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Finally, I turn to what I believe is the most important thing that families living in monolingual societies can do to achieve bilingualism—parents should make it a point to speak the native language at home and have the children respond in that language. Parents are perhaps the single most significant source of heritage language input for immigrant children. Research shows that parental use of the native language is crucial in children’s development in that language and that children who maintain fluency in the heritage language into adulthood often come from homes where the language was spoken as a matter of policy (e.g., Bayley, Schecter, & Torres-Ayala, 1996; Portes & Hao, 1998). Because English has such a powerful and overriding influence on children’s lives once they begin school, some parents may institute a household ban on English to protect the use of the heritage language.

Consider the story of Monica, a bilingual participant in my study on mixed heritage adults (Shin, 2010). She was born in Seoul to a Korean mother and an African American father who was in the U.S. military. When Monica was around four, her parents divorced, and she and her mother moved to the U.S. Her mother subsequently married a Korean man with whom she had another daughter. Monica explained that her stepfather had a strict Korean-only policy in the home and would ignore her and her sister if they did not address him in Korean:

[My stepfather] spoke to me only in Korean .... He, honestly, won’t even acknowledge you unless you speak to him in Korean . . . . He ignores my sister. He’ll look at my mother and say, “your daughter is trying to say something." That’s how it is, even now .... When I look at the method that he used to make me speak Korean, I think it’s a little extreme. I’m not bitter about it. My sister is. Because that’s her father, you know. And she has no bond with him at all. Because she doesn’t speak Korean. He basically just doesn’t acknowledge her at all. They’re very, very strict. Well, my stepfather is. Very, I mean, very tough. Very, very tough. (p. 210)

Few people are as extreme as Monica’s stepfather. Most parents adapt to their children’s language preferences by also switching to English to varying degrees. Many people believe that it is more important to connect with their children in whatever language than to insist on one and not communicate at all. While children naturally identify with their peers in the majority language and prefer to speak it at home, the push for parents to shift to the majority language can also come from childhood professionals such as doctors, teachers, and speech therapists.

Some time ago, during a parent-teacher conference, one of my younger son’s teachers shared with me that while my son was a delightful boy, he had some writing issues that prevented him from getting an A in class. She asked, “Does Joshua speak another language at home?"

“Yes, we speak Korean." I replied.

“Yeah, I thought so," she said. “I often see problems like this in children who speak another language at home."

The fact that this teacher grouped all the bilingual students in the underperformer category bothered me, but I promised her that I would work with Joshua at home to improve his writing skills. I also explained the importance of our children knowing both languages and asked her for her support.

Bilingual families living in monolingual societies need to make much greater efforts to maintain two languages, and this often means learning to brush off the subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions from teachers, doctors, well- intentioned neighbors, relatives, and friends to abandon the home language

(Baker, 2007). Parents need to remember that they are the greatest source of native language input for their children and overcome their reluctance to speak the language at home. Obviously, having the support of people who believe in the value of bilingualism and are also raising children bilingually can be helpful. But even families with little support in the immediate community may be able to connect with others in similar situations through the Internet (see also online resources at the end of this chapter).

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