Parenting and languages
Updated: Jul 18, 2021
On parenting bilingual children in Ireland
A mother's thoughts on raising bilingual children in Ireland
We, the expats
The 2016 census showed that more than 600,000 Irish residents spoke a foreign language at home. Polish was the most common with more than 108,000 people born outside the State and just over 27,000 born in Ireland speaking it in the home. This was followed by French (55,000 speakers), Romanian (37,000 speakers) and Lithuanian (35,000 speakers).
Dealing with national identity
Same as myself, you or your family might have left your country in search of a better life economically. If this is true, then your focus is on learning English and integrating as best as possible in this country. A perfectly reasonable expectation for an adult and in truth recommended. The problem is that in our stride to "fit in", we forget to show and teach our children our true identity, our heritage, our language.
Politics, corruption, and bad international fame of some countries make people feel guiltily ashamed of answering the question, "Where are you from?". It can be even harder to feel like your children would benefit from learning your native language in these cases. I felt like this for years and years, having left my country almost 15 years ago and having no intention of going back. These feelings, however, have changed since I had my son. They have separated into what I feel for the way my country is governed and how I feel for the values my upbringing gave me. I chose to focus on the latter and re-immerse myself in the feelings of safety, happiness and freedom of my childhood.
The language of love
Did it ever feel odd to tell someone you love them in another language than your native? It's because the feeling of love is expressed best in the language you first learned about it, and that is your native language.
Growing up in Romania, watching soap operas and American movies, I used to think that it would be so wonderful to have someone to whom to say "I love you" to. It sounded so glamorous, and it was a fantasy for a little girl living in a small village in Romania.
Then I married an Irish man, and by then, I had already been speaking fluent English for about ten years. I told him, "I love you" many times, of course, and I meant it; I still mean it every single day. But when my son was born, I found that words like "I love you" could not express the immense, extreme, out of this world love I felt for him. Here is when I realized that if I was going to give my son all the love that he deserved, I needed to get back in touch with my language, my heritage. Everything clicked from then on, and the journey I am on today begun.
Support for bilingual and multilingual families in Ireland
There is a lot of support for bilingual/multilingual and language-specific communities in Ireland. And if, like me, you are not finding any family/children communities in your language near to your location, why not build one yourself?
Facebook groups are the first place to look for communities in your language. I am sure most of you belong to some group for expats from your country. In my case, there are at least 5 Romanian Facebook groups in Ireland. However, none of them actually supported families that want to raise their children bilingual. So I created a Facebook group called "Raising bilingual children in Cork" (Crestem copii bilingvi in Cork) and organized meetings with parents and children who speak Romanian. Due to the pandemic, it wasn't hugely successful, but it put me on the path I am now to help other parents like me find resources in their language to help them in their bilingual journey.
Multilingual support communities like Mother Tongues are also a great source of expert information on many aspects of raising bilingual children in Ireland. They have been supporting multilingual families in Ireland for more than four years. You can join the Mother Tongues Families and get access to loads of content that will encourage you to think more about your family's life's bilingual aspect.
I am only at the beginning of my journey with my almost 2 years old son, as many of you are with your little ones. I feel grateful that I get to raise my child in a country like Ireland, where there is enormous respect for other cultures no matter the origin. I am constantly discovering more and more sources of information and support for bilingual families, and I will be sharing these with you as I go finding them. You can see a list of these resources on the Resources page of our website.
Thank you for reading.