Education tip – Instilling a habit of using the minority language from a very early age

Last week, my daughters were babysitted by they Majority Language (ML) grandmother, whilst we parents had a well-earned night out. They spent roughly 8 hours (awake) with their grandmother, as she came very early and left mid-morning the next day. The influence of this ML-speaker over our minority language (ml) home in just a few hours struck me.

Since my mother does not speak English, I address her in French (our ML), as well as to my daughters if they are involved in the discussion. However, I stick to English whenever I address my daughters directly. My husband does the same in Spanish.

Interestingly, by the time my mother left, my eldest (6) was already making extensive use of French, even to herself, to me directly, and even suggesting to select the French language audio-option to watch a DVD once her Nan had left…
On the other hand, my youngest (2) just went on using her 2 ml with us all the way through. At one point (to my greatest delight 😀 ), she even repeated the same thing in the 3 languages to address each of us 3 adults.

The stark contrast between the attitudes of my daughters struck me… and the feeling of guilt hit me even harder. As explained in “Our Story”, when my eldest was born, we went for OPOL with the use of the ML as a family communication language. By the age of 4, my eldest had become a passive trilingual, only communicating in the ML. It took a lot of work to reverse the situation, including the strict banning of French from our household. Though my eldest sticks to this rule, her love for the ML is beyond anything. She loves to contradict, and hence loves to resist in that fashion. The harm is done; it is our fault for not having read up on bilingual education beforehand and thought through our strategy a little better. Had we done so, rooting straight for the ml@home strategy, the likelihood is that today she would behave like her little sister who has never experienced the ML at home, and accepted as a fact that we have 2 home languages that are different from the community language and that is that.

The moral of this experience is simply that the earlier you ingrain in your child the habit and fact that they are expected to use their ml at home/with one parent, the more points you score against ml resistance. So whenever you feel a little down, less motivated, or stressed out by unwelcome comments about your choice of bilingual education, bear this in mind and keep holding strong to your language strategy. The earlier, the better. 🙂

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