In Do Your Bilingual Children Go to School in the Majority Language?, I discuss how important it is to remain proactive in supporting a child’s minority language when the child attends a majority language school. The truth is, even when parents have had significant success fostering active ability in the minority language through the child’s first few years—the crucial “first phase” of bilingual development—when the “second phase” begins and the child goes off to school, that earlier progress can stall, or even backslide, much to the parents’ surprise and dismay.
It’s not hard to see why. Prior to that point, the child was likely with the main caregiver for much of the day—engaging in the minority language—but then the circumstances shift dramatically, with many more hours spent in a majority language environment, and this change can’t help but impact the child’s bilingual development.
Combine this spike in exposure to the majority language with the fact that the child may now recognize that the minority language parent is also proficient in the majority language—which naturally diminishes his need to use the minority language with that parent—and such conditions can create a scenario where the child starts to “lose” his ability in the second language.