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Sunday, 5 August 2012

Many People, Many Languages?

You know from Ute’s story that when talking about the OPOL method, she prefers to explain it as “One Person, One Language”, instead of “One Parent, One Language”. She is right in the regard that equating one person with one language is used to describe strictly bilingual families, where the mother speaks one language and the father speaks another. However, there are problems with this approach.

The first one is that not all children are raised by their parents. In some cases, grandparents, or other carers take care of the children. But I don’t really mean that. I think the methods used to describe bilingualism might not always work for multilingual families. Take for example our family. I usually say that we have adopted the OPOL method: I speak Polish, my husband speaks German. But our girls also go to a daycare where they hear Dutch from the nannies. So children are raised by more than just their parents.

Also, what we do is in fact a combination of OPOL and the ml@h (Minority Language at Home) method: after all, we don’t speak Dutch at home! The children only hear Dutch at daycare, so their vocabulary will probably be related to daycare, and later school. Dutch will probably become the language of learning and socializing.

Another thing is that while I only speak Polish with my children, I am bilingual. Not only does it have an effect on how I communicate with my children, but I could also decide to raise my children “only” bilingually- with German. Actually, this is what I probably would have done if I was raising my children in Poland. Also, I speak more than just one language on a regular basis.

The same goes for my husband, who mainly uses English at work. While he doesn’t speak it at home, it does affect the way he speaks German- living in a foreign country always changes the way you use your language!
And let us not forget our friends and their children, who speak a multitude of languages! While most of them speak English, other languages, such as French, or Russian or Italian are present as well. The children thus come in contact with many languages and cultures.

So as you see, with children like ours it’s not really “One Parent, One Language”. “Many People, Many Languages” is more like it. Children are raised by more than just their parents, and some of the people they come in contact with speak many languages.

So maybe we need new methods and new approaches and new names to describe multilingual families? After all, the majority of research was conducted on bilingual children, where the situation is somewhat less complicated.



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12 comments:

  1. I think that the situation might be even more, shall we say, interesting than that due to you raising your children in the Netherlands where English is fast becoming a major linguistic force and strongly influencing today's children primarily and secondarily through the media. It may be that Klara and Julia will have Polish and German as the 'home and family' languages, Dutch as 'school and friends' and English as the language of the media and for communicating with people from other cultures.

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    1. Paul, exactly! In the Netherlands, everybody speaks English so my girls will, too! I am so excited to be given this opportunity!

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  2. I totally agree, there are many more ways to pass on language than OPOL & ml@Home! Just re-tweeted :-)

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    1. Thanks for the RT! And maybe we should start a little study on multilingualism...

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  3. Count me in for the study on multilingualism - it is so fascinating. Today I met another American mom at the pool with her 3 daughters. She and I were speaking English to each other and our kids, but her 3 year old came over and asked me a question in Dutch. It was quite funny! So fascinating to watch not only their language skills grow but how and when they decide to apply the languages.

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    2. Lynn, do you keep diary on what your children say, in which languages, and when do they say them? I sort of do but I probably should be more consistent on doing it, and doing it in a more detailed manner. The situation you describe is so interesting! Thanks for sharing!

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  4. It's because of this that I'd like to live in a third country. I think it'd be exciting to watch my son thrive in a third country and to become multilingual. My husband speaks Portuguese (his L1) and English and I speak Spanish, English (my L1), and Portuguese. We're raising our son in a bilingual (Port/Eng) household here in Brazil. I'd love to be exposed to more languages, as well as see my family become multilingual.

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    1. It is of course very exciting, but then raising bilingual children is a challenge and a joy all in itself!

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  6. Just to share a bit of my personal experience on this topic:
    I was born in Macedonian family living in Serbia.My parents never really spend time with me teaching me how to speak Macedonian, or insisting me to do it, but two of them almost always spoke Macedonian with each other and sang a lot of Macedonian folk songs (plus my father was a Russian language teacher, so a lot of children book and audio tapes I've listened in Russian ). What they did is taking me to Macedonia every summer for few weeks and for some strange reasons I always spoke Serbian there,rejecting to speak Macedonian(I guess I enjoyed the feeling of being different and getting attention, or maybe I didn't like the east Macedonian dialect):). However, things drastically changed when I moved to Macedonia and begin with University.I was 18 years old,all classes were in Macedonian.Just in few months I start speaking fluently the language, even teaching afterward in Macedonian ,official one, while the dialect of my parents I still use when going to visit my family on the east, because is fun and make my vocabulary bigger(well,dialects are another topic,won't go there:). I guess in the back of my head,passive Macedonian or secret language of my parents were present all the time, and as soon it was really needed I "unpacked it" and it use it. Or I needed 18 years to feel comfortable speaking it,who knows....:)

    At the end,I tend to believe that for children is important to be exposed to the languages on this way or another (via books,songs,movies,vacations in a country of origin,summer schools,friends,etc..)and every effort of parents is o.k in general.Some parents will have more patience then other,others will force maybe a bit more,but it seams to me that a big mistakes can not really be made when growing bi/or more-lingual.We just have to be patient, do our best, believe in our children, let them take their time to discover themselves in a new language, because that is an amazing experience and very often go together with developing feelings of: being accepted,letting yourself be heard,belonging somewhere,accepting others,getting courageous,it is a process of growing...wonderful one!

    p.s.Seeing my kid growing in Holland with a Dutch father and mother from the Balkans, sounds already as an adventure!

    p.s.2
    for the sake of fun,I've made a multilingual warning sign: http://alekisandora.blogspot.nl/
    :)

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    1. Dear Aleksandra, thank you for your comment! Your story is just so exciting! I also remember that when I came back from Germany, I didn't like speaking German until I had it at school. Loved your sign, and I pinned it to my Multilingualism matters Pinterest board! Thanks for making this!

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