A Guest Article by Nadine Lichtenberger (2)
Raising Bilingual Kids (2)
Our bilingual family experience has been very positive. We use the OPOL (“One Parent, One Language”) method: I speak to my children exclusively in English, and my husband speaks to them in German.
Both of our children were early talkers. Our older daughter, now five, refused to speak any German until she was almost three-and-a-half years old. She understood German very well but replied in English, even if she knew the person she was speaking with could not understand English. My husband began to fret, but those fears were put aside when she began preschool (what they call Kindergarten in Austria) at age three-and-a-half. Although she attends an Englische Spielschule (English play school), all of her classmates are Austrian children. Within two weeks, our daughter was rattling off in German and able to communicate very well in both languages. Our son, now three-and-a-half, has grasped both languages quite well from the very beginning. They do mix some vocabulary words, but I view this as perfectly normal and gently reinforce the correct word in English or the correct way to say a sentence.
I avoid any outright statement that they have said something incorrectly. I fear they may feel constantly reprimanded and then refuse to speak English if they are made to believe they are always saying something wrong. If one of my children says something incorrectly, for example, Today at school Auntie teached us a new song, my response would be, She did? She taught you a new song? I would love to hear it! My children are perfectly aware that I speak German as they hear me converse with neighbors, speak to people at the supermarket, bank, etc. on a daily basis. However, they know that I do not speak German with them, and so far they have accepted this. The OPOL method has worked very well for us and I believe that for their ages, they are at the developmental level they should be. In fact, if I began speaking German to my children now, I think they would have a heart attack! It would be an unnatural situation for us.
Our experience with Austrians has also been very positive. Most Austrians are generally impressed with my ability to switch between languages and admire the fact that we are raising bilingual children. Even relatives and friends who were skeptical and found it strange at first are now amazed that the children are happy and at ease using both languages.
There are a number of activities parents can do and methods parents can apply to raise a bilingual child. This would include speaking to the child exclusively in the minority language (or set aside a certain time of day to do so if passive bilingualism is your goal), sing songs and nursery rhymes, watch videos, read books aloud, purchase educational CD-ROMs for the child's use and, when possible, visits to the country where the minority language is spoken. Perhaps you can find a family nearby who also speak the minority language or start a playgroup in your area. I truly believe it is well worth the effort.
Cultural and language challenges are all part of the experiences of most multilingual families. My advice is to keep a positive attitude, be consistent, and remember that your own competence as a parent is very important and a great asset for developing language.
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Nadine Lichtenberger does not claim to be an expert in the fields of special education, speech therapy, or linguistics. She’s just a parent interested in raising bilingual children. She welcomes comments, opinions, views, advice, additional information and research results on the subject of bilingual parenting. You can contact her at: email@example.com
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Bilingual and Expat Connections
- Part One of this article
- Expat Interview with Nadine Lichtenberger - A three-part interview from the German Way.
- The GW Expat Page
- The German Way Forum - Join our forum, where we share info and tips about life in German Europe.
- Bilingual/Bicultural Family Network - Magazine and other resources
- Bilingual Families Web Page - Cindy Kandolf's resource for bilingual parenting.
- Bilingual Parenting - For parents interested in raising their children in a foreign language (non-native language to BOTH parents). From Brigham Young University.
- The International Couples List - For people married to (or planning to marry) a person of a different nationality.
- Forum für binationale Paare und Familien in Deutschland - In German. A support group for international couples/families, with a focus on Africa.
- Verein FIBEL - Fraueninitiative Bikulturelle Ehen und Lebensgemeinschaften. An Austrian organization for bilingual and bicultural families. New and improved Web site. In German.