Today, my little one has just blown her third candle out. Three has a special resonance in me, as over here in France it is the year toddlers start at nursery school. This resonance has led me to reflect on our bilingual journey as a family.
When our little one was born, we were still an OPOL family, using the Majority Language (ML) to communicate all of us together. Our little one was only four months old when we changed to the ml@home. So it is pretty much like having raised both of my daughters with different language strategies, since our youngest was so small she most certainly does not recall the days when the ML was allowed home.
To some extent, I feel privileged to have this experience of using both strategies with my two kids. Not that it was deliberately planned, of course, but it is interesting to observe the results.
Compared with her elder sister, I noticed the following significant differences in my youngest daughter, as a result of using the ml@home strategy:
- It is normal for her to use the minority languages (mls) in our home.
- She does not particularly seek to use the ML (at least so far, let’s wait and see the influence of school), unlike her eldest who does that in a bit of defiance.
- She seems to have developed a bond with her minority languages .
- She has always been an active trilingual. Unlike her sister, there was no passive phase.
- She picked the ML from her childminder and so far it is not affecting her minority languages. The three languages seem fairly balanced.
- She uses the mls when playing on her own outside from home – this has been reported by her ML childminder.
- She understands the ml@home rule even though we never formally explained to her that the ML is banned; it is like an untold rule.
Of course, personality comes in to play and it is difficult to know how much of it influenced the result.
But I cannot help feeling that had we routed for ml@home from the beginning with my eldest, she would only have known our mls in our home environment and not be so resistant to them. The journey would probably have been easier and we would not have had to play catch up.
From using ml@home, I feel there were numerous benefits for both our daughters:
- Two times more exposure to the minority language – and when you are a large family, the exposure is exponential. Our eldest no longer lacks ml vocabulary to string a sentence, which was not the case in our olden days of OPOL.
- The children have the parents’ example to incite them to use the minority language.
- The kids learn the minority language faster since they overhear and observe conversations of other family members, even if they are not a party to these.
- It creates group cohesion thanks to the family conversations to which every member can participate.
- It creates almost total immersion in the minority language.
- It enables to counterbalance the power of the Majority Language by excluding it from the family home.
Two daughters, two different language strategies, two very different experiences. Life is full of surprises, and it is too early to crow victory. Children grow and develop personalities of their very own, hence I cannot claim that their trilingualism is set in stone. However, so far these have been very different experiences, and as you have guessed it from my posts in general, I have a strong bias for ml@home. 🙂