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Dave
Reply with quote  #1 
Hi. Sorry about the long post. Just trying to be clear about my situation and what advice I seek.

My wife is pregnant with our first child. She speaks English, I speak English/Polish. I'm having trouble knowing how best to go about the bilinguilism, or whether to even do it at all. If my level of Polish was as good as her level of English, that would be great - but it's not.

I came to Australia at age 4, but because of a concerted effort between me and my parents, I'm proud to say I still speak fluent Polish - better than any other Polish migrants I've met in similar circumstances. When I go to Poland, people sometimes don't even realise I'm a 'foreigner', but assume that my slight accent simply comes from a different region of Poland. I'm proud and grateful of my Polish ability, and naturally, I want to pass this on to my child. 

However, there are drawbacks. Though my Polish is good, it's still much worse than my English, and is decreasing in quality over the years, as I don't have any Polish friends or much family. My Polish vocabulary is limited, I sometimes make grammatical mistakes, and it often takes me a long time to think of the right words or phrasing. For basic communication it's fine, but I feel considerably more freedom in English when it comes to being able to really express myself. To make it worse, my stuttering is much more pronounced in Polish than it is in English.

I realise now that this inability to express myself as freely in Polish as in English caused some communication problems with my parents while growing up. I wonder if my relationship with them would be closer if we had both been 100% fluent speakers of the same language. I also realise that in my frequent arguments with my father, I was always at a disadvantage because of the extra time it took me to form arguments and get my point across. This undoubtedly contributed to the frustration of my teenage years and the rocky, semi-hostile relationship we have now.

So, I'm not sure what will be best for my child: the benefits of bilingualism, or the benefits of every member of the family being on an even linguistic playing field. Having already grown up with a less-than-perfect communication gateway with my parents, I don't want to do the same with my own child. And I don't want my child to grow up feeling that expressing its feelings with mum is easy while expressing feelings with dad is frustrating.

Obviously a solution would be for me and my child to add English to the mix when Polish is not enough, but I'm sure many will agree that that's a surefire recipe for the child to grow up speaking less and less Polish until it's almost all gone.

So, what would you guys do in my place? The options I see are:
  1. Sacrifice Polish for fluidity of communication. Raise the child in English.
  2. Sacrifice fluidity of communication for bilingualism. Speak only Polish to my child even though it won't be able to express itself as richly to me later in life is it will with its mum.
  3. Keep Polish as a secondary language. Use it here and there and hope the child takes an interest in it, but keep English as the primary language for both parents.
  4. Speak exclusively Polish in early childhood, to maximise the child's Polish. Then, when communication eventually becomes an issue, switch to #3, happy in the knowledge that I've given the child a good foundation in Polish.

Which option seems best to you? Any other options I haven't thought of? Any other general tips?
Gabby
Reply with quote  #2 
Hi there,
I am Polish, but I have been living in the UK for over 10 years. I have a 7 year old boy, but unfortunately me and his father divorced 6 years ago, and since then we have been on our own. I had the same dilemma as you, whether I should choose just one language, especially when my son was growing up listening to my monologues rather than learning how to communicate effectively by coping witnessed conversations. I actually sought professional advice, and a speech therapist told me I should use "my" language, when I talk to my son, who would then be able to pick up the second language from the outside world. At the begining my son had problems with expressing himself in both languages, which was quite worrying. However, by engaging him all different activities such as theatre and drama, improved his communication skills. Nowadays, even if I speak Polish to him, he usually replies in English, because that is the language of the environment he lives in. Then again, when we travel to Poland, he switches quickly to Polish, maybe by osmosis of some kind
If you decide to introduce your child to another language it is important to be consistent - you will have to communicate with the child in Polish, so the child understands the difference, and that there is "daddy's language" and "mummy's language". So I was told I am sure reading bed time stories in Polish will also help. If you want I can get you the details of the speech therapist lady, who assessed my son a while ago. She works with Polish children for whom English is their second language. Maybe she will be able to help.
Andrzej Michalik
Reply with quote  #3 
Hi,

I can share my son's and my experience in the reverse configuration. My wife and I are Polish, we live in Poland, I work as an English<->Polish interpreter and we are raising our son in Polish and English. I have never spoken any Polish to my son, my wife avoids speaking English to him (except as a game).
At 9, my son speaks Polish no worse than his friends at school, and has very reasonable English. Sure, he has some accent and suffers from language interference (e.g. in conditional sentences).
However, he is perfectly able to have a rather intelligent conversation in English and his life is so much richer when he can read and watch stuff in the original, he sings pop songs along with the radio etc.
I sure make mistakes in English, I don't necessarily know how to pronounce "tethered" when we are reading a story. When he was 1 I had to check words like "pinwheel" in a dictionary coming back from a walk with him (I have never been a child in English, have I?).
But a second language is a great gift and being bilingual makes children more intelligent (that is what everyone says, I am not gonna disagree).
So if you have this opportunity, definitely give it a try. Just remember: one parent, one language. So you will brush up your Polish - that is not a loss, is it? You will buy a couple of books online, take a look in the dictionary once in a while, so what?
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