Passing on a non-native language to your child, part 2: Family language strategy

by | Aug 26, 2015 | Babies, Being the parent in a multilingual family, Challenges, Family life, Non-native language, Practical advice | 0 comments

Passing on a non-native language to your child, part 2: Family language strategy

After taking into consideration all the points raised in the first part of this series, you have decided that you want to give your child the gift of another language. My presumption is that you have discussed this with the rest of the family and everybody agrees that it is a good idea. (If you do not have the support of the rest of the family, be prepared for some hard work to succeed in reaching your goal.) You also have an idea how fluent you want your child to be and are prepared to invest as much time as it takes.

The next step is to decide what strategy you are going to follow and the choice depends on how fluent you are in the language and whether you will be doing this on your own or together with your partner or someone else who spends a lot of time with your child.

You are fluent and comfortable in speaking the language

If you are the only person who will speak the language with your child, you can choose the one parent, one language (OPOL) approach. This means that you will be using the language in all communication with your child. Before you go for this strategy, I would recommend that you once more go through the different scenarios mentioned in the Considerations part of this series.

If both you and your partner feel confident about speaking the language, you can choose to go for the minority language at home (mL@H) strategy. With this option, there will only be one language spoken in the home and it is different from the majority language of the community.

You can also choose the 2 parents, 2 languages (2P2L) approach, whereby both of you switch between the two languages with your child. When choosing this option, you need to make sure that there is at least an equal amount of exposure to both languages – preferably with an emphasis on the minority language. This strategy will most likely be more successful if both languages are also spoken in the surrounding community.

You are less fluent in the language

If you do not feel that you can speak the language all of the time with your child, then I would recommend that you go for the time and place (T&P) strategy. When applying this approach you select a certain time of the day, week or month, or alternatively a room/place/activity when/where you speak the language with your child. By using this system, you have the option of speaking your native language with your child at times when the other language is too much of a struggle.

I think the time and place strategy is an excellent option to ease into a routine of introducing another language and – when it feels right – increase the amount of time you use the language with each other.

You are learning along your child

If you have chosen a language that you do not yet know yourself, then the obvious option is time and place (T&P), as otherwise you will not be able to communicate with your child at all!

How you start learning depends very much on the age of your child, since whatever you do needs to keep both of you interested. Unless you go for the option of hiring a tutor for the two of you, I would recommend that you start this as a game where you learn a few words and phrases to start with. Follow up with rhymes and songs (initially choose ones with a familiar tune) and always remember to keep it fun!

There will be one more post in this series: Activities.

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  1. Passing on a non-native language to your child - Activities - […] about the things you need to take into consideration before embarking on such a journey and which family language…
  2. Passing on a non-native language to your child - Considerations - […] will be two more posts in this series: Family language strategy and […]

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