Culture and heritage consist of the passing of traditions and mores from one generation to another. As parents, we often want to share with our children the best of our own lives and our traditions are a huge part of that. When raising children in a country different from the one in which you grew up, the challenge is that there are several competing cultures vying for their attention. But just like language, culture can shape the development of our children and families.
In this post, we want to share the importance of embracing your culture while living abroad, and a few tips on how to pass your heritage on to your children while embracing the majority culture in which you live and we’re going to give you a few reasons why raising bicultural kids is just as important as raising them to be bilingual.
It's important, because tequeños and cheese sticks are not the same!
This may seem silly, but just follow me for a bit. Ask any Venezuelan about tequeños and it will take them down memory lane and smile, thinking about all the good times they shared with loved ones. Tequeños are delicious pieces of white cheese, wrapped in dough and deep fried. However, they are not mozzarella sticks!!! Mozzarella sticks are delicious and they are a great treat whenever we go to a restaurant in the U.S.! However, as a bicultural family, do we really want to miss out on one or the other? Tequeños are just a small example of this dichotomy. When we raise our children in a country different than our own we tend to cook meals we grew up with, as we probably learned how to make them at home with our parents and grandparents. Enjoying the smells and flavors of our childhood is a wonderful way to pass on our heritage, but exploring and enjoying the cuisine and tradition of the majority culture (along with other cultures!) but do we want our kids to miss out on the wonderful things this new country has to offer? Maybe it’s time to make new traditions as a family and embrace the best of both worlds.
It's Important, Because Children Need to Connect with Family and Friends on Both Sides of the Cultural Divide
One of the issues I most often read about in parent boards about multilingualism, is the difficulty that comes about when children can't connect with family members due to language and cultural barriers. If children can't communicate with family members and don't feel a connection to their culture, it can create uncomfortable situations and missed opportunities. On the other hand, if you completely ignore the traditions of the majority culture, you and your family might be missing out on wonderful new experiences. Moreover, not embracing the majority culture might even create a barrier between you and your children as they grow up, so it's important to make new traditions as a family and embrace the best of both worlds.
It's important, because bicultural children will be able to empathize with the world better
Children who have been exposed to different cultures can draw from them and experience the world through what they know from them. Being able to speak a different language than the majority in the place they’re growing up in enhances those abilities. In the words of Charlemagne “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” According to several studies to speak another language and being exposed to another culture helps the children experience the world through a different mindset, like getting two different sets of lenses to see the world through, making it easier for them to empathize with others.
It's important, because bicultural children will be more interested in both languages
Cultural connections are a great way to propel language learning. Children may not be eager to use a heritage language and raising bilingual children is a lot of work! Studies suggest that the earlier children are exposed to another language, the better their ability to become native speakers. However, keeping up with their language development takes hard work, dedication, and a lot of creativity! As a parent and language teacher, I know that one of the best ways of getting a child hooked on a language is to explore its cultural background, so food, music, and dance are just a few ways to get them interested!
It's important, because it makes our children more creative and out of the box thinkers Living in two different cultures often translates to being able to adapt to different social situations in very creative ways. This creativity is not restricted to social situations; it spreads to every single aspect of their lives, making them out of the box thinkers. And this matters because when ideas come together, and even when they clash, we are more likely to see and solve problems. After all, isn’t that what we want for them?
Here are a few activities to complete when raising bicultural children
- Cook with your kids. It does not only help them develop healthy eating habits, but it’s a bonding experience based in love and culture with the flavors and smells from your own childhood.
- Make sure their screen time (tv, video games) is in the target language. At Learn Safari we specialize in creating interactive language apps to help children learn and practice languages. If your target language is Spanish, you can try our first app, Spanish Safari! (You can download Spanish Safari for iOS here.)
- Have your child join a Play Group with other children from the minority culture. This is a wonderful way to connect with other parents with whom you can share experiences and information.
- Read cultural books. Reading is the best way to practice language and reading books that connect your children to your heritage culture can be a great bonding experience.
- Go to restaurants that make your favorite meals to embrace your cuisine and customs, or the intended culture.
- Attend festivals and such events where your culture is celebrated.
- Listen and dance to the music of your culture.
What is your experience in raising bicultural children? Do you have any tips to share? Feel free to do so in the comments below! Together we can support each other in raising global citizens that honor their heritage and embrace their new culture by creating new traditions of their own.
About the authors:
Keli Garcia-Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari, a Spanish Learning game for children 5-9 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.