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Oct 222017
 

Switching from OPOL to mL@H to maximise the exposure to the minority language?

 

Question

Hi,

I am wondering whether it would be helpful to change our approach. My daughter is 23 months old and I’ve been speaking German with her, while my husband has been speaking English. I am a stay-at-home mom and we are living in Germany, so German is the majority language, although my husband doesn’t speak German – so I speak English with him (and also with the dog).

We live in Germany, but we have access to a US military base where we take our daughter about once or twice a week (to eat, shop, go to the playground, etc). She will hopefully soon start dance classes there and will also start to attend preschool on the base about one year from now. Since I am the primary caregiver, I am worried about her not getting exposed to English enough (my husband works full time and has a 45-minute commute one way).

I am wondering whether it would be a good idea to start using the minority language at home approach to make it more even? Would it be confusing for her if we changed our approach two years after she was born? And if we do it this way, would I still speak German with her outside the home even if my husband is present?

Thank you so much for your response,
Tina

Answer

Dear Tina,

Thank you for your question about changing your family language strategy from using OPOL – one parent, one language to mL@H – minority language at home.

A family language strategy should never be set in stone. When circumstances change, or if parents feel that the chosen approach is not working as well as they hoped, then it is time to reassess. Bravo for doing just this.

With your husband being away almost ten hours a day, I presume there is not much time left over during the week for him to speak English with your daughter. So, the English exposure is in general focused to the weekends. While in principle this should be enough exposure for her to pick up English, switching to both of you speaking English with her would speed up her learning.

I can see that your written English is excellent, but you didn’t mention how you feel about speaking English, instead of your mother tongue, German, with your daughter. For two years you have spoken German with her – would it be okay for you to comfort and play with her German? Some people may not like if you were to switch to English – not that you should care about what others think, but you need to be prepared for others’ reactions, which may not always be favourable.

Changing the language you speak with your daughter will not confuse her. She may initially object to you speaking “daddy’s language” with her, but she will soon get used to it. After all, she has already heard you use the language at home, so it is not new to her.

You can continue speaking German when you are outside the home – even if your husband is present – if you prefer to do so. That way you would have both languages in use with your daughter. This would also allow you to switch to German, if at any point you feel that there is something that you rather express in German to her.

Wishing you a successful bilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

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