full time work, OPOL and unintended bilingualism experiments

Thanks to one of my daily reads (even when she doesn’t post daily), I have decided to write my two cents for the

Although we practise raising our children bilingual and finding the right balance in the linguistic input has been occupying my mind for a few years, I haven’t written about it much. It was among the things about which I had read a lot and theory seemed to work much better than practice. Or my practice of it, anyway.
With our first daughter we started, in theory (without calling it anything in particular), following the one parent one language method. However, the home language would be Dutch, therefore I would code-switch a lot. And, when tired, I would stop switching back to Romanian for the benefit of an infant. Or later, I would be speaking Dutch to her in the park to make sure parents around were aware of what I was saying (you know the multidirectional type of communication of the type `we’ll get on that swing as soon as the little boy/girl finishes playing` co-aimed at stating one’s own waiting status). And there were the songs and the books, which, because dad would be home after the end of the bedtime ritual, I would read and sing in either Dutch or Romanian, according to the chosen book. And I was working fulltime by her seventh month, therefore I would only see her for a couple of hours a day. And then there was daycare, where everything was in Dutch. No wonder Dutch was the dominant language. However, apparently my input was not as reduced as I guiltily thought, because she could understand Romanian, although very few words came out.
When number two was on the way, we made up our minds – life was way too hectic with two full-time jobs that couldn’t be either reduced or given up. We chose for an au-pair. A Romanian speaking au-pair, obviously (of whom, I have to add, we shall think, even after she leaves, as family). The Romanian of our first daughter improved drastically, up to the point of completely switching from one language to the other with different persons, one year later. The youngest grew up more in Romanian than anything else, but with Dutch input from her dad, her sister and grandpa and grandma.
Of course, they are two different children. Of course, they have different abilities and interests, not to speak of the whole first child/second child psychology which makes our first want to slow down all growth and the second accelerate everything a millionfold. Still, that said, this unintended experiment – with uncomparable subjects – yielded some amusing, though intuitively explicable, results. Our oldest now speaks exclusively Romanian to the aupair, my mom and switches back and forth with me, according to how consistent I am myself (which also improved a lot since the aupair is here). She produces gorgeous instances of acquisition of rules, like placing the generic genitive marker even after her full name („Maria Sara-lui”) but generally, you can hear her translating from Dutch as if Romanian is a learned, new language. I suppose this will no longer be the case after a while (if exposure to this degree remains the case), but I am intrigued by the process – although there is no „final” theory on how we learn languages, I tended to believe that, at early ages (M is not yet 4), language was acquired as a linguistic expression/conceptual element whole, even bilingually, and not by placing different linguistic forms on the concepts one has stored through another language. But then again, maybe even at early ages, there is such a thing as successive bilingualism.
The surprise is probably enhanced by the youngest – who is, as far as we can tell, at not yet two, a rather balanced simultaneous bilingual. Het utterances in both languages are impressively correct for her age – and she switches before parents! I was in awe last night when dad said something to her in his Dutchy Romanian („Vreau pupici?” – „Do I want kisses” instead of „do you…”) and she answered it serenely with the equivalent in Dutch („Ik wil niet kusjes!” – ok, ok, it was not the correct „ik wil geen”, but she’s still 22 months and I’m a bragging mom 🙂 ! ).
I wonder what things will look like two years from now, when H, the youngest, will also be immersed in the school system. Will this `headstart` in Romanian keep? Will M become more fluent in Romanian and the difference between the girls will dissipate? We shall see. So far, I can only say that, for the situation of one parent of a different language immersed in a monolingual context (same linguistic context for other parent/interparent communication/social contact). I’m voting for the intensification of the input by either choice of aupair or import of a family member 🙂 . It works like a charm.


2 gânduri despre “full time work, OPOL and unintended bilingualism experiments

  1. Pingback: Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism October 2011. « Verbosity

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