Are you trying to raise your child in two (or more) different languages? You are not alone. I know quite a few people who are doing the same. As I’m Polish, I speak Polish to my daughter while my husband speaks English. Below are some of my thoughts and expectations toward bilingualism based on the book I read (Be Bilingual – Practical Ideas for Multilingual Families) and my observations.
Minority language vs. community language
- In most cases, one of the languages spoken to your baby will become a so called minority language – the language that is not commonly spoken in the community where you live. This is the case of most European languages in America. For example, if one parent speaks French to the child, it will most likely be a minority language to the child in the US as everywhere around – at the playground, daycare or school, people speak English. According to the books on bilingualism, minority language will require additional effort and parent’s determination in order to be spoken by your child as it will naturally become easier for the child to just operate in the community language (English). According to some studies, the child has to be exposed to the minority language at least 30% of time in order to be bilingual to some extend.
One-Person-One-Language (OPOL) Method
- One-Person-One-Language (OPOL) method seems to be the most popular among the people I know. In short, each parent always speaks their maternal language to the child. The idea is that both languages are introduced at the same time and the child spontaneously learns to talk to each parent in the different language.
- This is the method that we are following with our daughter. I speak to her in Polish and my husband speaks in English. It’s too early to say how effective our efforts are. We know that she understands things in both languages and that she says “no” in Polish (“nie”:)
- This method, while the most popular, has some drawbacks. If one parent’s language is the minority one (like Polish in the US) then this language may become weaker in the future while the community language (English) will be dominant. Some of my friends faced this problem with their kids who started to refuse to talk the minority language with them and only replied in English. My biggest fear is that the same may happen to us so I am trying to be consistent in my speaking Polish to my daughter.
Minority Language at Home (ML@H) Method
- According to books and articles, this may be a more effective method of raising bilingual children. Following this method, both parents speak the same minority language to the children, even if that language is not maternal to one of them. For example, if one parent is French and the other is American but also is able to speak French and the family lives in the US, it will be most effective for both parents to speak to the children in French. This way more exposure is given to minority language (French) while the children will still learn the community language (English in this example) from school, friends etc.
- There are two variations of this method:
- Speaking minority language at home only and outside of home the whole family speaks the community language (e.g. English).
- Speaking minority language anywhere the family is together (at home or outside). This method seems to be the most effective according to studies.
- I wish we could apply this method but my husband doesn’t speak any Polish so only I and my side of family can maintain Polish language with our daughter.
How to Encourage the Usage of Minority Language with Your Baby
Because I always fear that one day my daughter will not want to speak Polish anymore, I researched this topic and found some advice in the books and online on how to reinforce the minority language:
– Don’t switch. If following OPOL method, consistently speak to your child in your language only (at least in the early years). Don’t switch to English at any time (even to be polite in front of others, as long as your partner is on the same page) because if you start switching your child will learn that it’s OK to reply in English. A lot of articles that I read emphasize this point.
– Expose your child to your language as much as possible by surrounding her with other people who also speak it to her and with her (grandparents, nanny, community center, friends). I am counting on my parents and family to help here and they all speak Polish to my daughter.
– Read to your child only in your language. Get a supply of books and tapes in your language. We took a trip to Greenpoint to Polish bookstore and brought home plenty of classic children’s and baby books. My mom is also going to send a package of Polish books from Poland.
– Surround your children with tapes, music, dvds and other materials in your language. Sing to your baby in your language. This is my favorite activity:)
– Join your nationality community center and library and try to get in touch with other people who live here but are raising kids in your language. This will be my next step and I’m planning to do it soon 🙂
– If you can, take your children for long vacations in your country of origin so they can get even more exposed to your culture and language. This is another point on my list!