How Lockdown Impacts our Minority Language Haven

As Europe and other parts of the world go into lockdown in an attempt to flatten the curve and prevent the breakdown of medical facilities in front of the Coronavirus, everybody’s lives have been severely impacted.

Though my posts try to be orientated at everybody, and not so much about our personal trilingual journey, this incredible event has had such an impact on our way of conducting this journey that I thought it might be worthy of a post to share this experience.  Especially as I have heard from other bilingual families having similar experiences.

France shut its schools down on March 16th 2020 until further notice (at time of publishing, rumour has it as potentially September). Teachers provide schoolwork to parents by email. The country went into lockdown two days later.

Our language strategy for our daughters’ trilingual education is to create a minority language haven where only our 2 minority languages (ml) are spoken at home, and the Majority Language (ML) is not allowed. This means our daughters only pick up French, our ML, from society and school in particular. The very places we are forcibly isolated from now.

What has the lockdown changed in our home?

  1. A huge surge in ML in our home coming in different shapes and sizes:
    1. Lots of professional ML phone calls as we work from home.
    2. Daily ML phone calls to grandma and auntie to keep in touch.
    3. Daily ML schoolwork emailed by my daughters’ teachers, that takes a very large chunk of the day.
    4. Daily ML ovation at 8pm for sanitary staff – clapping and shouting thanks and bravos in ML.
    5. Online “drinks” with ML friends.
    6. French programme on state television that provides daily teaching based on the national school curriculum during the lockdown.
  2. Paradoxically, a decrease in quality ML for my daughters’ ML acquisition since they are no longer schooled.

And though I have told my eldest from the beginning of the homeschooling days that it was the opportunity to work on our minority languages and that she should read 10 min in her 3 languages every day as well as write 2 sentences in English, working from home has simply hindered me in following up on this. A lost opportunity so far, but I do not give up just yet. 😉

What has been the result? 

On Sunday, after a week off school, we arranged an impromptu WhatsApp “drinks” with ML friends. Hearing us chatting French, the girls went to play in their room… in French! Overhearing them at a distance, I had to go and play language police.

They might not seem like much, but all these changes put together add up to a lot of emphasis on this ML that we have banned from our home 3 1/2 years ago.

And this emphasis from our own mouth acted as subliminal permission to use French in my daughters’ minds.

What did we do? 

Of course, we are only at the beginning of this confinement which, let’s face it, is here to last.

Our first reaction was to put order by acting as language police.

The second was to counter this subliminal message by a clear and loud statement. We got the girls together and explained that our English and Spanish only rule still applied and that French was still banned.  However, given the confinement we are obliged to import so much majority language and hence would tolerate the following:

  1. French for telephone calls – the people we speak to on the phone do not speak anything else but French, it is hence justified to use it.
  2. French for schoolwork – whether the homeschooling programme or the schoolwork, French will be tolerated.  To my youngest’s request, I will use French to do her school work like her teacher does. On schooldays, I also set a daily “French storytime” to compensate for the loss of ML schooling of my youngest.

Last, we do not let go of our routines. Lots of ml stories, ml audio background, ml homework routine is upheld and I will continue to try and push for my eldest to read and write more in the ml on a daily basis. No ML beyond that is tolerated.

The lockdown is far from over, and so is the emphasis on the majority language.  So far, our measures have worked to set things back into place. However, we will keep an eye on how things develop linguistically and adjust further as required.

My little survival tips:

If like me you are working from home and homeschooling due to the lockdown, you might find it extremely difficult to balance the two. Should this be of any assistance to you, let me share with you the little organisational tips I have tried and tested so far and that prove helpful to us:

  • Make a schedule of the important things you want to be done in the day (be realistic), or at least a list –  If your child can read, the latter will be of great help to him/her to know what s/he is expected to do when you are unavailable.
  • Use the timer on your tablet to ring at the set times when you want your child to resume schoolwork or go onto a break depending on your child’s age, s/he might be able to set the timer him/herself as the day unfolds.
  • Avoid setting your tablet when it might coincide with your meetings – Set it five minutes before your meeting so you have time to organise your child’s next activity before moving on to your call.
  • If you have more than one child and they tend to bicker, separate them from the onset –  Maybe give them different games or tasks, take one with you to one room and the other with your spouse in another.
  • Restrict cartoons – Though they can be of great help to calm spirits down or keep their mind busy, cartoons can soon take over routine.  Though we are confined, many recommend us to keep our routines; and cartoons often get in the way.  
  • Stick to bedtime and waking up times – This will contribute to keep the kids under control as well as a healthy family routine.
  • Include physical activity to burn your kids’ excess of energy –  My eldest loves PE with Joe and my youngest Cosmic Kids yoga. My eldest’s school teacher also shared this flash mob to learn for when she resumes school and then be able to dance it with her classmates.  It is another fun and physical activity to entertain and burn up energy. Whatever your ml, google physical activities in your ml to find something that will catch your kid’s attention.  Also think about asking your ml relatives to find what is trending in your ml country.
  • If you have the opportunity, alternate with your partner to take a different day off each on a weekly basis to manage the kids –  Here in France, we are required to clear all our annual leave by May, and since we can’t go anywhere, we might as well make the best use of these days…

How about your family? How has the lockdown affected you and what are your tips to keep your bilingual journey afloat?  Any tips to survive working from home and homeschooling?

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3 Comments

  1. Hi there! Very interesting reflections on language learning in the home. Lockdown certainly has its challenges, doesn’t it? Hopefully we’re over the worst of it now and can slowly start to get back to the new normal! Hang in there! Bravo for tackling the tricky challenge of raising your kids trilingual. Bravo!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Louisa! Thank you for your supportive message! Lockdown definitely has its challenges. Over here in France, we are not over the worst just yet. Lockdown is going to fragment at a regional level as of May 11th but given the Paris area has a high level of cases, we might be in for a prolongation. We’re waiting to hear more about it. What seems sure is that like many parents around me, we will not be sending the girls back to school any time soon out of concern for their safety. So the lockdown challenges remain (but the ml opportunities bloom! 😉 ). Keep safe in beautiful Madrid. 🙂

      Like

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