That’s the question I asked myself several years ago when I decided to raise my daughter to be bilingual (Spanish-English).
I was at work one day talking with a coworker about what to do in order to raise a child who could speak two languages, and he suggested that I should speak in English to her.
That was more than seven years ago, when there was not much information on the internet about non-native speakers raising bilingual children.
However, I started to read as many books as possible about the topic.
Would it be possible?
There were lots of concerns.
First, would she develop a horrible accent in English as a consequence of my limitations in that language?
I must say that the task is a real challenge. It would not have been possible for a non-native speaker to raise a bilingual child thirty or forty years ago, unless he or she had a native-like fluency.
Nevertheless, nowadays, we have the internet, DVDs, Netflix and a vast array of tools that make it possible for a non-native speaker to raise a bilingual child.
Children will have exposure to native voices and that will make up for the deficiencies on the part of their parents.
Threre is something that I consider essential. If you are not a native speaker, you should take the child to a Saturday school or at least hire a native speaker who speaks to the child a couple of hours a week.
Children’s learning is emotional and an emotional connection to the voice of a native speaker is essential so that they will not achieve bad pronunciation habits. Children will be able to recognize the correct pronunciation of native speakers and internalize it.
Second, would I be able to overcome my limitations in the target language?
I realized, after some time, that this concern was irrelevant. Children are like sponges. Even if your mastery of the foreign language is far from perfect, the child will learn it, as long as you provide him exposure to good models of the target language (via TV, books, or a native who speaks two or three hours a week with the child in the target language).
We have the case of monolingual English-speaking children who are brought up by illiterate parents. They go to an English school and even though the English that their parents spoke to them was very poor, as they have exposure to the more standardized form of the language at school in the end they master the English language.
As long as the child listens to the standard form of the language (on TV, games, the internet, etc) he will speak it correctly in spite of the deficiencies of his parents.
Third, would it create a problem in the relationship with my daughter if she is speaking a language that is not my mother tongue?
Body language, posture and tone of voice, play a bigger role. In order to transmit love, the language is irrelevant. Body language and feelings play a much more important role.
Raising a bilingual child is a gift for the child and parents.
Can a non-native speaker raise a bilingual child? Of course.
Is it challenging? Yes, it is.
Does it pay off? Of course. Raising your child bilingual is one of the best gifts that you can give to your child. The child will speak another language and it will open him a window to a different culture, a different way of living. The child will probably be more flexible, more open minded. The child may even have two different personalities depending on the language that he or she speaks.
It is possible. It is doable. It is something that is going to enrich the life of your child. If you have an upper-intermediate level or you think you can achieve an upper-intermediate level in the target language in the middle term, you should go for it . You will not regret it