver focuses primarily on macro-level issues having to do with language, identity, power, culture, globalization, and, especially, the globalization of English as this affects the larger global linguistic configuration of power as well as the question of multilingualism vs. English-centric bilingualism (for those for whom English is a FL) vs. English monolingualism (for those with English as a MT).

Do you want your daughters to spend time living in Germany while they are young? (to become familiar with the German culture as well as the language?)

Yes. In fact, I hope to be spending a sabbatical year at the University of Hamburg with the entire family next year. I hope that everything works out and we are able to do this. Of course, I am aware of the rather large irony that in order to raise my kids as true/meaningful bilinguals I must escape the deep monolingualism of the U.S. education system and place my kids in the largely German monolingual educational environment in German.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Yes, they are clearly learning English in Germany, the students, that is, and they start at a much earlier age than children here do on learning FLs. But in the end, the general environment in Germany, I would say, is still one in which the ideology of monolingualism, in this case monolingualism + English, dominates, e.g. the “modern” nation state model. I ultimately view as the biggest impediment to meaningful and deep multilingualism for large numbers of people around the globe. That is, English isn’t really the problem, it’s the ideology of monolingualism that’s the problem. In global power domains this translates into English only — at academic conferences, etc. However, it could just as easily be another language, had historical circumstances developed differently. And, frankly, I often wish they had (though, clearly, I would not have wanted to see Nazi German triumph — that’s a whole other issue, Germany’s Nazi past, that complicates the whole attempt to raise one’s kids as German-English bilinguals: The vast majority of German educated elites see English as an escape from that past — and I, and my daughters, are literally swimming against all the Germans rushing to English in our attempt to be German-English bilinguals). In any case, if another language had become the global language, then we Americans would be multilingual — because we’d have to be.

Thank you very much Christof!

You can read more about Christof’s views here at Language on the Move.


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Itchy Feet

For those of us who have moved multiple times, sometimes saying in one place can be the hardest thing of all.

This is especially true for me when times get tough. When I have bad days, when I’m lonely, or frustrated, one thing that always pops into my head is ‘life could be easier if you just moved to (insert city/country that is my flavour of the month)’. It’s not that I actually want to run away from my problems, and in fact I’ve never actually followed though with these thoughts, but they are always there, in the back of my mind – you could just move, leave it all behind, start again – it would be better next time, somewhere else.Sandy Wexler film trailer

I also like to research other countries and cities that I’d like to live in. At the moment for example, I like to read about the thoughts and experiences of people that live in Berlin. I’m sure if I moved there from Stockholm, I’d be looking up what life might be like in another city, and probably missing aspects of life in Sweden. (In an attempt to remedy this desire, I’m going to Berlin to explore/work for a week rather than permanently – to my husband’s great relief, I’m sure).

The same thing goes for language. I used to love the Swedish language when I lived in Australia. I’d watch movies, read books, and look forward to my Swedish lectures at university. Lately – the last 3 or 4 months, I’ve grown tired of learning Swedish. Maybe I’ve hit that point where it’s harder to see progress, where I can do almost everything I need to do in Swedish, and so I stop feeling as motivated – which then leads to me thinking of all the other languages I would like to learn instead. 

It can really be a challenge – this experience of life across so many cultures – you grow to love so many different places, to make friendships with people who scatter across the globe, you become comfortable with the process of being new (an outsider), and almost addicted to it. It becomes hard to settle, to grow roots – or rather, to take pleasure from these roots – they can seem at times stifling, and yet at the same time something you deeply crave.

I sometimes wonder (out of sheer curiosity, and only very very rarely, a hint of envy) how it must feel to have always lived in one place, to be part of a community you have grown up with, to know where you belong and where you want to remain. I have no idea where I will be in five years time, on which continent I will be living, which language I’ll be learning. But the thought of not knowing makes me feel comfortable rather than fearful.

I just hope I can learn to take pleasure from where I am now, this very moment, rather than imagining everywhere else, anywhere but here. 


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‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage’ is exelent film tell story about Extreme athlete turned government operative Xander Cage comes out of self-imposed exile, thought to be long dead, and is set on a collision course with deadly alpha warrior Xiang and his team in a race to recover a sinister and seemingly unstoppable weapon known as Pandora’s Box. Recruiting an all-new group of thrill-seeking cohorts, Xander finds himself enmeshed in a deadly conspiracy that points to collusion at the highest levels of world governments. This movie have genre Action, Adventure, Thriller, Crime and have 107 minutes runtime.

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Exploring Identity: the challenges of going ‘home’

Going home, back to where you were born, or where your parents were born can have one of the biggest impacts on your sense of identity and belonging.

Many immigrants, refugees and expats living abroad do not identify fully with the culture of their adopted country, identifying more strongly with the culture of their country of birth, or that of their parents’.

An extended visit, or permanent return to their country of origin or that of their parents, can shatter any idealised pictures formed during years away. While we are overseas, our home country is changing and will not be the exact same place when we return, just as we are not the same people when we come back after two or three or ten years. It can cause the person to realise that their new ‘home’ or ‘homes’ are becoming a larger part of their identity, sometimes leading to a sense of not belonging fully anywhere.

Yesterday as I was re-reading Geert Hofstede’s Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, I came across a paragraph that summed up my thoughts perfectly:

“A common experience for second-generation immigrants is to identify with their country of origin while they live in the adoptive country of their parents but, in contrast, to feel that they belong to their new country when they visit their parents’ country of origin. This is because they are likely to live by a mix of cultural (hidden) rules from both societies while emotionally needing a primary group with which to identify. To no surprise, they often seek comfort with one another.”

Seeking comfort with people who share similar experiences was one of the main traits I mentioned in my discussion of Third Culture Kids – feeling a sense of belonging to those who have a similar experience of life across cultures, even for those who do not share countries in common.

One of the best examples I have read of this experience is that of Lisa, a girl living in Sweden, but originally from Yugoslavia in Paradoxes of Multiculturalism: Essays on Swedish Society:

“One young girl, Lisa, travels to Yugoslavia to find her ‘real’ homeland. Yugoslavia, often referred to as the homeland, is perceived of in terms of challenges associated with the search for belonging and identity, for one’s own home. For immigrant youth, ‘home’ is a multifaceted metaphor. Lisa travels back home every year with her parents … One year, when Lisa spent a prolonged period in the homeland (Yugoslavia). on her own, she found herself only partly at home. She identified homelessness there with similar forms of homelessness in Sweden.

Eventually she found her path crossed by and resembling that of fellow travellers in her multicultural circle of friends in the Stockholm suburbs from where the trip home had begun. This circle of friends consisted of an ethnically mixed group of girls and boys with shared ongoing journeys ‘home’. Among Serbian Lisa’s best friends were a Turkish boy, an Italian-Swedish girl and a wholly Swedish girl. The rest of her circle included about a dozen youth, mostly boys from the Muslim Meditteranean area.

To retain their identities in the multi-ethnic suburban tenements they actively had to create a cultural consciousness that was more comprehensive than that of their parents. Through its ethnic mix, this circle of friends not only represented most of what could be found in the local community, but also constituted a new kind of community, one which questioned and reworked both the traditional values of the new (Swedish) world, and the established attitudes about masculinity/femininity, friendship/ emnity, etc. of the ‘old’ world.”

We can see that it wasn’t until Lisa spent a prolonged period of time in her homeland, or rather the homeland of her parents, that she realized she didn’t belong fully in Sweden or in Serbia. But she found a sense of belonging with her friends who had shared similar experiences, who were third culture kids, like her.

Tesfay, a refugee living in London explored his sense of rootlessness in the book Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees by Caroline Moorehead:

“If I were to play with words, I would say that I was homeless. Even if I go back to Eritraya now, I will not belong there. I will be strange to people, and they will be strange to me. I have acquired new habits and manners. But here, I lack what I need to feel at home. Wherever I am, for the rest of my life, I will never be entirely at home again.”

It is clear that many adults who live outside of their country of birth often feel as though their identity shifts, that they assimilate parts of the new culture into that of their past, some developing a more cosmopolitan outlook, others feeling rootless, and lost.

These issues of identity will only continue to grow, as migration does.

In Third Culture Kids, Pollock and van Reken predict that “growing up among cultural differences is already, or soon will be, the rule rather than the exception – even for those who never physically leave their home country”. The Schengen Agreement is making it easier for Europeans to relocate and find work in countries not previously as open to them in the past, for work, study, and love. Asylum seekers will continue to arrive in Europe in search of protection and family reunification and immigrants will come to build a better life for their families. This human movement is encouraging a cosmopolitan ethos of interconnectedness and multiculturalism within the European Union, on a scale never seen before.Watch Cyberbully (2015) Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

 


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