Looking back

I find it just normal for me. It might be strange to other people but… I’ve just been able to grow up with 2 languages which is helpful because you get to learn about your parents’ culture and language as well as the culture and language where we are living. I think overall it’s a good experience.

Korean teenager living in Christchurch


I think you appreciate it [bilingualism] later in life because often… people say: ‘I would have loved to learn a new language but I never could.’ For us it’s so easy because we learned it at home, it’s so useful.

French teenager living in Christchurch

Of all the young people interviewed for the ITML project, all had at least one (usually more than just one!) positive thing to say about the fact that they grew up with more than one language. Even people who said that they thought their parents pushed them too hard, or that they didn’t enjoy some aspects of growing up with two languages, said that they were nevertheless pleased they could speak the two languages in the long run. Some even said that they regretted not having done more to learn the minority language better when they were younger – even if at the time they didn’t enjoy it or didn’t want to!

When living in a place like Christchurch (or other cities in New Zealand) it can be hard to understand why knowing more than one language is good/lucky/beneficial, because the vast majority of people only speak English all of the time. There are many, many countries in the world where knowing more than one language is normal, however, and those who only speak one language are at a big disadvantage. It is very common for young people to realise these things only once they are a bit older, and they begin to travel alone to places where the minority language they learnt growing up begins to be useful in some way. When this happens, people are so often very grateful that they stuck with the minority language through thick and thin, even when they couldn’t see the point of it!

In the meantime, if you are going through a phase of not understanding why you should have to work harder than all your friends to keep up two languages, think about whether your friends also have things they’re struggling with and don’t really see the point in being good at just yet. Maybe someone you know has to practice an instrument everyday after school? Or train in a sport? Or get extra tutoring for a school subject? Just like learning a language, these are all things people are likely to look back on and appreciate later in life – so you are not alone, and it is worth the extra effort!

Links about looking back on a bilingual upbringing: