Bilingualism in Teens – What happens next?

While settling on a new continent, language is a huge possibility and barrier. On the one hand we are giving our children a gift of living in two cultures and evolve in two languages. On the other hand, keeping two languages active takes an abundant amount of determination and constant reminders from parent to child, to use both languages appropriately. As a parent, I know, first hand, all the challenges involved. Our children were born in this country, they are Swedish-American but both my husband and I grew up in Sweden, and our first language is Swedish. Swedish is the language we speak at home.

I just wrote some thoughts of mine, in Swedish on a Swedish blog for Swedish people abroad, Svenska som modersmål utomlands It has been humbling, and flattering observing all the positive response I have received. That is why, I want to reflect a little about our situation from an English speaking, Swedish mind perspective. First I was thinking of just providing an English translation of the Swedish blog, but hey, anyone can Google that, right?

What I want to convey here is that although we are a “Swedish speaking household”, our children have to be reminded to speak Swedish with us. Both girls Swedish accent is flawless, but they do mix words a lot, and the sentence structure often follows the English grammar. Many tend to assume that just because both parents speak Swedish, the language will come naturally. For me and my husband, yes, for my kids – if they choose they choose English. Texting is tricky. I always have to actively remind myself to respond to my daughter’s English text in Swedish. Do you text with your child in Swedish?

Now when I officially am turning into a teenage mother, I have so many new challenges around the corner. We have managed to build a foundation in our children in terms of language, but now it is the cultural difference that is becoming more present. Puberty, homecoming, sweet sixteen, school dances…It is all brand new for me! I am so fortune to have a solid group of people around me who can lead the way and show me how it is done!

While our children were born here, we are not necessarily dealing with the same challenges as a family moving in with school aged kids. We have slowly learned the differences in child bearing and have had time to question not only the difference in the cultures, but also the different ideas of raising children. From someone brand new to this culture, there is a huge difference. The way kids are addressing teachers and other grown ups. I can never get used to be addressed by a little girl as Mrs. Strom, I usually let them know that Linda is OK, although I do have to respect parents who are teaching their children “proper” behavior.

When I talk to parents of my daughters’ friends I hear stories of their childhood that in many ways were similar to mine. Kids used to be more free, children were allowed to roam, explore the woods, play and taking risks that parents probably wasn’t aware of. Parents were not constantly involved in the school, in classroom, and were not expected to do this.  And of course… “In my days, we walked hill up and hill down to get to school, even in snow!”  Who has not heard the story of a relative having to walk miles to get to school under extremely harsh conditions? No Minivan or SUV transporting the little precious angels into the soft environment of the land of School. The building was not filled with smiling teachers, administrators, and a second crew of unpaid volunteers (aka known as parents) keeping the days interesting and filled with learning possibilities.

It is naturally for any parent to want to help as much as they can when it comes to their children. However, if English is not my first language, I don’t have the emotional language to understand when a word, although if the sentence structure is perfectly fine, will mean something not intended. Cursing, using sarcasm, joking takes time to learn. Neither of these phenomena can be translated by words only. I cannot curse in English, it just sounds ridiculous. On the other hand, I have been here long enough to know what swearwords are not permitted at certain ages. Should we teach our children to curse properly in our native language? I think it is safe to teach my kids my swearwords…they are so old fashion so it won’t hurt them!

I am all ranting today, but I am in stress, chock, my baby just turned into a teen, she is not a child anymore!

Glad Sommar till er alla och jag hoppas ni hinner njuta av långa sköna lediga dagar med salta bad, sol och myggbett!




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