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Thursday, 24 January 2013

Always speak your mother tongue with your child?

All specialists on multilingualism stress the importance of speaking your own language with your child. And they are right. It is the most natural thing a parent can do. The words flow easily, communication is better, more emotional and more direct. Especially in the case where a parent was told by a doctor or specialist to stop using their language with the child in the presence of language delays or other problems, it is important for the parent to use their own language to prevent identity confusion, and to keep the parent-child bond strong.

I was, however asking myself, whether there are situations in which parents can use a different language with their children? There are. You know from Ute’s story that she was forced to use another language with her children to improve communication between the family members. However, her situation I think is a rather special one. Are there others?

As a child, I used to live in Germany. I went to a German kindergarten and my parent insisted on speaking German on the streets and Polish at home. We continued doing that back in Poland, even though my parents are not native speakers in that language. However, they wanted me to continue to speak German. Also, being multilingual themselves, they perfectly understood the importance of speaking many languages.

I think that in case of bilingual parents, bilingualism IS their language, which means that such parent would like their children to understand both of his languages. I could totally imagine speaking to my children in German. Since I’m living in the Netherlands, this “job” is already occupied by my husband. If I were in Poland, however, I would speak German to them, because I would know that Polish would be provided by the environment- daycares, schools and friends, while I would have to take care of the minority language (German).

In the Facebook for Polish parents raising bilingual children I belong to, one of the main issues was that the parents didn’t want to introduce the second language by speaking another language with their children, out of fear of destroying the parent- child bond, or in order not to confuse the child.

First of all, even though language is an important part of culture and communication in general, it is not the only one. Also, the bond between parent and child does not rely on language only and also involves touch and other means of non-verbal communication. If the parent is not a native speaker, accent and mistakes is another main concern. In fact, if the parent will take care of other sources of the language, the child will recognise who is a native speaker in that language and who isn’t.

As you see, there are other situations, where the parents can speak a foreign language with their children. It does, however depend on the circumstances and whether other sources of that language are easily available. For some parents, speaking that language comes more easily than for others. I think that everybody should stick to their language when living in a country where this is the minority language- with very few exceptions. However, if you’re living in a monolingual country, you could consider introducing another language if you want. The method, intensity and quantity of that language exposure depend on you. 

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