OPOL - What's a good age to switch to the majority language in social situations?

(8 Posts)
stickygotstuck Thu 11-Apr-13 19:39:22

Hello All,

Just that, really.

DD is 4yo. Her bilingualism is pretty balanced at the moment, but we have always made a big effort. I always speak to her in the minority language, even when we are surrounded by English speakers (English being the majority language).

I am wondering how old will she have to be (if ever) before we can 'afford' to use the majority language instead in social situations?

Anybody with first hand experience out there?

Thank you!

NeoMaxiZoomDweebie Thu 11-Apr-13 22:10:34

I'm not an expert but there are a number of bilingual children in my DDs reception class. Their parents speak to them in English when they're at parties and things...I noticed at nursery when they were 3 and 4, they used French or whatever...now it's English as that's what the children are speaking all day and with their peers too.

mamij Thu 11-Apr-13 22:14:55

DD1 (3 years 5 months) prefers to use her mother tongue to speak to me in most situations (although now more confident in English in social situations). I will probably continue to use our mother tongue until she stops using it with me!

DD2 (17 months) is too young to care smile

BackforGood Thu 11-Apr-13 22:26:53

IME children tend to automatically 'switch' to what they are used to speaking with the people they are with - I don't think it's an age thing particularly. So, if they speak English as Nursery or school, then they would automatically speak English to those people, wherever they saw them, but if Grandma walked into the same room, and the child was used to speaking to them in {Hungarian? French ? Urdu? Patois?} then they would speak to her in the language they usually speak to her, even if in the same room.
In terms of manners, it's nice - if you are able - to ensure everyone you are with is able to understand you, so could be percieved as rude if you are at a family party and everyone is speaking whichever language, and you and dd make a point of speaking English, or the other way round of course smile

stickygotstuck Thu 11-Apr-13 23:41:30

Thanks for your responses.

Backforgood, that's my experience too. Certainly from DD's pov she prefers to speak to certain people in a certain language, and is reluctant to switch. I am very happy with that at the moment as it maximises exposure to the minority language. I will not be pushing for her to use more English around me at this stage, that's for sure!

My concern is more with when are children old enough to actually fully understand the 'social niceties' -if you like- of speaking the language everybody can understand. But without compromising her 'mastery' of the minority language.

I am quite happy to continue to speak to her in the minority language even when around people who don't understand it. I know some people consider it rude, but I don't agree so that's that grin! I just don't want her to get to an age whwn she can feel some people's 'hostility' and feel like she is doing something wrong by speaking her own language.

I'd like her to know that it would be nice of her to include people if she can, but not feel in the wrong if she doesn't.

It's a fine line and I don't know if I'm making any sense!

NotAnotherPackedLunch Fri 12-Apr-13 00:12:05

You're making perfect sense.
DD(8yrs) speaks English with me but really struggles to speak English to her father no matter where she is. She is starting to turn round to her friends etc and give them a summary of what she has just talked about with her father.
Whether or not others find her not speaking English in public with him rude, I don't think she ever will be able to speak English to him comfortably. She says it feels like she's using "bad words".

cory Fri 12-Apr-13 09:22:27

As she grows older there will probably be times when you find the situation requires it: e.g. when she and two of her friends are creating havoc and you need to tell them off as a group

Or when she and her friend ask you to help them with their homework.

Or you are organising a birthday party or day out at the zoo for a gaggle of excitable 8yos (in this kind of situation it makes good sense to treat your dd exactly like somebody else: a reputation for not playing favourites is a great social asset for your family and hence for your dd).

Or you take her to the doctor or to parents evening, and because she is that little bit older, the doctor/teacher will want her to discuss the situation with both of you at the same time.

Or her friend is having a sleepover with you and needs to feel that she is being included in conversations and would dare to ask you for reassurance. (In that kind of situation it isn't about what other people consider rude, but about another child needing the same reassurance that you would want your own dd to have when she is staying with strangers without you.)

Ime when children grow, it becomes less and less of a 1:1 relationship, they are (most of them) social beings and your living room will become an station interchange where pre-teens pass through grunting mysteriously and leave their debris around and you may at times struggle to remember which of these uncouth creatures actually came out of your vagina.

Otoh growing up may also mean more opportunities for your dd to forge her own relationship with people her age speaking her minority language. My dd is on facebook, she has pen friends, she texts her cousin several times a week and sends him postcards when we go away. When we go back home, strange teens appear that I have never heard of but who have clearly put dd's arrival in their diaries as a social event.

I was never worried about my use of the majority language constituting any kind of threat to the minority language and it hasn't. Dc know I speak English anyway- how could they not? they know I go to work - but they also think it cool that we have our own language and our own little world together. Particularly useful when they get to that pre-teen stage where everything that comes out of a parent's mouth is an embarrassment. Ds finds it very reassuring to know that he can control this threat to his street cred when we are out and about simply by switching to a language that any passing mates will not be able to understand.

stickygotstuck Fri 12-Apr-13 18:58:48

Thanks NotAnother and cory.

NotAnother, I though my DD would behave exactly like that, but she has just recently started asking her dad to speak to her in the minority language (which he can speak at a push, albeit with a lot of effort and mistakes). I am very surprised at that - but good to know she's not as 'square' as I feared wink.

cory thanks for your examples, that's exactly what I was after. With my daughter being so young, the only one I can relate to is the telling off of a bunch monolingual toddlers and DD - which I do in English (and often).

You can tell within a couple of days when there as been less exposure, as DD 'forgets' words in the minority language and asks to be reminded. So ideally, I'd like to keep the exposure to the minority language as high as possible. But I fully appreciate this won't always depend on me!

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