I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL!

Guest Posts

What advice do others have about promoting the language and literacy development of bilingual children? Find out in these guest posts!

ADAM’S NOTE: During my recent travels in Europe, I met several non-native speakers of English who are making determined efforts to raise their children in this language. I even had the chance to stay with a family in Poland and see the fruitful progress that they’re experiencing. Today’s guest post, by Elzbieta Rzeszutko, another parent in Poland using English with her kids, calls this “intentional bilingualism,” which I think captures the essential spirit of a non-native aim, in any language, very keenly. In fact, whether we are native speakers of the target language or not, being “intentional” about our efforts—day by day and year by year—is the overarching key to success. Elzbieta, thank you for sharing your encouraging story with us! :mrgreen:

Guest Post: Non-native Speakers Can Bring Up Bilingual Kids, Too!

Elzbieta Rzeszutko is a Polish mother, in Poland, raising her two children, 5 and 3, in English. Though not a language teacher, she has a passion for teaching and a mission to persuade people that education can be fun. She shares her proactive approach with others through her popular blog At the Tip of My Tongue (written in Polish, this is the English translation of the Polish name) and through media appearances.

Elzbieta RzeszutkoThough my husband and I are Polish, and we live in Poland—a largely monolingual country—the language that we use with our two children is English. Because we believe strongly that bilingualism is so beneficial, we think it’s worth pursuing even if your knowledge of the target language isn’t “inborn” but acquired. In other words…

Non-native speakers can bring up bilingual kids, too!

And I’m happy to say that we’re experiencing success at our bilingual aim. The other night I was carrying my five-year-old daughter to the loo and her limp body, hanging loosely over my shoulder, suddenly mumbled: “Fox in socks on box.” A half-conscious child at this age who starts rhyming in the minority language is living proof of success to me.

[Adam’s note: This snippet of rhyme is from a wonderful Dr. Seuss book called “Fox in Socks” that I read many, many times to my kids when they were small!]

So, yes, I’m a non-native speaker of English and our approach is most frequently referred to as “non-native bililingualism.” However, I much prefer to call it “intentional bilingualism” because I have been as intentional as I can be about my efforts.

In this post I’ll share with you some of the ideas and strategies that have made up our bilingual journey to date.

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ADAM’S NOTE: Over the past few years, Tiara Harris has sometimes shared video clips with me of her super-cute kids speaking Japanese and I came to admire the very proactive efforts she is making so that she and her children can both become bilingual in this language and their native English. As a result of the success she’s experiencing, Tiara is also becoming a growing force at YouTube with a variety of helpful and appealing videos at her Chocolate Sushi Roll channel. Thank you for sharing your encouraging story with us, Tiara! And keep up all your good efforts, for your family and for families out in the world!

Tiara and her children

Tiara Harris is a native English speaker from the U.S. state of Georgia raising two bilingual children. As a military family, they frequently must relocate, but Tiara is determined to maintain the goal of having a bilingual family. Currently, they live in Japan and Tiara is making efforts to foster her young children’s ability in Japanese while studying Japanese herself and teaching English to Japanese children. She created a YouTube channel, called Chocolate Sushi Roll, to inspire other monolingual families to be brave and take the leap toward bilingualism.

Konnichiwa! (That’s hello in Japanese!)

If you had met me four years ago, I could only have greeted you in English and (maybe) Spanish…from the few Spanish words I learned from sleeping through my Spanish class in high school. I wasn’t interested in learning another language and never realized the opportunities and depth that can come with it.

Moving to Japan

I am—well, was—a monolingual mom from a completely monolingual family. We’re a military family and, to our dismay—at least at first—we became faced with relocating to Japan. To be honest, I dreaded going and was even refusing to go until one month before the move because I love living in America and I wanted to stay close to my family. But my husband urged me to come with him so he wouldn’t have to be stationed in Japan by himself.

So we went to Okinawa in 2014 and we were there for two years. I became a tour guide for Americans and learned about the culture and history and a lot of fun facts for the 30-minute bus tours. But I still had no interest in learning to speak Japanese.

Then, during our second year in Okinawa, we were blessed with a baby boy, Jason.

And my whole perspective changed.

At that point, because Jason was born in Japan, I decided that he should speak the language. And, in fact, before I even realized it, this was already starting to happen. I had been taking Jason to baby play classes with native Japanese mothers and their babies. One day I noticed that when the teacher said to clap, Jason clapped. And when the teacher said to clean up, his little hands started reaching to clean up. I was so surprised! This baby is learning Japanese!

By then, though, Jason was already a year old and it was time for us to return to America. And I was now pregnant with a baby girl.

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ADAM’S NOTE: As I’ve stressed over the years (like in this post), one of the keys to realizing our bilingual or multilingual aim is a creative spirit. And this sort of resourceful and proactive approach is particularly important when your circumstances are challenging and working against your success. So today I’m thrilled to present a new guest post by Ana Calabrese because her outlook and her efforts are such an encouraging example of how jumping into this journey with a creative spirit can generate rewarding success, both for one’s family and even, through our influence, for others near and far. Thank you for sharing your story, Ana! :mrgreen:

Ana_Raising-Bilingual-Kids-1

Ana Calabrese is a native Spanish speaker from Colombia raising two bilingual-bicultural kids in California. She founded Spanish Plus Me and recorded her album “Short + Fun Spanish Beats” to promote the advantages of bilingualism and encourage the introduction of the Spanish language to children through the use of songs, movement, and fun. You can find Ana’s songs on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play, and download all the lyrics with translations in English, Portuguese, and French at www.spanishplusme.com.

Ana CalabreseI have always liked the scene in the Disney movie “Big Hero 6” where, in a moment when the younger brother was feeling hopeless and out of ideas for a big project, the older brother carried him on his shoulders and turned him upside down to shake him and move him around their bedroom, encouraging him to look at things from another angle.

Every now and then I feel like I need that kind of shaking up to reset and look for inspiration and encouragement to keep working on helping my kids (8 and 5) to become bilingual. It is challenging when one has to do it in a community with very few resources to add exposure to the minority language and when all their world seems to be speaking the majority language, in our case English.

The most common advice I have heard from other parents raising bilingual kids is to try to find a community of speakers of the target language so they can practice and have that sense of culture. Every day, on social media, I read cases of parents asking for help and ideas on how to raise their children bilingual in Spanish, and every day I also read things like: enroll them in a dual language or immersion program, find friends that speak Spanish, attend events for Spanish speakers, go to parks where Spanish speakers gather, hire an au pair, move to a Spanish speaking country, among others.

Well, that has not been an option for us. There are no dual language or immersion schools in our school district, there is no Spanish story time at our local libraries, there are no Spanish classes at their school or nearby. With the few friends we have that can speak Spanish, they won’t play in Spanish, and no, we won’t move to another country and we can’t hire an au pair. So what did I do? I decided to look at things in a different way. I decided that we were going to promote Spanish in our community, and we were going to be the ones teaching Spanish to our friends. If there were no Spanish resources, we were going to facilitate some of them and share our gift with others. In that way we could also get to know people that appreciate other cultures and languages, whether they were bilingual or not.

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ADAM’S NOTE: In this insightful guest post, Marisa Martínez Mira offers a broader perspective on the bilingual journey, based on her own personal and professional experience. To my mind, this sort of broader perspective is so important for keeping up our commitment and our efforts through early childhood, as these are years that can be very challenging for our bilingual or multilingual aim. Thank you for this encouraging reminder, Marisa! (Marisa is also generous with her wise advice at The Bilingual Zoo, the world’s warmest, liveliest forum for parents on a bilingual or multilingual journey.) :mrgreen:

Bilingual Ability Is Always a Positive Thing

Marisa Martínez Mira is originally from Spain and now lives in the United States with her three-year-old daughter. When Marisa first arrived in the U.S., back in 1996, her goal was to teach Spanish to college students for a year…and she’s still doing that today. While working as a Spanish professor at a university in Virginia, Marisa is also raising her daughter with a multilingual aim: English is the majority language and the minority languages are Spanish, German, and French.

Marisa Martínez MiraLike all of you, I’m doing the best I can to ensure that my daughter (the little fairy above) grows to enjoy the benefits of speaking more than one language, and hopefully she’ll do the same with her own children in the future. At the moment she’s three years old and is a lovely, funny little girl and (at least so far) seems very interested in languages.

My own interest in bilingualism/multilingualism is both personal and professional. I did my MA and Ph.D. in the United States and I specialize in sociolinguistics. For my Ph.D. dissertation, I studied the use of a particular grammatical feature in the Spanish of different generations of heritage speakers, i.e. speakers who, in G. Valdés’s definition (2000a, 2000b), “are raised in a home where a non-English language is spoken, who speak or at least understand the language, and who are to some degree bilingual in that language and in English.” (In my case, those speakers were of Mexican heritage.)

Research has been quite consistent on the following: starting with the second generation of heritage speakers, the majority language becomes the dominant language, to the extent that by the third or fourth generation, these heritage speakers are virtually monolingual. My data corroborated this assumption, although I also discovered that even the heritage speakers with the lowest Spanish proficiency showed better knowledge and understanding of Spanish than those who began to study it later in life because the former had been exposed to Spanish, even if in a limited environment, from an earlier age. This means that, yes, everything we’re doing as parents to promote bilingualism/multilingualism in our little ones will prove to have a positive outcome!

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Deepti and her son recording their podcast.

ADAM’S NOTE: Along with your persistent daily efforts to nurture the minority language—in particular, talking to your child as much as you can and reading aloud—I also encourage you to pursue short-term projects, which can provide a powerful boost for language exposure and engagement. Make videotaped interviews or “dramatic” films; create a picture book or comic book; write and perform a short play; sing and record a favorite song (or make up your own); invent a new game and play it together; compile a photo album and add captions; do craft-making or building activities; research and report on some subject of interest; and many more. (See the links at the end of this post for a number of encouraging examples.)

In today’s guest post, Deepti Gupta offers a wonderful example of her own: a podcast that she has created with her young son. When Deepti wrote to me about her new project, I was eager to share it with all of you because creative efforts like this, which are so engaging and effective, can offer tremendous inspiration for families of any target language. (And even if you don’t understand Hindi, I urge you to listen to a podcast episode, like this one. It overflows with not only language but much laughter and joy as well.) So many thanks to you, Deepti and Josh! And all the best with your lovely podcast! :mrgreen:

Deepti Gupta is an actress and Audie nominated audiobook narrator and voiceover artist. Originally from India, she lives in the United States with her American husband and 6-year-old son, who is bilingual in English and Hindi. Learn more about Deepti’s professional work at DeeptiGupta.com.

Last year, my 6-year-old son, Josh, began listening to an English language story podcast called What If World. The stories on this podcast are fun, creative, and super imaginative. Josh enjoyed them so much, he could listen to episode after episode.

Because I’m committed to raising a bilingual, Hindi-speaking child, I decided that I needed to find something similar for him to listen to in Hindi. So I looked for Hindi story podcasts online and on apps like Saavn, an Indian music streaming service. What I found was a few podcasts in Hindi but with the same old Hindi stories and the language used didn’t sound like how we speak Hindi. Bookish Hindi doesn’t help a young child who is learning to express himself in this language.

So I started wondering if I should start a podcast myself. But what would it be about? I could have just narrated stories from the Panchtantra and the Upanishads and created a podcast of these traditional tales. But I wanted something that would capture the imagination and interests of children in today’s world. How do you create new content that kids of this era can relate to? Where both snakes and robots can be in the same story? I was at a loss.

Our first podcast episode

Last December we went to an event called Makers Faire at the Los Angeles Central Public Library. This is a fair where all kinds of innovators and creative folks gather to showcase their inventions and creations. We got to see Eric O’Keeffe of “What If World” in action. He created a podcast episode on the spot with the participation of kids in the audience. Josh had the chance to give a suggestion for the story, too.

I think both he and I were inspired by what we saw and experienced. The joy of creating and letting our imagination take flight. I have a home studio where I record my audiobooks and sometimes Josh would sit in my booth and narrate his own made-up stories or just gibberish stuff. He loves these “recording sessions,” and they’re fun for both of us. So I wondered if he and I could create something together. And it was now clear to me that a storytelling podcast was the right direction.

Not long after that, on a fine Saturday morning in January, we decided to take action. He was in good spirits and I was excited at the prospect. In half an hour, we recorded our first podcast! It was exhilarating! Josh then made the logo for our podcast, a picture of the two of us recording in the booth. That same day I edited the audio, chose a platform, and launched our new podcast, called Josh Ke Saath. (“Josh Ke Saath” means “Along with Josh” and also means “With Enthusiasm.”) I shared it with other families and the response has been amazing.

Josh Ke Saath

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ADAM’S NOTE: As I often stress, when the basic circumstances of your life work against your bilingual aim, raising the odds of success involves two choices: 1) You can reshape those conditions in more conducive ways, and/or 2) You can be as proactive as possible in your daily efforts. This lively guest post by Matthew John Thoren is an encouraging example of that second solution, where the persistent efforts of a proactive parent have produced happy success through the important early years of the bilingual journey.

5 Key Strategies That Have Enabled Me to Successfully Foster My Son’s Bilingual Ability

Matthew John Thoren is originally from the U.S. state of Vermont and has lived in Japan for most of the last 15 years. While working full-time at a U.S. biotechnology company in Tokyo, he spends as much time as possible playing board games, riding bicycles, reading, and practicing living-room sumo wrestling with his 4-year-old bilingual son. When everyone else has gone to bed, Matthew is either (quietly) working on DYI projects in the family’s new home or shopping for fun English books.

This article describes five key strategies that have enabled me to successfully foster my son’s ability in the minority language, to the age of 4, despite being basically the only source of exposure to this language in my young son’s life.

My wife, my son, and I live in Tokyo, Japan. My wife is Japanese, I’m American, and our son, Soma (a name we considered, but not his real name) is a dual citizen. As a family we have never lived outside of Japan, and my son has spent a total of 18 days in the U.S. on two separate visits. Exposure to the majority language, Japanese, comes from my wife, her parents, daycare, and the community. Exposure to the minority language, English, comes almost entirely from me.

I speak only English to Soma and to my wife. My wife speaks very little English to him and speaks to me in English about 35% of the time. While not native, both my wife and I speak and understand each other’s first language very comfortably. For Soma, there is almost no English language exposure besides me, apart from some TV programs (which is not a fundamental part of our strategy) and a short weekly exchange with family in the U.S. on Facetime or Skype. Despite this, by adhering to the following five tactics, Soma has an English vocabulary of approximately 1,500 words at age four, which is about normal for a child his age growing up in the U.S.

1. Speak only the minority language.

For me, this is the simplest of the five strategies. I speak the minority language to Soma 100% of the time, with absolutely no exceptions. Period. In four years, I have never encountered the need and have never spoken the minority language to my child.

My wife and I generally spoke Japanese to each other before our son was born, but I made the decision that I would only speak to Soma in English. Knowing that I needed to break the habit of speaking Japanese in the house, I began speaking to our son in English well before he was born so that the habit was already formed before he arrived. So, if my son is present, English is the only thing you will hear from me. Period. (The only exception would be if his life is in danger and I knew a warning in Japanese would be more likely to save him!)

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ADAM’S NOTE: One essential lesson for parents to learn early on—or potentially face growing frustrations on their bilingual journey—is the need to add greater realism to the initial idealism we feel going into this experience. Idealism continues to play a vital role in motivating our efforts, but relaxing into a more realistic and flexible mindset, while remaining persistent and playful, day by day, enables us to pursue a path that is both more enjoyable and more effective. In this insightful guest post, Jordana Timerman brings this point to colorful life by sharing the candid story of her first two years as a parent on a bilingual quest. Thank you, Jordana, for conveying an important message that I’m sure will be encouraging for others to hear.

Guest Post: Creating a Little Bilingual Family—If Not Precisely By the Book

Jordana Timerman is a freelance journalist in Buenos Aires, where she grew up speaking English and Spanish. She is the mother of a two-year-old who is being spoken to in English (minority language) and Spanish (majority language) in a disconcertingly disorganized fashion.

Jordana TimermanI try hard not to cringe when well-meaning friends and family speak to my daughter in broken English. According to the “rules” of bilingualism, they should be speaking in Spanish, their native language and the majority language in Argentina where we live. But I’ve found that when people hear me speak to my two-year-old in my native English they automatically trend towards using it themselves with her.

The curious result is my Argentine-born daughter is being treated like a foreigner in her own country. I don’t want to be the language police—I want people to have easy relationships with my child. But as they speak to her, all I can think about are admonishments to parents of bilingual children not to mix languages.

Theory and reality

Before my daughter was born, my partner and I casually agreed that I’d speak English to our children, thus sharing my native language and arming them for an anglo-dominated world. Like pretty much everything else pre-parents blissfully envision, the post-partum result was a lot more complicated.

Language strategies, such as “one-parent-one-language” or “minority language at home,” all sound perfectly rational in theory. But somehow the realities we confronted didn’t fit into the patterns those strategies outlined so neatly.

I found myself uncertain over how to handle the interactions that remain unscripted in these approaches: How should I speak to my child in front of playground friends who don’t speak English? (Really awkward mix for now.) How to navigate daily interactions with babysitters who don’t understand what I’m saying to my daughter? (I sometimes wind up dubbing my own speech—I say it once in English and then repeat in Spanish for the caretakers’ benefit. It’s awful.) Was it alright to keep speaking in Spanish to my partner as we had always done? (It’s very uncomfortable to switch languages once you’re used to using one with somebody, so yes, we stick to Spanish.) A lot of the time I feel like an actor in a bad pantomime.

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ADAM’S NOTE: In considering a language strategy for your family’s bilingual journey, the highest aim for this important decision is choosing an approach that will be most effectively geared to your particular circumstances and goals. And in some cases—as in Bea Sieradzka’s family—that choice involves consciously modifying traditional methods. Read Bea’s thoughtful guest post for an encouraging look at how one parent made a proactive decision that has paid off in strong bilingual success. Thank you, Bea!

Bilingual Success with a Proactive Language Strategy

Bea Sieradzka is a Polish mother living in the United Kingdom and raising a bilingual and biliterate son, now almost 7 years old. Based on research studies in bilingualism and her own background in linguistics, she introduced two languages from the time he was born: her native Polish and her second language, English. She is now supporting him in learning a third language, Chinese.

At her blog, Born Bilingual, Bea shares information and ideas to help immigrant families succeed at nurturing their children’s bilingualism: introducing the community language from birth, along with their heritage language, and fostering good ability in both languages.

Bea SieradzkaEven before my son was born, now seven years ago, I knew that one day he would be bilingual. Born in the United Kingdom to Polish parents, he had the opportunity to learn two languages at the same time. The question we asked ourselves, though—like so many other parents who have immigrated to the U.K. and speak English as a second language—was how to actually manage the process of his bilingual acquisition.

The downside to a common method

The conventional wisdom in this sort of situation is to speak to your child in your mother tongue, and allow them to learn the majority language out in the community. This is a common strategy known as the “minority language at home” approach. It sounds, at first, like the perfect solution.

The problem with this approach is that simultaneous bilingual acquisition only works if your child is regularly exposed to both languages for a sufficient amount of time. Research that includes The relation of input factors to lexical learning by bilingual infants (Barbara Zurer Pearson), The relationship between bilingual exposure and vocabulary development (Elin Thordadottir), and A Short Guide to Raising Children Bilingually (Fred Genessee) indicates that children need to be exposed to each language for a minimum of 20-30% of their waking hours, and ideally even more than that.

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ADAM’S NOTE: Among the many helpful guest posts at this blog, the articles written by trilingual speech-language pathologist Ana Paula Mumy should be considered must-reads. Her first guest post was Speech-Language Pathologist Tells All About Bilingualism, Speech, and Language Delays, and the second was Battling the Majority Language Giant (While Feeling Like a Minority Language Gnome). In this third guest post for Bilingual Monkeys, Ana Paula writes from personal experience about the widespread challenge of engaging children in the target language and sustaining steady progress. It’s another witty, insightful post and I’m grateful to Ana Paula for sharing her expertise and perspective so generously. :mrgreen:

Engaging Your Incredible Bilingual Child in the Minority Language

Ana Paula G. Mumy, MS, CCC-SLP, is a mother of two bilingual children, a trilingual speech-language pathologist (SLP), and a clinical assistant professor in the field of speech-language pathology. She has extensive experience working with individuals with communication disorders, particularly bilingual children. She has authored numerous articles as well as intervention materials and guides for diverse populations, and her specialized interests include articulation disorders, stuttering, language-literacy, and bilingualism. Many of her resources for SLPs, educators and parents can be found on her personal website The Speech Stop.

Ana Paula MumyMy favorite line in The Incredibles movie is when in the midst of complete chaos at the dinner table, which goes seemingly unnoticed by Mr. Incredible, his wife Helen (aka Elastigirl) finally pleads for his intervention and yells, “Bob! It’s time to engage!

I have felt like Helen lately, wanting to plead with my children to engage in the minority language. Over the past 7 months, my children have undergone major life changes: moving to another state, mommy working full-time for the first time since they were born, and transitioning from homeschooling in Portuguese and English to schooling in English at a private school where they spend 7 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Needless to say, as the primary source of Portuguese in their lives, this stark reduction in teaching and interactions in Portuguese has caused them to disengage significantly despite my efforts to 1) continue reading instruction in Portuguese, 2) maintain daily reading routines in Portuguese, 3) speak Portuguese at home, in the car, when running errands, etc., and 4) maintain connections with any Brazilian cultural events or individuals in the area. I confess I have found myself discouraged in this season!

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ADAM’S NOTE: Today is World Read Aloud Day! To mark this occasion, Gabriela Simmons has written a lively guest post which stresses the importance of reading aloud and shares useful ideas for this practice. In my case, reading aloud has been at the very heart of my efforts for 20 years, with both my students and my own children, and I’ve experienced the power of this daily routine first-hand. Gaby, thank you for shining a spotlight on one of my favorite topics! :mrgreen:

How to Make the Most of Reading Aloud to Your Kids in Two or More Languages

Gabriela Simmons is the mother of two active, sometimes nerve-wracking, but always amazing trilingual pre-teens (German, English, and Spanish). She was born and raised in Peru then moved to the United States for the last two years of high school and university. She later met her German husband in France while earning her masters degree. They have been living in Hong Kong for nearly 10 years.

Gaby is the co-founder of TimTimTom, an online book publisher that has launched its first bilingual storybook: a personalized book printed in the two languages of your choice. For more information on this unique bilingual book, see https://timtimtom.com.

Gabriela SimmonsIn our home, we have a rule: “One more book, bought or borrowed, is always okay.” Things like clothes and candy, they have their limits, but when it comes to books, we can never have too many.

Reading aloud to children is extremely important for their language development, and this is even more true when the child is growing up in a bilingual family and needs ample input in the minority language. In daily conversation, we tend to use the same limited range of vocabulary over and over. Because of this fact, books are an incredibly helpful tool when it comes to building a broader vocabulary.

But reading aloud is not only about expanding vocabulary and fueling language development. There are also important psychological and emotional benefits for you and your child. This aspect should not be underestimated.

Think of the read aloud experience: You and your child are snuggled up together as you read a colorful book and describe the illustrations. The child has questions and you pause to explain. The story sparks new ideas in the child’s mind, and may prompt a stream of comments or a wave of laughter. It might even enable you to talk about your cultural heritage and foster pride in your family’s roots.

All these elements of the experience strengthen the bond between you and your child while promoting their progress in the target language.

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ADAM’S NOTE: As I learned about the efforts Amy González has been making with her trilingual family, through this lively thread at The Bilingual Zoo, I quickly realized that her story could be a source of inspiration for many other parents. And so I asked her to sum up her experience to share with the readers of this blog, which she kindly agreed to do. Naturally, every family is working with different circumstances, but the idea of limiting the influence of the majority language is a fundamental challenge for most of us and I think Amy’s encouraging example can help us become more mindful and proactive in ways that suit our own needs and conditions. Thank you, Amy!

Bilingual Families and the Importance of Limiting the Influence of the Majority Language at Home

Amy González is a bubbly wife and mother of two beautiful trilingual girls (French is their majority language; English and Spanish are their minority languages). Her elder daughter is now 4 and her younger daughter is 10 months. Amy was born in France then raised in Spain, where she was educated in international British schools, before moving to the U.K. She moved back to France for work, over a decade ago, where she met her Spanish husband-to-be.

When I joined Adam’s forum, The Bilingual Zoo, I eagerly read about some of the experiences of other parents of bilingual children and the thread begun by James H really struck a chord in me. Despite using the “one person, one language” (OPOL) approach from day one—I spoke English to the kids and my husband spoke Spanish—my elder daughter tended to respond in French, our majority language, especially since starting nursery school, with a little Spanish when she felt like it, and hardly any English. When I read about James’s experience, I realized where we were going wrong: the “flaw” in our situation was the influence of the majority language at home.

So, last August, I decided to “kick” French out of our home, as I felt it was becoming oppressive and stifling our minority languages. First, I began speaking exclusively in English at home. And incredibly, within just a day, my elder daughter began trying to reply in English!

Right then, my husband and I keenly understood the problem. Not only had we been using the majority language at home to communicate as a couple, but after reading and re-reading posts and articles at The Bilingual Zoo and at Bilingual Monkeys, we recognized how pernicious the influence of the majority language was on our bilingual (trilingual) aim.

Amy with her husband and elder daughter

Amy with her husband and elder daughter, before her second daughter arrived and they realized the need to modify their approach.

Extent of the majority language’s influence

Speaking the minority languages at home was a good start, but living in a majority language country means that that language is always lurking nearby…more so than we might imagine. The influence of the majority language at home can be widespread: TV, radio, books from the local bookshop or library, nursery rhymes or songs learnt at school, text on clothing, decorations on the wall, packaging on food…the list goes on and on.

When I first started looking at the extent of this influence in our home, I felt rather overwhelmed. As a parent seeking to raise multilingual children, I was concerned that all this was interfering with our educational goals and I wondered how far I should go in trying to limit this influence of the majority language…and how realistic this would be.

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