Do you speak English? I speak Albanian too

Anyone who has ventured in the two worlds of raising children and speaking to them in another language will know what I’m talking about.

As if raising children was not enough, taking the decision to speak to them in a different language sets you on an on-going battle where you need to posses one of the highest forms of perseverance.

Dare I add that deciding to do so with a small minority language might be at best optimistic, at worst delusional? Would that apply to me, since I have in the last two years tried to teach my son Albanian, whilst living in London with my English husband?

My bilingualism worries are becoming more acute now that we are entering a phase of my son starting to be much more interactive in the realm of speaking.

Will he continue to say the words he’s currently saying in Albanian? Will he progress to the next stage of making sentences in Albanian? Will he actually respond to me in Albanian or is it ever going to be the two-track conversation of me speaking in Albanian and him responding in English?

At the moment I have more questions than answers as this is a first time. Initially intended as a ‘let’s see’ type of experiment, two years and a lot of double conversations later, this has now become more serious.

I still remember the first encouraging advice on the matter from the health visitor 1 week after the baby had arrived: ‘if you stick to the rule of one parent one language, you will be fine’. So I did, I kept to it and enjoyed seeing the surprising results on what was a very young child. When he started saying his first words some of them were in Albanian and I’d be smiling thinking ‘interesting, this is working, he’s picking words up!

But as he has grown so has his world and his words. And so the surrounding English has expanded and the minority Albanian has stayed the same or has expanded less fast. In this new expansion phase I am facing my first doubts as to whether this will work as most of his talk is now in English. ‘Oh god’ is one the recent additions, the equivalent of which in Albanian he doesn’t know (it’s ok I am now translating that every time I can…)

So I need to up my game if I want his Albanian to catch up with his English. I was probably enough while he was a baby but now as he’s learning to express himself from other people and is not just listening to me I will not suffice.

I have visited the mumsnet bilingual children forum thread many times, which has been very useful as it has helped with reading about other parents’ experiences and frustrations (and also online resources which sometime do include Albanian!). The bottom line is that it is hard work, you’re not even sure of the results and it gets worse with age as your children get into school.

But what you give to your child is invaluable. You give them the knowledge (even if partial) of another language and culture, the development of their learning and speaking abilities, etc. The case for bilingualism has long been made, so I won’t argue with that!

I am facing my own doubts as to whether I’ll be able to continue this for much longer as it constantly requires efforts, for continuing the Albanian monologue in a group of English speakers; for translating all English books instantaneously into Albanian (!), for doubling children’s programmes in Albanian (again instantaneously); for the repetition and speaking slowly effort, etc. I have a group of friends in a similar situation, which motivates and encourages me to continue. So I don’t feel alone in this crazy extravaganza (is it really?). But they do the same in French so although our efforts meet they don’t use the same content form.

So what can I do to change things? Here is a starter list which I’m sure I’ll have to revisit often.

1. I should see my Albanian speaking friends and family more often.

2. I should set up an Albanian speaking group in my area for conversation and informal learning? Anyone interested please get in touch.

3. I should enrol my son in one of the Albanian supplementary schools (most of which are quite far from where we live but who said that raising bilingual children was easy?) 

4. Take my son to a bilingual school with possibly another second language as Albanian-English bilingual schools haven’t been created yet! French would be my other choice as I speak it and I can team up with my French speaking friends (but would that mean that I’d be swapping Albanian with French just because the French community in London is bigger?)

5. Quit (no that’s not an option)?

6. Send my son to Albania for the summer holidays every year (but I’ll miss him… yes but you cannot have it both ways)

7. Influence his choice of friends so that he befriends Albanian speaking children (are you now thinking of manipulating your child’s choices? Even if he had an Albanian speaking friend they’d end up speaking in English)

8. Any other ideas, please help???

At the end all I am hoping for is that my efforts will not be have been pointless and that at the end my son benefits from being able to speak a second language (which can lead to more languages, maybe mandarin?) and can sometimes speak to me or my parents or his friends in Albanian.

Is that asking too much?