Tuesday, 27 July 2010

School and bilingualism

Being as obsessed/intrigued with my children's bilingual progress as I am, and since Suzanne started school this year and Max will be beginning group childcare, this article in Multilingual Living by François Grosjean is really apropriate for my blog. If you don't know Multilingual Living, it's a great resource for bilingual parenting.

What will happen to our children’s bilingualism when they start going to school in the community language?

If one of the children’s languages is already the community/school language then it will be given an incredible burst when they start attending school.

Several reasons explain this: it will be used much more than before and its domains of use will expand; it will be used by peers and the teachers (new and important people in the children’s lives); and it will be the language in which the first steps in literacy are undertaken.

Within only a few months, it may well become the children’s dominant language which they will use increasingly and bring home with them (with their home work, friends, etc.). They may even try to use it exclusively with their parents so as not to be different from other children.

It is well known that between ages six and the early teens, many children will give the school or majority language their priority to the detriment of the weaker, home, language. Some may even refuse to speak the latter to their parents and other family members.

Hence, parents will want to develop various stratagems to reinforce the weaker language. If they can find ways of “holding on” until the teenage years, there is every chance that the weaker language will find its niche and the bilingualism of their children will be stabilized, even if they become dominant in the majority language.


Pardon My French said...

Yeah, I've been thinking about that. School will definitely be good for my daughter's French, that's for sure, and I'm looking forward to her getting all the good cultural exposure since obviously I can't be responsible for it. Although I'll be happy to see her bloom in French, I have to be completely honest that I'll be a little sad to see her dominance in English switch over. The good thing is that I do feel I'm in (albeit tenuous internet) contact with enough people going through the same thing that we can be a decent support network for each other.

Mil said...

thanks for the link. I dread the school moment, too, though already at the crêche she's in a dominant French environment. Skype sessions with my family will hopefully keep her English interest up. Good luck with the weaning. It was hard for me to wean my daughter last year. But even now I can almost feel a little rush of that contented feeling if she curls up with me to take a bottle. The cuddles continue even if it's in a different form.

Beth said...

I know the pattern of the 'weaker' language being used less is common, but it's not inevitable.
Despite French school, none of my kids ever backed off the English language. In fact, they prefer it.
I give some of the credit for this to the fact that I read out loud to my children in English nearly every evening. In fact, I still do and my eldest is 17 now!

I wish all you young moms lots of success. Keep up the reading and cross your fingers!

Reb said...

I think we can all learn a lot from Beth. I also read to my kids everynight. Suzanne loves books and could read tons. Max looses interest after about 2 pages. By one year old, I could read "normal" books to Suzanne; I can barely get through "Goodnight Moon" with Max. Kids are different!

As far as the dominant language in school and at the creche, I found with Suzanne that as her French got better so did her English. It's all positive and I think we should all give ourselves a pat on the back for being such awesome parents!

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