Growing up Bilingual, Bicultural, and Bi-happy

For parents who are raising kids in a bicultural household, teaching them to speak Ingles y Español is something of a passion. That’s why developing habits that incorporate both cultures into kids’ daily routines, says John Baugh -- chair of the Public Relations Committee at the Linguistic Society of America and professor emeritus of education and linguistics at Stanford University -- will bring bicultural happiness to la familia.

Engage them in activities from both culturas.
“Watch television in both languages, particularly the one that is not dominant in your speech community. Sing songs and nursery rhymes from both cultures. This will instill respect and familiarity with both,” says Baugh, the Margaret Bush Wilson professor in arts and sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

Give both cultures equal importance.
“Depending upon the context in which people live, circumstances may imply that one culture may be devalued in comparison to the dominant culture and language,” adds Baugh. “If this impression exists, family members should do everything possible to maintain and value their family heritage, language and culture, while doing what’s necessary to gain fluency in the dominant language and culture.”

Baugh offers this final note: “The benefits of bilingualism and biculturalism are tremendous. Chinese, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese are growing in global influence. People who are familiar with more than one language, and more than one culture, will be better equipped to participate more fully in the future global economy. This familiarity with languages and cultures besides English is an underutilized asset in a global economy that demands linguistic and cultural dexterity.”

Photo: Corbis Images

by Bryna Jean-Marie