These past three weeks since we first got news of the possibility of our Big Move, I’ve had languages on my mind. While we’re very excited to be moving to the US (side note to say thanks to everyone for the lovely comments and emails ), I’m more than a little sad my sons will most likely lose their French. Well, Sprout 1 will most likely lose his French, Sprout 2 hasn’t really acquired much other than au revoir!
Our linguistic situation will most definitely change. At the moment, Sprout 1′s strongest language is English, Portuguese is second, but very close to English (albeit with an American accent) and French is the weakest, despite having excellent pronunciation (how weird is that?). We currently live in a country with three official languages (Flemish, French and German), but are surrounded mostly by either French speakers or foreigners (including English speakers, native or not). We will be moving to a country which speaks predominantly English, which means his strongest “home language” will be THE dominant language, and I’m trying to figure out what we can do in order for it not to take over entirely. On the bright side, he was very happy to learn he was moving to a country in which HIS language is spoken.
Being bilingual English/Portuguese myself, my first thought was to simply switch over to speaking Portuguese with the Sprouts, since they will be getting English from just about everywhere else. But Sprout 1 doesn’t like it when I speak Portuguese with him, and quite frankly, it doesn’t feel natural to me either. I’ve read many times about studies (study? sorry, can’t remember which or how many, but if you’d like extra info, I’d be happy to look it up) demonstrating that language is more than just a means of communication; it is also a way of showing love and can be very confusing to a child if you switch on them. I also recall reading in Raising Multilingual Children, by Tracy Tokuhama-Espinosa, how she switched languages on her son half-way through his second year and how that confused him and delayed his language development overall. After some discussion with Papa Sprout, we decided it might be best for me to keep speaking English to them directly, but use Portuguese as our family language when we’re all together, like at dinner and such. I’m really hoping this will work out and that I won’t forget to switch gears myself.
As for French… Is it destined to die? Will Sprout 1 ever even recall having known it to begin with? I know so many children of immigrants who have returned to their parents’ home country (in this case Portugal) when very young and who have completely forgotten having ever known the language of the country they were born in. True, for the most part, their parents didn’t actively stimulate the lost language, but still. French does not come naturally to either the Papa Sprout or myself, and wanting to develop good Portuguese language skills in our Sprouts, how are we to help them with French? It’s most likely they won’t even have it at school, given the importance of learning Spanish as a second language in the USA.
And Sprout 2? He will never have even had the opportunity to learn French (cue Mama guilt on not giving my children equal opportunities – but can you ever?). I’m mourning this lost opportunity.
For now, I’m collecting audio-books and DVD’s in French to take back with us. We are also taking French books, but that isn’t much of a help on its own since Sprout 1 insists we translate them to our respective languages when we read.
What do you think? I’m I giving this too much thought? Does it even matter if French gets lost, or do you have any ideas on how to keep it alive?
This post is part of the monthly Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival, along with a lot of other great posts full of tips, tricks, trials and successes in the great adventure that is raising multilingual children. This month’s carnival is hosted by www.perogiesandgyoza.com. You can check out the rest of the carnival on Monday 26 August. For more information, go here: