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I'm wondering about non-OPOL, can anyone advise please?

(10 Posts)
ImpyCelyn Sun 11-Sep-11 16:24:36

I know that everyone says that OPOL is the gold standard etc. And if that's the only thing that works we'll do that


DH and I are both bilingual, in the same two languages. DS has two cousins who are also bilingual, and an uncle who is bilingual, and an aunt who is pretty much bilingual. All of us in French and English. And when we're together we all speak whichever language we want to at any one point. Even the rest of the family, on both sides, understand/speak both languages to a greater or lesser extent.

Basically we would like DS to be bilingual because we're bilingual, not because arbitrarily I only speak English and DH only speaks French, because that's not an accurate representation of language in our family.

When DS goes to school we intend to switch as a family to the other language as a home language. That's what DH's brother's family does and it seems to work really well.

I'm not really sure if that makes sense, but has anyone raised bilingual children by being bilingual?

cory Sun 11-Sep-11 23:04:23

Yes, kind of. We've been a bit lax on the OPOL thing, mainly because English has become too large a part of my life for me to drop it; also dh has needed to speak Swedish when staying with my family to communicate with younger family members.

The upshot is very much as you say- bilingual is what we are, as a family, not just the children. We keep switching, without thinking much about it.

Haven't noticed much confusion, and the children worked out quite early that you don't imitate Daddy's Swedish (but Mummy's English is a lot safer). I think it helped that the dcs were exposed to monolingual situations too (living in England and visiting Sweden), so they got used to the idea that you can't always choose the language that seems easiest at the time. Also that I like talking about languages, so they were encouraged to notice differences from the start.

ImpyCelyn Mon 12-Sep-11 09:59:24

Thanks cory, I'm glad to hear that is can work.

DS does have plenty of monolingual situations, this summer he heard French almost exclusively and when we're out with other families it English exclusively. So I'm hoping he'll realise - I know his cousins had trouble with that, as they were used to being able to swap, but they worked it out the by the age of 2.5ish.

DH and I both teach languages, so we both talk about language a lot too. I'd ideally like DS to think of them as two proper languages, French and English, and not mummy's language and daddy's language, iyswim. And understand some people speak both, but most people speak one or the other.

Thanks for sharing your experience, I feel a lot less pressured now smile

MIFLAW Mon 12-Sep-11 16:29:29

I think the only thing you would need to be careful of is that one language does not naturally come to predominate in the household - OPOL does protect the minority language in that respect, because the child will then always hear at least one person using that language regularly.

Not saying that what you're doing won't work, just that this is something that will require more vigilance if you decide not to go OPOL.

ImpyCelyn Mon 12-Sep-11 16:51:49

That's partly why I want to do it differently. At the moment we live in England and my English is slightly better than DH's. So I'm mainly speaking English.

But I'm also home all day with DS, and DH only sees him for a couple of hours during the week. So OPOL isn't helping the (current) minority language at all. So I'm also speaking French to DS to try to balance things out a little.

We'll have moved to France by the time he starts school, at which point I think I'll speak mainly English, because that will then be the minority language, and DH is also planning to speak more English at that point. At the moment he mainly speaks French so that English doesn't become predominant.

DH and I speak both French and English between ourselves, so at the moment there's not a predominant one. But we do watch closely, and we have had times when we've realised we need to speak more of one or the other.

We did try OPOL, but we both found it stressful. We'd realise we were both speaking the wrong language, or if we'd been speaking French and DS woke up from a nap we'd just carry on. And then we'd feel guilty because we were doing it wrong, and worry that we'd messed it all up.

I think even having to be extra vigilant will be less stressful than that <fingers crosse>

ImpyCelyn Mon 12-Sep-11 16:52:53

Sorry, meant to say thank you for replying, and thank you for the advice smile

<not really rude and ungrateful>

Tenebrist Mon 12-Sep-11 17:09:29

Hi Celyn,

You might want to look at 'The Bilingual Family' by Philip Something and Edith Harding (I think). It's good because it looks at OPOL as just one option among many, and also shows families who changed the language according to circumstance (going to school, moving countries etc).

I think the idea is there should be SOME rule dictating the choice of language, but that can be as vague as 'the person who starts a conversation decides on the language spoken and everyone else follows'.

My experience (children go to an international school, so many bilingual families; we speak English at home within a German community) has been that it only leads to confusion when parents swap languages at random WITHIN sentences. We have one parent, a French woman who is married to an English guy and lives in Germany, so kid is trilingual - mother says things like 'Alors XXX, gehen wir maintenant to the shops'. Kid is very confused, badly behaved, poor school results, etc

ImpyCelyn Mon 12-Sep-11 18:49:05

Hi Tenebrist, thanks for that, I'll have a look for the book.

TBH we don't change language in sentences; in fact we don't normally change language during a conversation. Although we do sometimes have conversations where one of us speaks in French and the other replies in English, but we're trying to minimise that kind of thing.

It's something we noticed our niece and nephew found difficult. They were born the it US and DBIL only occasionally spoke French to them to start with, and always the same vocabulary. They would swap in the middle of a sentence because the only knew certain words in each language, and they didn't understand that some people couldn't understand them, so they were very frustrated. Also, because their parents could understand them they didn't correct them. It was really confusing for the two of them. So we have learned some lessons by watching it being done badly imperfectly. Things have improved massively since they started school in one language and switched to the other language pretty much exclusively at home.

Thanks so much again smile

cory Mon 12-Sep-11 23:01:21

We allow ourselves to swap language within a conversation but not within sentence; ime that just encourages the kind of imperfect lazy language use you describe. And I do keep an eye on how much we speak each language and try to compensate if English is getting too dominant. Seems to work so far: dd is nearly 15 and is in close contact with her cousins in Sweden, keeps emailing them, reads a lot of Swedish literature and is always happy to speak Swedish at home. And is predicted A*s in her English GCSEs.

I do think MIFLAW makes an important point though: it is easy to gradually let one language become dominant.

MIFLAW Tue 13-Sep-11 11:00:43

There are also other O_OL set ups, of course - one place one language, one time one language, one situation one language, etc.

In terms of children not having vocab to speak properly, I think however you do it, the "feedback loop" is important - e.g. my daughter might use english to say "there's lots of clouds" because (a) English is easier for her or (b) she has forgotten the word for "clouds". I will try to guess the reason and then respond accordingly (a) "je ne comprends pas, tu peux me dire ca en francais?" (b) (providing feedback) "ah, oui, il y a beaucoup de NUAGES, c'est vrai, il ne fait pas beau aujourd'hui" - in other words, I supply the missing word so she knows it next time, but in the context of language she does know (which also gets revised at the same time).

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