Tuesday, March 09, 2010

profiling

In the early days of this blog (2006!)--back before I actually had my own would-be bilingual baby--I combed the blogosphere to find other parents raising their kids with more than one language, especially those who were non-native speakers like me. I would then accost them--online, of course--and ask them to fill out a questionnaire about what worked for them, what didn't, and what they wish they had known when they started.

I "met" families who were bilingual, trilingual, and more; families who adopted children from other countries and want to keep the kids' birth culture and language in their lives; families who really focused on sign language with their babies; parents who were teaching themselves a foreign language as their older children studied it; even an uncle in America trying to teach English to his niece in Thailand via Skype! The answers were frequently fascinating, and they gave me all sorts of wonderful ideas of what to do with Carl, and later, Griffin. And I have kept in touch with some of them and been able to see their kids grow and change. Very cool.

Here are a few profiles that have in particular stuck with me: Santi's family (English, French, & Indonesian), Nadine's family (German & English), Boca Beth's family (Spanish & English), Liza's family (English & Hebrew), Carolyn's family (English, French, & Spanish), Jeanne's family (English, German, Spanish, & Swedish), and Alice's family (English, German, Spanish, & Korean), (You can also click on the label "profiles" below or in the sidebar and see all twenty-some in order.)

But for no particular reason (lassitude? inertia? laziness? feeling like my brain was "full"? the lack of time with a baby around? the thrill of gazing into a sleeping child's face or making a toddler laugh?), I stopped posting these profiles of bilingual and multilingual families. Well, now it's time to bring them back! Now that Griffin really is learning two languages, I need your advice more than ever. Plus, I really want to hear what the parents might have to say now, two or three years later. I'm hoping to revisit some of the same families. (Smashedpea, you're up next!)

But first, I want everyone's opinion on what questions to ask to begin with. Here are the questions I have asked in the past:

  • What languages are you exposing your children to, and how?
  • Why do you want your children to know more than one language?
  • How well do your children understand, speak, read, and write the different languages? How do they feel about them? Do they have a preference for what they speak in which contexts? How has their language use evolved as they grow?
  • How have you been able to expose your child to the culture(s) where the different languages are spoken?
  • What challenges have occurred as you raise your children with more than one language??
  • What resources and activities have been most useful to you? What, on the other hand, has not been useful?
  • What do you think parents, caretakers, teachers, and/or researchers need to know about teaching a second language to children? What do you wish you had known when you started? What, if anything, would you do differently now?
  • Answer your own question now--what did I not ask about that you would like to comment on?

Based on what you all would like to hear, would you make any recommendations for changes, deletions, or additions to these questions? And would you be willing to let me profile your family on this blog? Please let me know in the comments (and then email me at babybilingual (at) gmail (dot) com so I can send you the file with the questionnaire). Thanks!

8 comments:

  1. Hello, all of the questions seem to comprehensively cover the subject. I was wondering though, how many of the families are from developing countries, i.e. outside of North America, Europe and the larger Asian countries? You see, raising bilingual children in a monolingual developing country is seen as a luxury - most people in my country, for example (and I include the middle classes in this analysis) while they aren't hostile to the idea, are too busy trying to make ends meet in ONE language to even consider expending the time and effort and expense to raise a bilingual child. It might be interesting to look at the challenges of overcoming general indifference or sometimes government policy in raising a bilingual child.

    Just a thought!

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  2. @Liavek--Yes, so far the families profiled on this blog have been mostly North American and European, probably because they're the ones who had the time, energy, and resources to write the blogs that drew me to them in the first place.

    Originally, I had been specifically looking for families raising kids with French and English. While French is spoken in northern and western Africa, southeast Asia, the South Pactific, even Lebanon and South America, most of the parents blogging were from the US, Canada, and western Europe.

    Now, though, I am indeed interested in seeing how families from developing countries (monolingual or polylingual) are raising kids with more than one language too, especially when no one else around them is doing so and they can't just order myriad books in the other language online or take regular trips to countries where the second language is spoken.

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  3. The questions seem great! I'd also like to hear how people cope with family members who don't speak the child's second language...and how they cope with encouraging the children to actually USE the second language. I have two children (three and one). My husband is from Hong Kong, and I'm from Washington state...but we are both fluent in both Cantonese and English. I had intended to do the One Parent One Language approach...but my husband barely notices when he switches between the two languages. And, as my daughter has gotten older, and her skin has paled....she gets English WAY more than she hears Chinese. Leaving it to me - the gwai mui - to teach her how to speak Chinese. Needless to say, her accent is pretty atrocious!

    I'd LOVE to hear how other people are handling this! I know people hire help, and ask the help to speak in another language...but what about those of us in America, with no money for full time language nannies...just trying our best!

    (BTW, I'd be happy to be profiled...if you thought it would help anyone. ;-) We're definitely not GREAT at the whole bi-lingual thing, but my children both UNDERSTAND both languages.)

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  4. Wow Sarah, sounds like you have the basis for a PH.D dissertation going on here! I think that your questions are very thorough-you might want to add something to question the parents about their own level of language proficiency. I think that would be one factor that would have a big impact on their children. I use the word proficiency and not necesarrily whether they are native or not because there are many of us who grew up in a different country but technically are not native speakers of that language, but are completely proficient. There are others of us who are native speakers but grew up somewhere else and have lost proficiency.

    Just my little dos centavos!

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  5. if you're interested, and can wait a few months for when Max starts to speak, we can do an update on Suzanne plus her little brother. I think she's pretty "typical" in that it's a basic OPOL family but maybe the little brother will bring some interesting points to light? Let me know.

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