Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Family Language / Community Language Method

A second, highly recommended way to encourage your family to become bilingual uses what are called the "Family Language" and "Community Language". This method also goes by other names such as "Minority Language at Home" (ML@H or MLaH), Foreign Home Pattern, etc.

Basically, when the parents are alone with the kid(s), they use the "family language" and when others are around, the "community language" is used. There are several variations on this (for example, using the family language only inside the house and the community language while out and about, etc)

Again with the "Pros" and "Concerns":

1. This method, like OPOL, is extremely common and encourages an active use of both languages.

2. It will allow the entire family to speak in both languages, using the environment as the driver. It is said to be one of the most consistent of the methods as the child hears and interacts with both parents in both languages from birth.

3. Again, I know that this works--from my very own family!:

My mother is from Latvia, but left when she was a small child. Her parents used this method with her and her sister and they still speak Latvian to this day (this is especially encouraging as Latvian is not the most common language and they were not able to visit their home country for over 40 years!)

4. This method relieves one of my concerns with OPOL in that we will not be alienating friends and family by speaking to our children in a language they cannot understand. It will also be easy to be consistent speaking with my husband as we will not need to "pick" a language (as in OPOL).


1. I am already seeing that the vocabulary varies depending on if we are at home or if we are in the park, at a restaurant, with friends, etc. I can only imagine that once the little guys start school their English vocabulary will have a different focus (notebooks, pop quiz, etc) than what they use with us and vice versa. How can we even this out? (note to self: once I learn that, I'll need to apply that to my life. There are still words/stories that are more automatic for me in one language or another!)

2. According to my reading, if you follow this method strictly, your child will lag behind during the first 6 months of school until the other language "kicks in". Will this give our children a disadvantage?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What a coincidence! OPOL in practice.

Just after writing the OPOL blog, Victor and I were strolling through Rittenhouse Square and ran into a mama named Susana and her daughter. We had a nice conversation and parted ways.

The very next day, we ran into Susana and T. on the street corner and started chatting again. I mentioned how our family was trying to figure out how to help our kids become bilingual.

Susana, previously a teacher, but now a SAHM, is from Guatemala and her husband is from the US. Her English is perfect with only a slight hint of an accent (and only if you know what you're listening for); her husband does not speak Spanish.

I noticed how little T. reacted to Spanish in a different way than to English--even at 9 months! Amazing.

Susana's family uses the OPOL method and she is very enthusiastic about it.

While we only chatted for a few minutes, I did express to her my concern about how to speak to my husband--English or Spanish?--especially in front of the children. Obviously, she does not have this problem as English is their only option at this point, and she did not have any advice on that issue.

I will keep looking for answers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The OPOL method

One of the the most recommended methods for teaching your child to be bilingual is called "One Parent One Language", or OPOL for short. This method is exactly what it sounds to be: one parent interacts with their child solely in one language, and the other parent interacts in another. Consistency is key (uh-oh!).

Let's talk Pros and Cons:

1. It is one of the most common methods for intentionally teaching your child a second language from birth. It encourages an active knowledge of both languages.

2. It will allow my husband and I to interact with our son in our native tongues, which is "automatic" and comfortable for us both.

3. From personal experience, I know this works, at least to some extent, as we are all creatures of habit.

Case in point:
When I moved to Madrid, I spoke very little Spanish. (Adding insult to injury, my friends there joked that all I did know was Mexican Spanish: carro for car (which is a horse and buggy in Spain), pluma for pen (which can be a feather or a flamboyant gay man), etc.)

When I began working, even though English was the company's "official language", I took advantage of the opportunity to practice and perfect my Spanish Spanish. Anyone who has immersed themselves in a foreign language knows that it can be exhausting. There were days when I arrived at work thinking "This is crazy! I am just going to speak in English today. After all, others are doing so and I'm just not up for another day in Spanish." Then, wouldn't you know it, I stepped off the elevator, ran into a coworker with whom I always spoke Spanish and (I'm serious!) the Spanish just rolled off my tongue. Even before coffee!!

4. This is the method that most of my friends are using with their children, and they seem to be happy with it. (added bonus: I can ask for help/advice!!!)

CONS: Okay, I don't really have any "CONS"; let's call them "Concerns":

1. As a SAHM, I am the primary care-giver. I am also native in the "Majority Language". Will Victor have enough exposure to Spanish to become fully bilingual and (perhaps more importantly) recognize it's importance to our family?

2. The research that I have done on OPOL seems to focus on generalities or on very small children. Since my friends and I are "late breeders" I don't even have any anecdotal evidence that OPOL works after the kids start school. Or how easy is it to keep it up (for both the parents and the kids)?

3. How do I converse with my husband in front of my kids? Do I speak in English and he in Spanish? Do we pick a language (perhaps Spanish as it is the "minority language")? I'm also not a big fan of excluding friends and family (my speaking in English with Victor when we are in Spain or Oscar speaking in Spanish around our friends here).

4. I would miss speaking in Spanish with my little Victorcin!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Do I have the discipline???

There are about four more weeks until Victor's first birthday. As we are beginning to plan the celebration, thoughts of how quickly he is growing up flood my mind. Through my reading, I have found that he can understand much of what we say already! Exciting and scary at the same time.

Which brings me to this week's topic: what is the best home environment to encourage your child to become bilingual?

For parents in our situation (2 distinct native languages, but fluidity in each other's language), there seem to be two main schools of thought:

1. One parent, one language and
2. Family language, community language.

Before my husband and I started dating, we primarily conversed in English (even though we were living in Madrid). When we started dating, Spanish reigned. After moving to the States and getting married, we developed a strange mix of language: we argue and curse in Spanish, difficult conversations are a mix of English and Spanish (each of us using our native tongue), and day-to-day conversation can move from English to Spanish and back within a single sentence.

Suffice it to say, we both enjoy speaking in both languages, get bored sticking to one, and, at times, simply just lack the discipline to do so.

So what do we do with Victor?

Until now, Oscar has been great primarily speaking to Victor in Spanish. At times he throws in an English word or song, but that's it.

I, on the other hand, am a mess. I go back and forth with the languages (at times even throwing in a bit of high school French!), with no rhyme or reason other then my mood at the time. I did give myself a deadline of his first birthday to figure it all out.

The next posts will explore the different methodologies (including the 2 above), give pros and cons, and (hopefully!) hubby and I will make a final decision as to how our family will move forward!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Welcome to BilingualPath!

I have been contemplating writing a blog for the past several months, and, in fact, set up this site about a week ago. Yet I've been paralyzed by the "first post". Since both the little guy and my husband are down for a nap, I figured I'd jump right in.

A little about me:
I am a 33 year old mother of Victor, wife to Oscar. We have another little boy on the way, due in November.

I had always thought of myself as a "typical American"...that is, until I decided to up and move to Spain. I'll get more into that later. Long story short, that trip changed my life. I now have a very international family--a now-bilingual Spanish husband, English speaking parents in Florida, and Spanish speaking in laws in Spain.

Upon returning to the US, I decided to open a Spanish Academy for adults and share my passion for the language. Heck, if I, an engineer, could become fluent after beginning studies at 25, I figured anyone could! It was a great experience, and it only further convinced me that we, as Americans, are missing out by being monolingual.

Becoming bilingual is a challenge: how do you maintain both languages (I started "losing" my English in Madrid, and the same is happening to my husband's native Spanish here in the US)? how do we effectively teach our children to embrace two languages? how can we encourage my father in law who now wants to learn English? and the list goes on....

In this blog, I would like explore answers to these and other challenges we face, to share our experiences, and provide a forum for others to share as well. If we come across any products, methods, or activities that do/do not work, I will post them as well.

Welcome to BilingualPath!