Growing up bilingual


“When everyone at school is speaking one language, and a lot of your classmates parents also speak it, and you go home and see that your community is different – there is a sense of shame attached to that.”

– Sonia Sotomayor

Even with all of the promotion about being unique in the media nowadays, social norms still exist and don’t seem to give us the freedom we would like to have when expressing ourselves. Instead the pressure to be part of something grows larger and larger. Owning a trait that sets you apart can cause conflict with yourself. Isn’t it strange that we want to stand out, but at the same time we want to fit in?

The quote above will more likely speak to those, who grew up bilingual. Language, origin and culture play a bigger role in one’s identity than you might believe. Growing up bilingual has a shadow side to it, especially for young children and teenagers. Imagine being able to communicate in two languages. That doesn’t seem so bad, does it? But there will always be mundane questions like “Where do you come from?” that look simple at first, but turn into a unsolvable riddle that will hang over you like a cloud for the rest of your life. Even if you are a citizen in one country and have the papers to prove it, that doesn’t mean you are one and not the other. You are both. Or are you?

So many children and teens associate this conflict with shame. So why is that? Why are some people ashamed of their roots? For one, many don’t understand what they are. If you have parents from different countries with different cultures then what does that make you? – A hybrid of some kind?

languageAs a child I was just confused because I didn’t really have a key factor that made me me. Bilingualism and identity are key factors when confronting this kind of conflict. Some children and teens will face stereotypes and negative attitudes towards them regarding one language of theirs and might even stop using that one all together. I know that I personally took a long time as a child to accept that fact. There really is no easy way to teach children that being different isn’t a bad thing. Every person will face an “identity crisis” / “wave of shame” at one point and will have to realise the pointlessness of this by themselves. Once I noticed my obvious advantage I became more interested in my root, my family history and the two cultures I come from.

Everyday we are influenced by the people and environment around us. This will shape us into the person we are. Instead of seeing this as something negative, we should encourage others to benefit from that. Bilingual students have a great advantage in their later lives and have experience no books in the world can recreate. Normal people can never achieve this knowledge we have. We create our own normal.

4 thoughts on “Growing up bilingual

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