Almost 2 years ago, I was at a loss to understand why my then 4-year-old only spoke the Majority Language (ML) and hardly any of her 2 minority languages (ml). We had taken a very laid back approach and had not read anything on the topic of bilingual education. When we reached that point, 2 years ago, I started looking up a little. Thanks to the experience of other bilingual parents that I read at the Bilingual Zoo, I discovered our mistakes in our bilingual education strategy. In our case, we had created exposure but not the need in our eldest to use her 2 ml.
It took us 6 months to get our bilingual journey back on track. But the harm was already done. You see, my eldest accepted relatively well the change in house rule, with the obligation to use the 2 ml and the ban on the ML, but she confessed she preferred the ML because it was easier. That was the harm: we had allowed her to restrict her comfort zone. In my personal experience, I think that one of the first hurdles in bilingual education is the fact kids like the easy way out; they limit their comfort zone to the minimum necessary. They often like speaking the ML because -among other things such as wanting to fit in by using the ML- it is easier; like a young child prefers using their hands instead of cutlery at the dinner table, or Daddy’s arms to carry them instead of using their own little legs!
My daughter still occasionally puts up some resistance and tries to bring in some ML at home… but I never give in. Not one inch, and if need be I remind her why we do not want the ML at home.
One night last December, I was having dinner alone with my daughters and discovered that my eldest daughter still had not understood why we have kicked the ML out of our home. When I asked her why she thought we did not want her to speak ML at home, my eldest replied that it was because Mummy did not like that language. I explained to her that I liked every language including the ML, that if we wanted her not to use ML at home it was for her to use the 2 ml so she would learn them. To which she replied that since she now spoke the 2 ml she could revert to using the ML! I explained to her that she would forget her 2 ml if she did, and that you learn new things every day. She was not pleased and did not want to accept the idea that one -whether big or small- learns new things every day.
It sometimes makes me feel sad she does not understand what we are doing, but she’s only 6 and as a lovely and wise bilingual mummy told me, using an example that reminded me of the one of the child preferring the hands to the cutlery: “This is like having to eat vegetables or whatever food they do not like: it may not make sense to them now, but it will one day, and you are doing what is best for them. They will thank you for it when they are older.”
Children are pragmatic individuals. As bilingual parents, we need to push them a bit out of their comfort zone and help them develop their self-confidence in the use of their ml, even if they are not keen on the “discomfort”. It is part of helping them grow and bloom as individuals.