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.