For this new entry in the Mini-interview series, I have had the pleasure to interview Veronika from www.bilingual-babies.com, whose blog I have recently discovered and absolutely enjoy to browse through. It is a great read as it is full of valuable technical information on bilingualism yet synthesised so as to make it accessible to any bilingual parent. Definitely a link to add to your browser’s Favourites! 😉
- Tell us a little bit about you, your family and the language strategy (OPOL, ml@h, Time & Place…) you use to rear your children bi/multilingual.
We are a family of three: my husband Mike, my daughter Ella, and myself. We live in New Jersey, about 40 minutes outside of New York City.
Overall, we are a pretty multicultural family. I’m from Germany and my husband is of native Hawaiian and Irish descent. Since our daughter was born, we have used the OPOL strategy. So I’m speaking German with Ella and my husband speaks English. Additionally, Ella learns a bit of Spanish at daycare, but overall, English is clearly the dominant language for her throughout the day.
What are the 5 (or more) things you did that with hindsight have made a difference on your bilingual journey, and why do you think they had this positive effect?
With Ella being only 2.8 years old, we are still at the beginning of the bilingual journey. But nevertheless, she already is a little chatterbox in both languages. So here is what I do to support her minority language:
- Reading, reading, reading! I think reading with your children is one of the most important things to help them develop their languages. Ella and I read books in German every day. We have books by the dining room table, in the bathroom, in Ella’s play area in the living room, and by her bed. Books are everywhere in our house. Books are key because they allow me to expose her to many different words and topics. For example, we wouldn’t necessarily talk about knights, mermaids, and dinosaurs on a regular day if it wasn’t for books. They allow us to dive into different worlds; and so they help me to expose Ella to a variety of different words, different sentence structures, and styles of language use. Plus, they offer me a way to have a real conversation with her. We talk a lot about the story and what we see on the pages. In other words, books allow me to interact with her about a range of topics, using the minority language.
- Treating her like a conversation partner –Research has shown time and again that the best way to develop children’s language is by interacting with them. So I’m always engaging her in conversations. Anything can be the topic of a conversation: a little lady bug sitting on the window or a broken door knob… There are basically no limits. One thing I consciously try to do is ask a lot of so called “open-ended questions”. That means that I’m trying to ask questions that require her to say more than just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in response. That way, she needs to actively use German.
- Traveling – I usually take Ella to Germany once, if possible twice a year–depending on budget and time constraints. You are usually learning a language best when you are fully immersed in it. So going to Germany is like taking a language bath for her. After 2-3 days in Germany, where we usually stay with my family, Ella starts to talk predominantly in German. I also make sure to set up playdates with my friend’s children. That gives me the opportunity to catch up with friends and Ella gets to interact with German-speaking children.
- Drawing upon family abroad – I think raising a child is already quite a task, but doing it with multiple language is a completely different animal. Especially if you are the only speaker of the minority language on a regular day (I’m the only speaker of German), you need all the help you can get. They say “it takes a village to raise a child.” I think that it pretty fitting. We have been using Skype and Facetime to keep in touch with my family in Germany. We talk to my parents and my sister on a regular basis. Sometimes, we even put the laptop on the dining room table so Oma in Germany can join us for breakfast or lunch. I feel that the frequent Facetime calls have not only exposed Ella to the minority language but they have also helped to keep her connected with her aunt and grandparents.
- Making use of education opportunities in the minority language – Where we live, we have a German language school that offers classes on Saturday mornings. They have a class called Musikgarten, a mommy and me class for children up to 3.5 years. The class is 45 min long and all about songs and play. So it’s a very natural and fun approach for her to learn German. We enrolled Ella to give her additional exposure to German outside of our home and connect her with other children that speak German.
What is the n°1 tip you would give to any bilingual family on this bumpy journey?
Be persistent while keeping things fun and engaging! In other words: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Developing your child’s multiple languages–especially the minority language–takes time and commitment. I think it’s important to know that going in. And it’s important to keep at it once you have made the decision for the bilingual journey.
In a nutshell, be prepared that the bilingual journey is a long-term project that takes time and commitment and that a positive and engaging environment throughout the journey will help establish a solid foundation for the minority language to grow.
Tell us about your blog
I started Bilingual Babies (www.bilingual-babies.com) in 2018 in order to provide a platform of information, tips, and resources for bilingual families.
I work as a research scientist in the area of second language learning and assessment. Plus, I raise a bilingual child. So I thought that I could combine personal experience with insights from academic research. Research publications can be quite challenging (and boring) to read so what I’m trying to do is make research findings more accessible by combining them with personal experiences. So Bilingual Babies is a site where personal experience meets research in an effort to provide information and support for other bilingual families.