Bilingual Upbringing of Children by Non-Native Speakers
Doing the Out of the Ordinary?
This had been my feeling when I was starting, but it didn't take long to find out that raising ones children bilingually is by far not as extraordinary as I thought in the beginning, even as a non-native speaker in the second language.
Is monolingualism really the normal way of life, as it is widely believed above all in the western world? And is bi- or multilingualism consequently the rare exception? Certainly, it is more or less true for countries like Germany but for the world as a whole we get a different view. Multilingualism is moulding the way of life for hundreds of millions of people all over the globe. There are thousands of languages (estimates vary from 2,000 to 5,000) and only about 200. There is a slight drawback in this kind of argumentation, which can be found in many books dealing with languages. If there are more then one languages spoken in one country, does it necessarily mean that the people living there are multilingual? Most certainly not! Switzerland with her four languages is a good example: There are lots of bilinguals in Switzerland, but the monolinguals are predominant. But there are enough countries especially in Africa and Asia, where multilingulism is quite common.
Why a Bilingual Upbringing
Both my wife, Karola, and I come from purely monolingual German-speaking
families, i.e. no family links to other non-German-speaking relatives. So,
lots of people will and did ask, why do you do it?
Even if children do not learn all the German words and even if their speech may sometimes be halting, it is, in my opinion, far better to teach them to know and speak some German than to drop it altogether for fear of achieving mediocre results. I do not think that in bringing up normally intelligent children bilingually, there is any danger that their English will suffer and turn into a hodgepodge. Their schooling, as well as the fact that most of their day is spent speaking English outside the home should prevent that.
I just have to exchange German and English in the above text and it perfectly reflects my thinking.
Founding Bilingualism in the FamilyIt is necessary to make up one's mind about the levels of bilingualism one is aiming at. The proficiency the children will gain depends not only on the language skills of the parents in the two languages involved but on the chosen method and the resolution of the parents as well. Lack of clear objectives might result in an inconsistent or misleading strategy. There are various ways to encourage and maintain the bilingualism in the family, and there is no way of giving a final judgement about the best one to use. Though many methods are known to lead to the intended results, but they are hard to compare, due to the lack of proper statistical data. Personnaly, we stick to the so called OPOL approach (One Person One Language), i.e. each parent speaks a different (and always the same) language to the children. In our case, I speak English to the children whereas my wife uses solely German.
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