The other day, I had the chance to take my youngest daughter to work to pop in and say hello to my colleagues. As we walked down the corridor, by a colleague’s office, he called out gently, stunned to have overheard me speaking English to my daughter.
-“Do you speak to her in English? All the time?” he asked, his eyes wide open.
He seemed to struggle to believe me when I said I did, and insisted again:
-“All the time, as in all-the-time?” he repeated, putting emphasis on his last words.
– “Yes. It’s the only way for it to sink in” I replied before moving along, the corridor not being the ideal place to debate bilingual education. 🙂
People often struggle to believe it, me not being a native speaker, they think that it is impossible to stick to the exclusive use of a second language. Hence, if you think it too or you struggle to speak exclusively in the minority language (ml) to your child, here are some arguments to convince you and where applicable to act on them:
- Only perseverance pays off– The more you will strive for it, the easier it will become (warning: I am speaking in terms of months… not just a few days!). After all, is it not what athletes do to succeed?
- The ml must be really part of your daily life – not just part-time or when you feel like it. ALL THE TIME. Think for a minute: how did your child learn the Majority Language (ML)? By hearing it 24/7, interacting in that very same language. Well if you want him or her to learn another, you will need to follow the same process. Become his or her 100% ml conversation partner, as s/he would have had had you been living in your ml country; and of course add any other possible ml resources (media, classes, native baby-sitter, playdates, etc…).
- Rigour sends the right message to your child – conversely, if you do not stick rigorously to your ml, your child will take this for an implied permission to pick the language to be used. And since the ML is always easier…
- You are their only linguistic model – If you are into positive education, you will have heard times and times again that to teach your child to handle their emotions, you must set the example and not lose your temper. Well, in bilingual education it is the same principle! The result will be easier to obtain if you give the right example.
- Because the ML is EVERYWHERE – and that its emphasis literally swats the ml. You hence need to act as a counter-weight as much as feasible. Your child will never be able to escape the ML, especially if s/he is attending an ML school. There is therefore no risk s/he does not learn it. When my youngest was a baby, people often commented that she would not learn French if I spoke English to her. But our childminder being a French-speaker, our youngest’s French is just like any little French girl’s.
- Because your child can only rely on you – Otherwise, who else could teach him/her the ml? Who could have it more to heart than you to transmit this opportunity?
- If you are not ready to put in the necessary efforts, why bother starting this crazy adventure in the first place? – A dream cannot be reached just like that. You need to commit yourself to build it and make it a lasting reality.
So yes, I do speak in English to my daughters all the time. Because with the hindsight of experience, witnessing the results reaped from perseverance, I developed a very strong will which gives me the motivation to pursue and not let go. Of course, there will be an English word that will stay on the tip of my tongue, or I will feel like singing a little ML song. But the greater interest of my kids is at stake, so I will rephrase my sentence, and look for a similar song in English. 🙂