Summer holidays are not far away. It is time to think back about what has been happening and to plan for what we all would like to happen.
The world pandemic that we have all gone through now, the lockdown that has been imposed on us for obvious health reasons, forced us to live differently and to look at things differently as well.
Before looking at what is the best strategy or rather best method - I'll explain underneath why I prefer the word method to the word strategy - let's look at what a language is and what it is used for. A language is more than just words that you put together to create meaning. It is used for many many things. When you understand what a language is, that you will be able to choose the best method for you. Yes, a language is made of words, but what can you find behind those words. You can find meaning, you can find emotions, you can find feelings. For example, in English, we have two words for liking something: to like and to love. They mean the same, but have a different tonality. In Dutch, there are two words for house, as in English: huis and thus. Each of those words have a slight difference to the other. Words are used in our daily life and they are part of everything we do: in the kitchen, in the garden, when reading a newspaper, when chatting with our neighbours, for homework, when we buy something.. It is part of our everyday life. We cannot live without a language.
With a language, we can express ourselves, we can listen to other people. We can share. we can learn. Even when we dream, we use the language. We cannot live without it. There are a scientific language, a culinary language, a journalistic language, an academic language. When you have a leisure time and go to the cinema, the language is there too! When you have a chat over tea with your friend, the language also invited itself in the conversation. You find it in the culture, in the sciences, in health, in cooking... you go for a walk and you see ads, it is there too. You hear children playing, the language is there. Without a language, we would not be where we are today and what we are today. I am now thinking about those children who have been abandoned in the jungle, like Mowgli or Marie-Angélique le Blanc... they have developed their own language... in order to communicate. We cannot live without a language, whatever that language is.
However, each culture developed the language its own way. When we live abroad, this language which is our own gets a new meaning, it becomes more important to us. It becomes even more important when we have children. We got our language from our parents, who got it from their own parents, who themselves got it from their parents. It is transmitted from generation to generation. We all wish to transmit what we have, what we have received to our children, especially if it is something important to us. And our language is among those important things in life. It is an invaluable gift that we received as a child.
Transmitting this gift can be a real challenge for some among us, in particular when we live in an environment which uses another language. Each family is different. We all live in different environments. Our choices for life are different. So there cannot be one single and unique method, one single and unique way of doing. On the other hand, it is possible to get inspiration from was is being suggested, we can get inspired and adapt it for our own situation. If you have difficulties in adapting, feel free to call on me for a personalised consultation.
What are the main strategies which are often mentioned? First of all, I'd like to say that I would prefer to use the word "method" rather than the word "strategy" because of all the connotations of that word. When you talk about strategy you imply a plan of actions with an aim to reach. This can have military connotations; it can sound strict and using tactics... It implies manoeuvring to reach what you are looking for. Whereas the word "method" is more neutral. When we think of method, we are thinking of techniques, ways of doing, steps, principles... A method is less strict and hard to accept than a strategy. When you make a cake for example, you get a method to do it, not a strategy. You get a recipe, a way of doing it, which is sometimes a success or can be a disaster. It would depend on the oven you have, on the ingredients you have and you will get something which looks like what you were expecting to have. It is not the exact copy, but it is a success !! I am thus suggesting to look at methods, recipes which are suggested for the bilingual education of your children. Do not forget, you will have to do with the ingredients that you have.
So here are the various methods / recipes that are mostly found:
Method / Recipe 1 : One Parent/One person - One Language - OPOL. This is the most known. In that case the parent ou the person who speaks the language in question speaks only that language. So the child would associate the person with the language. Advantages: this might help some confusion for some children. Parents use then the language in which they feel more confident and thus give a "better" language to their children. This is the language with which they can express everything and are able to make everything understood to their children. This seems the easiest and most logical method. Disadvantages: you always have to think about this. Even when you are with other people, you must also do it, as you need to be logical with your children. In growing up, your children will end up noticing that you can speak the other language and they will challenge you. They may even refuse to speak your language. If your family is a mixed family (i.e. a family where the parents are speaking a different language), it is certainly the ideal method, especially when the children are young. However it can create conflict if one of the parents does not understand the language of the other parent and thus do not understand what the other parent is saying to the children. Parents are also using a language between themselves. Outside the home, there is also another language used. When they grow up, the children will realise there are those other languages that you can speak, and they will challenge you, or refuse to speak the language... So, before you start, you have to talk about it together as parents, because you will have to be consistent and this is the key to success with this method.
Method / Recipe 2 one language at home, one language outside of home. It is an easy method to follow. In this case, you choose to speak one language at home, usually, it is the language which is not the local language, and the other one when you get out. Then the two parents have to be able to speak the two languages. Advantages: it is an easy-to-follow method. The two languages have definite places where they are spoken. The children know, that, as soon as they are back home, they have to change language. It is quite simple to follow. If you are migrants, refugees or expatriates, it is certainly the best method to give your language to your children. Disadvantages: there are few disadvantages with this method, except maybe that as they grow up, when they children come back from school they may want to tell about their day in the "outside" language rather than the "home" language. They would want to tell you about they adventures in the other language. So they will wish to use this other language. Do not forget that the hoe vocabulary is not the same than the one you use at school. So they may have difficulties if finding the words in the home language to tell you about their day. This question of vocabulary is extremely important. We already talked about it. With Multilingual Café, we are going to have some workshops on this matter from next September on, you can already register.
Method / Recipe 3: One language, one activity. In that case, you choose the language according the activity or the time of the day. For exemple, you can choose which language to use during meals, then you can use another one, or which language to use on which day of the week, or for some activities like some sports, or walks, etc. And you switch from one language to the other one as you change activity in the day and week. This can also be one language during the day, and one language in the evening. This makes a clear difference between the times when one or the other language is being used. Some families even choose one language one week, another language the following week. Advantages: you can use all languages, according the activities. It allows to make a clear difference between the languages according time and activities. Disadvantages: you have to create clear border for the places and times when you use a certain language and to know exactly when you change. This ask a good organisation. The ideal is to use the "Language Weekly" (you can create one during some of my workshops with La Maison du Multilinguisme) and in September, I will have workshop to explain how to use it. You can already register.
Method / Recipe 4: None or mix of the methods and languages ; this is well possible to choose none of the above method and your child/children will become bilingual anyway. On one condition : stay logical in what you do and what you ask your child.
Do not forget that you have to do according the ingredients that you have, in other words it has to be done according your family, your children, the language spoken in the home, the country where you live, the age of your children, your environment... all those ingredients have to be taken into account to succeed.
Any questions or comments, send them. I'll be happy to answer to them. The French version and Dutch versions are available.