A Bilingual/Bicultural Household

My household is a Bilingual/Bicultural household.  James is Deaf and we use American Sign Language (ASL)to communicate.  I knew ASL before I met him, I was working as a sign language interpreter before we met.  Now, we have two children and it is incredibly important to us that both of our children are able to directly communicate with their father.  

I do not want to spend the rest of my life interpreting for them and we both want our children to be able to connect with their father in a personal and direct way.

While it may seem natural or an easy thing, there really is quite a bit to think about. 

First, language acquisition occurs with more than one language model present.  The more the better, actually.  But James is the only deaf person in the family.  I sign and a couple of James' family members sign as well, but not fluently.  Plus, where we live, it isn't always easy to surround ourselves with native signers.  So we try to make extra efforts to sign with the kids. 

Labeling is not the same as communicating.  Learning the signs for some nouns is a great way to begin language development, but we want more than just naming nouns, we want our children to carry on a conversation, to express emotions and feelings, to be able to ask questions (and have Daddy help with homework down the line and not just Mommy).

Children are different.  I know this seems like a lightening bolt of insight to say, but it is true.  :)  My daughter has incredible language skills.  She paid attention to what was going on even when she was int he incubator at the hospital in the NICU.  She started signing before she spoke and for quite awhile she had far more signs than spoken words.  And we loved it.  The family wanted to see her "do baby tricks" a.k.a. make her sign something.  It didn't work quite like that, if she had a purpose she would sign like crazy.  Now she has a larger spoken vocabulary than sign, but she uses both quite well.  She chooses when she wants to say something or sign something.  And she says ridiculous things sometimes that I am amazed she knows at this age.  She cracks me up.

My son, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have the propensity to language that my daughter does.  Not that he isn't intelligent, it's just that my daughter seems to have a gift in language and my son doesn't have that same level of a gift.  His strogest gifts are elsewhere.  So it has been more challenging to develop the bilingual skills in him that my daughter has and Daddy has had to work harder to communicate with our son, than with our daughter.  My son has learnd the art of pointing and of dragging or pushing Daddy in the direction he wants to convey his message.  He understands much, much more than he expresses. 

So my children are different.  One boy, one girl, maybe there are gender differences.  First child vs. second child.  Certainly I do not sign as much with the two of them when Daddy is not around because it gets a little more hectic and efficiency wins out more often than I wish.  I love each of my children dearly and would not trade them for the world, but I would be lying if I said that I devoted as much individual time to my son as I did my daughter when she was born and the only child.  It is physically impossible to do so.  All of these details are factors that effect my children, their development and their bilingual acquisition.  No matter the speed of which they acquire these skills, this will be an ongoing struggle in our home and something that we will be intentionally thinking about and changing how we do things in our home to keep that acquistion going throughout our lives. 

Being a bilingual household is something that we value, that makes us unique as a family...that makes us "us" and though we know the kids will not always see this uniqueness as a positive thing...we hope that as they grow into adulthood we help them to embrace this part of their identity.  That they are the blending of two beautiful languages, two beautiful cultures and the blending of two people who love them more than life itself. 

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