Question

Hi!

We are a Swedish-Austrian family living in Sweden. Our children are 4.5 and 3 years old and are both born in Austria. We moved to Sweden 2 years ago. We chose the OPOL strategy since we were living in Austria at the beginning and my husband did not speak much Swedish at the time. And I did not know there were other strategies! After living in Austria for 11 years, I’m fluent in German and me and my husband only speak German to each another. Even now when we live in Sweden this is our only spoken communication language.

Our youngest son has never spoken German, but he it seems that he understands most of it, and he also chooses to watch German movies on the ipad when he is allowed the choose himself. Our eldest does speak German pretty well, but tends to answer his father 80% in Swedish. Since we moved to Sweden I as well started to read German books to the children and also to talk about the book in German. This is well accepted by the children and my eldest then answers me in German, and we can have really nice German conversations. In other situations, he says he feels uncomfortable with me speaking German to him, which I have respected. During our reading-sessions this is however never a problem. The accepted rule is German book – German language!

I would like the change our bilingual strategy at home and make German our true family language to expose and encourage our children even more. In reality, we have already changed strategy since we are not truly OPOL anymore, but I would like to change it even more and truly have a family language. They do not speak German to anyone else than their father, and sometimes with me. We live in a small countryside town and there are no other German-speaking people here. The father is also extremely polite and tends to speak Swedish when non-German speaking persons are around.

I do feel very comfortable in German and sometimes I speak German to my children without knowing. For example at the dinner table when I’m in the middle of a conversation with their father in German and I give them directions.

Is it possible for us to change our family language strategy at this point? We are going on a two week vacations soon to Austria and I have been thinking about making German our vacation-language. Also because of courtesy to the German-speaking relatives that we will meet, but also to really give the children as much exposure to German as possible during these two weeks. If it works fine, perhaps we can just go on speaking German afterwards. If the children feel comfortable with it of course.

What is your opinion about this? Do you have any suggestions to us?
Thanks a lot!

Kind regards
Maria

Answer

Hello Maria,

Thank you for your question and query. If I understand you correctly, you are wondering how to keep a proper balance between Swedish and German. Can I ask you how much Swedish did your children speak when you were living in Austria? OPOL is not the only method – each family is different and situations are also different. Are your children going to school in Swedish?

Let me start from the beginning of your question: when living in Austria, you spoke German with your husband, he spoke German with the children and you spoke Swedish with them. That was fine. There is no reason why this should change when living in Sweden. If your child does not wish you to speak German with him, stick to Swedish – even when there are people around and then translate into German, so people who might be offended will not be. I do however not feel there is a problem in you using of the German language, as your children do know that you can speak it. You can have a kind of a game with them, telling them that if you speak German to them, you have a forfeit. Languages have to be fun.

I would suggest that you decide all together as a family, the four of you, which is the best approach. Would it really be okay for you to stop speaking Swedish to them? In my opinion, a good strategy would be to keep speaking Swedish to them and make them feel proud to speak your mother language and know the Swedish culture. As you started with OPOL, and as your children are still young, why change? Everybody will at times mix up languages or use the “wrong” language at any stage, this does not mean that what has been started has to be modified.

I hope I answered your question – please feel free to come back to me if not.

Kind regards
Isabelle

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