Be or not to be bilingual?

or many of us, Polish emigrants, it is quite normal that our children attending non-Polish schools should also continue their education in Polish. If this is the case, there is no doubt that shortly they will be bilingual. What does it mean? According to wikipedia bilingualism is an ability to use two languages the way as they were both mother languages. In our case it will be Polish and English.

What advantages our children will be given?

- The list of all advantages of bilingualism is long. Multilingual persons have access to more than one culture. They are usually more creative, open-minded, tolerant, and communicative. They have got two or more words to describe a subject or phenomenon. They are more sensitive for language meanings. They can communicate with many different groups of people. They are more tolerant for people that are not multilingual. Multilingualism will have positive influence for the future life of our children, especially for their education, professional career, marriage, family matters, social status, etc.

We have to be conscious that we are closing the door to bilingualism for our children if we reduce the time they have contact with Polish. It is quite natural that they have more English time every day. This can damage their Polish.

Jean Piaget (1896-1980), Suisse professor of the Psychology of Education of the University of Geneva developed a largely accepted theory of the intellectual development of a child that revolutionised the way we think about it. He distinguished and defined four stages of this development. Concrete operational stage is the third one. It starts at 7 and remains till 11. Then Formal operational stage begins. Children start to think abstractive way. Of course the exact moment of the passage from one stage to another is an individual matter

And, what is so special about the third stage? That moment is important as the child develops their visual and sonar analysis and synthesis which allow them to learn reading and writing. They build their vocabulary very fast, their communication skills are increasing, they think autonomously and they are able to apply logic and abstract thinking to the real and imaginary situations.

Their imagination increases and a well structured cognitive perception is built. They easily perceive and are able to concentrate on a chosen subject. They develop logic based associative memory, which replace the mechanical one.

The use of the language in thinking and active logical analysis increases significantly. They accommodate abstract scientific thinking. They talents show up. They are curious about the world, learn enthusiastically, and want all their questions to be answered. They are able to work on the object of their interest long and effectively.

This is caused by their enormous curiosity for the world. It may happen that their teachers may have more authority for them than their parents have, which is usual in the cases of younger children. Nevertheless, the family is still the most important issue for 10 years old. Unfortunately, it may change sooner or later as they become more egocentric and independent so they may not want to fully cooperate and they may want to decide for themselves autonomously.

They may start to criticise their environment and may show more expectation for others and much less for them self. Same thing happens with their tolerance, which is visibly asymmetric and focuses mainly on their self. Those disturbances are caused by the process of becoming adults. This time is difficult for them as they crystallize themselves as individual human beings searching for their psychological identity and their place in the world.

Occasionally, the family could be somehow rejected giving a place for other usually an adolescent group. The sense of belonging to a group where they share worries and question authorities with similar individuals may cause a conflict between two systems, the old system of priorities related to their families and the new one where no strict rules are set.

In such a stage, there might be problems to motivate our children to do whatever we think is right for them, for example learn Polish with the same enthusiasm as English. Nevertheless we should try, as it is better for them to do it now than in the future.

Dorota Pelszyk