Reply with quote #1
I am certainly very happy with the results, both my 5-year-old son and my 9-year-old daughter speak Swedish (my language) and English (community + their Dad's language) perfectly fluently and with no particular preference for either language. Yet I seem to have arrived at this result with a total disregard for all the rules.
Both my husband and I speak either language, as and when circumstances require: Swedish when visiting Swedish relatives, English when English friends are present, otherwise whatever we feel like at the time. Conversations at our house weave in and out of languages in an almost totally relaxed fashion. When they were little I sang them lullabies in both languages- my husband can't sing. They know they can request a bedtime story in either language regardless of who is reading. I have never refused to listen because they speak the "wrong" language; listening, keeping communications open is the top priority in our house. I have never seen any signs of confusion, even at the age of 2 my daughter knew which words were Swedish and which were English- but then we have talked about their languages and explained differences almost from the first day.
After a few years, I found out that I was supposed to be totally consistent in the use of my native language, even to the extent of pretending I was unable to speak the language of the surrounding community. To be honest, I never really sussed out how that was supposed to work, or what kind of a role model I would have presented to my daughter if I had let her believe that I was unable to hold down a job, that I had no friends (there are no speakers of my language locally), that I never did anything useful for the local community, like helping neighbours or manning a stall at the school fete, that I wouldn't be able to help her if she needed someone to speak to the headteacher or the doctor on her behalf (she is disabled), that I couldn't speak to her friends. I would have thought her conclusion would have been that you end up isolated and helpless if you speak another language. And isolated and helpless is not how I see myself, or how I want her to see her Mum.
We did go through one brief phase when my son refused to speak English (majority language), but I have never heard either of them express any reluctance to speak Swedish. When they play together they will use either language indiscriminately (but they don't seem mix them up any more). I hasten to add that I do not police their private conversations!
I think their positive attitude is partly because there is no pressure, and they have never felt language use to be a source of conflict between their parents. Also, I have worked hard to associate Swedish with pleasurable activities (carrots rather than sticks), such as lots of good books, songs, films, family in-jokes- and the summer holidays on the beach. I have never felt the need to force them to speak Swedish to me, by not responding to English, maybe because that Swedish has never felt like the harder option to them, so they have no particular reason to try to shirk it.
Reply with quote #2
Very valid point, and I agree completely. Many children learn several languages without anyone being terribly strict with the family language system. The only problem is that even more children don't learn the languages that way, or only get a passive knowledge. Particularly when there is only one parent that speaks the minority language. It really depends on your goals, and how willing you are to gamble. Personally, I like to play it safe, and most parents here feel relatively strongly about the languages. I have noticed that few want to make the effort speaking another language and then feel they did it in vain when the child doesn't grow up to be bilingual. Keeping the language rules consistent is simply a way to improve the odds of success, which is the reason why I'm a big advocate of it. Of course, if you can visit the home country regularly and your children have lots of opportunities to interact in the minority language, then can can afford to relax the 'rules' a bit more -- definitely. Tusen tack, and thanks for sharing your insight! /Christina - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Christina Bosemark Founder & List Moderator Multilingual Children's Association
Reply with quote #3
Yes indeed, I can see why you wouldn't want to recommend anyone to take a gamble. In my case, I have to admit I don't know which is the gamble- I have seen people succeed either way and seen people fail either way. Seems to me other factors might be more important, such as the social status of the minority language, the status of the minority speaker within the family, the ability of the parents to provide a good learning environment and their general attitude towards multilingualism. The two negative factors that I seem to see most of (though thankfully not in my own family) are either rebelliousness in older children or negative attitudes in partners.
I have trawled through a fair bit of the academic literature on the subject and have been unable so far to pin down any conclusive study that actually proves that mixing languages leads to confusion; authors tend to say things along the lines of "this may result" or "we believe that" or "we would not recommend".
On the whole, writers studying families in the Western part of the world seem to take a stricter attitude, whereas studies of multilingual communities in Asia, for instance, note that mixing languages and code-switching is common there and apparently has no ill effects on the linguistic abilities of individuals. I am currently working on code-switching (switching between languages in conversation) in Ancient Rome; it's an old tradition! It doesn't seem to have done much harm to Cicero's Latin, anyway.
Anyway, I'm sure there are lots of ways of arriving at the same goal.
Reply with quote #4
Great points. I have to say that I'm talking purely from practical experience in this matter, not academia. Among the children in our school I see marked differences between how much the children are exposed to the language and their abilities to speak, and a part of that I can attribute to the consistency. Why? When children figure out that everybody understands the community language they suddenly question the necessity of it (and rightly so). If they get away with mixing, or speaking the majority language at that point, in most cases they've started down a slippery slope. Then, the larger the discrepancy between the two languages, the more effort for the child to speak the minority language, and the more resistance you'll encounter -- fuelling the use of community language. About your point on the western world approach, I think it is simply a function of being a more goal oriented society. BTW, I think all parents agree that refusing to listen to their child because he speaks the wrong language is counter productive ;-) Of course, good parenting and sound judgment always takes precedence. And as you can see in the articles on this website, I urge cooperation and not conflict with the child. So, we're in absolute agreement on that! Thanks for an interesting discussion! /Christina - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Christina Bosemark Founder & List Moderator Multilingual Children’s Association
Reply with quote #5
Your posting provokes two reactions in me: (1) a great sense of hope for my own kids, and, (2) this is not what I see in the children of native French speakers in my college level French classes. Re (1), it makes me feel good because I'm not always as religious as I would like to be about speaking the target language only to my older child. Also, I don't insist on replies in the target language from her. But re (2), perhaps one reason I am a teensy bit paranoid about my kids somehow not ending up bilingual is that I have had a handful of college students who are the children of one native francophone (always the mother) who spoke French to them growing up. Only in those cases where the mother insisted on replies in French and/or pretended not to understand English did the students truly speak French like natives. In my albeit limited experience, in those cases where the mother did seem to have some give and take, the linguistic ability of the children was significantly poorer. That said, the students who grew up hearing the language all the time were able to become fluent speakers very easily after a short sojourn in a francophone country, so their mothers' efforts were certainly not for naught. And now that I think about it, personality must play a huge role in how easily a child becomes bilingual (or multilingual). Thinking back to those students mentioned above,I can remember a couple of cases where I was introduced to an adult sibling of the student, and found that their level of oral competence was quite different. So maybe it has as much to do with temperament, one's role in the family, etc as it does with anything? Moderator, what say you? Lena, your posting did remind me to unwind a little bit, and I appreciate that. Hejdaa, Sheilagh