Before Erik came along, I proudly stated that this wouldn’t become a ‚mommy blog‘. Although I meant it, I was a little naive about the fact that being a mum is currently my ‚full-time job‘ and a lot of the things that I do, things I read, people I meet, places I go, conversations I have, somehow relate to my new status as a mother.
Wracking my brains for a non-baby related theme is currently harder than I had imagined or planned. Thus for today I’m giving up, with a note to myself to try to be broader in future.
A topic I am currently occupied with is bilingualism.
Being a Brit living in Germany, it’s important that Erik learns to speak English as well as German. The plan was therefore for me to speak to him in English and my husband in German.
This is not as easy as I imagined. I’ve gotten so used to speaking in German one hundred percent of almost every day, that it feels strange to speak to this little person beside me in English. When we are out and about, in the presence of strangers in shops, park benches etc. it feels almost wrong to speak to him in English rather than the language of the community. Perhaps because I don’t want to be seen as a foreigner who doesn’t speak German.
Thus I am reading a book about bilingualism ‚Be bilingual – Practical ideas for multilingual families‘ by Annika Bourgogne and quizzing every other bilingual family I happen to meet on their experiences.
Our tactic of ‚one parent, one language‘ does seems to be the recommended way for us to go. Here are some of the important facts I have learned:
1.Worldwide, the majority of the population is either bilingual or multi-lingual. So it’s really not that special. And most of these parents are presumably raising their kids bilingually quite naturally without giving it too much thought. It’s more that as a Brit, learning a second language is often seen as a nice extra but never a necessity meaning that it does indeed feel like something special.
2. A child needs to be exposed to the ‚minority language‘ for at least 30% of the time. For the first year at least, Erik has the advantage that he pretty much has no choice but to hang out with me. After that however, the ‚majority language‘ of German is what he will increasingly be exposed to and quickly starts to dominate. That is why for example, a bilingual nursery would be a huge advantage. And engaging an english speaking babysitter. And regular video-calls with family.
3. Being brought up bilingually doesn’t hinder speech development as previously thought. Some kids may start to speak later, but this apparently falls into the normal spectrum of language development, just as there are stark differences to be seen between monolingual kids.
4. Expect some resistance from your kid at some point. I consider English my native language. My other native language is Tamil. Despite the fact that my parents spoke to me in Tamil, at some point after our move to England, I just replied in English. Perhaps due to a need to fit in. The result now is that I am a passive bilingual: though I understand Tamil without a problem, I couldn’t string together one sentence on my own. The fact that I possess no literacy skills in Tamil is another factor which contributes to this.
5. A second language is often referred to as a gift. But apparently it also takes a bit of work. Simple things such as books and multimedia in the second language are important. But also contact with kids the same age who speak the minority language. And regular trips to a place speaking that language.
6.Bilingualism has many advantages for later life. It is said to have a protective effect on cognitive decline, slowing for example the onset of dementia. It also supposedly makes it easier to later master another language.