This year I fully intended to grow a vegetable garden.
Visions of juicy ripe tomatoes, crisp green beans and cool cucumbers filled my head. I perused the seed catalogs and checked out the large inventory of gardening paraphernalia in the garage. Winter turned to spring and spring turned to summer - what July already? Where had the first half of the year gone? And, you guessed, it, I was no closer to a vegetable garden than a lone potted tomato plant.
It's not hard to see where I went wrong.
I neglected to plan out my garden. All the dreams in the world won't plant a garden. It takes a little planning, preparation and timing to make it happen. The same is true when raising a bilingual family. If you don't plan your way to bilingualism, you may find time has slipped through your fingers and it's a lot harder to accomplish your goals than you expected.
Why should I plan?
To articulate your expectations, hopes and dreams.
When you say you're raising a bilingual family, what does that mean to you? Do you want your child to be able to converse as a tourist in a German-speaking country? Do you want him to be comfortable with German friends and family? Do you expect to move back to Germany in the future? Should he be able to read and write in German? Bilingualism has different levels and each family will have it's own set of goals. If you haven't thought about your goals, you may realize you're on a path that won't satisfy your expectations.
To get each parent's goals in the open.
If you haven't thought out and planned for your family's bilingualism, than how can your spouse know what you're working toward? When each parent participates in the planning process, you can work together to find the best expectations for your family. When everyone is on the same page, it's much easier to prioritize and budget for any materials you need, make decisions about schooling and plan overseas trips.
To see any gaps and fill them in.
It's a lot of work to raise a bilingual child and the more support you have the better. If there isn't a local community, you can plan upfront to substitute trips, German lessons or extra German language books. If you're not planning, you're just hoping that things will work out and you may be missing important work that you'll need to help your child progress toward your goal.
To give yourself and your family the best chance to achieve your goals.
If you write down a goal, you're more likely to make it happen. The act of writing it down makes your brain give it a whole lot more attention. When a goal is "on your radar screen" you'll be a lot more likely to work toward it.
OK - so how do I plan for bilingualism in my family?
Goal-setting and planning can be as simple as a conversation about hopes and dreams and a few sheets of paper. Pinpoint some language goals you'd like to see for your child's future. Consider reading, writing, conversation. How fluent would you like your child to be and can you realistically get them there? Then think about how to get there. Is there a German school nearby? Can you make regular trips to Germany? Do you have enough German books and CDs? Is there a German playgroup nearby or can you start one?
You should end your session with a few action items. Assign dates to them and give them top priority.
You may want to keep the notes from your brainstorming and planning session in a binder. You should update your goals and action items yearly. It's also nice to write up a progress report for your child every year or so. It will surely be fun in the future to look back and see how things have progressed.
But I hate to plan!
It can be intimidating to think about planning out such an important aspect of your family's future. But your plan doesn't have to be written in stone and you can always change it along the way to suit your needs. Remember, your plan is supposed to help you, not stress you out. In fact, this is another important benefit of a plan - it may bring up unrealistic expectations. If your goals and plan are causing you a lot of stress, you should revisit your plan and make some changes.
Think about it. If you are going on vacation, you don't just get in the car and drive in any random direction. No - you pick a destination, map your route, buy your tickets and pack your bags. Neglecting planning out your family's route to bilingualism is like going on vacation without a destination. You're likely to get lost.
How can I plan so far ahead?
You can only take your best guess. You don't have to write out a detailed plan for the next 15 years of your child's life. Your plan should fit your family and suit your needs. It can be as specific or as general as you want it to be. It will certainly change over time. But if you neglect to make a plan at all, you may not achieve your goals and you might not even realize it until it's too late.
1. Planning forces you to articulate your goals.
2. Planning gets parents on the same page.
3. Planning gives you a greater chance of success.
4. Look for gaps and fill them in.
5. Revisit your goals and plan yearly.
Planning now saves time later and rescues your goals from the swamp of lost opportunity.
This time next year, I plan to be harvesting a bumper crop of tomatoes. My garden planning will begin with plenty of time in the winter. But my planning for language goals has already begun. I want to give my kids the best possible chance at bilingualism that I can. How about you? Are you planning for bilingual success?