In Bringing up Baby Bilingual's first profile from Scandinavia, Nicole tells us about her two children's acquisition of their parents' mother tongues. She also points out that in Norway, her children will have to learn English in school regardless, so she's giving them a leg up. She concurs with many of the other families I've profiled that contact with native speakers of the minority language is important, but that books are an equally valuable resource. And, again like many of my profilees, she admits that consistently using the minority language is sometimes difficult. Thanks for sharing, Nicole!
What is your language background and history?
I am a native American English speaker. I learned Spanish as an exchange student in Honduras and promptly forgot most of it when I moved to Oslo, Norway in 1998. I am now fluent in Norwegian
What languages are you exposing your child to, and how?
Our children (7 years and 2 ½) are exposed to Norwegian and English. The seven-year-old is completely fluent in both, but living in Norway gives Norwegian an advantage in the reading/writing department, which is starting now that she is in the first grade. The two-and-a-half-year-old speaks a mixture, just as his sister did at that age. I try to speak mostly English, but slip into Norwegian. My husband tries to speak mostly Norwegian but slips into English….We have three-week-visits twice a year from my parents who only speak English, we travel to the US once a year, and I have two other bilingual families who meet at least twice a month for dinner and play group. I only read English books to my kids and we have three times as many English children’s books as we do Norwegian.
Why do you want your children to learn a second language?
My parents would kill me if they couldn’t communicate with their grandchildren! And they will learn English in school regardless…what a gift to speak it as a native.
How well do your children understand and speak the second language? What do they think about it?
My daughter loves that she knows English. She helps the teacher in school. She has never refused to speak a language or to only speak a specific language with specific individuals. My son is still too young.
How have you been able to expose your children to the culture(s) where the second language is spoken?
My daughter has had several extended stays (4-6 weeks) in the US. She has friends there with whom she communicates through telephone calls and cards in the mail. We travel home at least once a year and she is very comfortable in that culture. We also have children’s videos that she watches in English that provide cultural information without her realizing it!
What challenges have occurred as you teach your child a second language?
I am not diligent enough in sticking to English, especially with my second child. I need to work on not using Norwegian with them.
What resources have been most useful to you?
Friends, family, videos, DVDs, and books.
What do you think parents, caretakers, teachers, and/or researchers need to know about teaching a second language to children?
I don’t believe that there are any negatives. Children have no limits to what they can learn when it comes to language. There is no filter in their minds that tells them there is only one word for every object. It makes it incredibly easy to teach them multiple languages. Learning several doesn’t mean the child will speak later or be confused and unable to express herself. Children will always learn to speak at different ages. The key is to not compare, try not to be competitive and to stick to whatever program you have set up for language exposure.