Bilingual is Better

This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to our winner: KATHLEEN. Remember you can still enter for another chance every day this week.

Photo by tourist_on_earth

Photo by tourist_on_earth

As our week-long series dedicated exclusively to exploring the OPOL method continues, we’re happy to present you with our popular Ask an Expert Q&A. If you read yesterday’s post, you know we already had one knowledgeable expert on the subject of OPOL share her helpful tips and recommendations with us. Today is no different.

You don’t know how grateful we are that Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert, author of Language Strategies for Bilingual Families – The One Parent-One Language Approach, agreed to answer this week’s OPOL-related question. The book and all the research she has done on the subject make her a bona fide expert, as you will see.

Barron-Hauwaert has a Masters in Education and has been teaching English as a second or foreign language for 15 years. She independently researches bilingualism and multilingualism with an emphasis on the whole family. She is on the Editorial Board of The Bilingual Family Newsletter and writes a quarterly column (Notes from the OPOL Family). In addition, she runs Bilingual Support Groups and gives seminars on Language Strategies.

Our expert is English and married to a Frenchman. Her family lived as expatriates in Hungry, Egypt, Switzerland, Malaysia and America for ten years. They have now settled down in France with their three more-or-less bilingual children, aged 12, 10 and 6. You can read about their life and the one parent – one language strategy in the blog: Notes from the OPOL Family.

How Do I Prevent My Son from Feeling Self-Conscious About Using the Minority Language?

Today’s question comes from Nadine, a native New Yorker living in Lima, Perú, with her almost 2-year-old son and non-English speaking, Argentine husband.

“I have been speaking to my son in English from day one (and even before since I often talked and sang to him in my belly before birth.) Nearly everyone else he comes into contact with speaks to him in Spanish.

For now he seems to understand both languages equally well. At first he used more English words than Spanish words, but not that he has entered pre-school, he is definitely using fewer English words in his speaking. I have American friends with kids here who have different situations. The most common is that their kids, even though at least one parent speaks to them exclusively in English, answer them always in Spanish. Only in one family have I found that their 3-year old daughter speaks to her English-speaking mother in English and her Spanish-speaking father in Spanish. That is what I am hoping for with my son.

It is truly important for me and concerns me because I will most likely send him to an all Spanish speaking school that offers limited English (The bilingual English/Spanish schools here are not feasible for us.) and I want to make sure he can communicate clearly in English. Right now, he has gotten to a stage where if he says something to me in Spanish I can ask him ‘How do we say that in English?’ and he responds. But his initial instinct is 75% of the time to answer me in Spanish. What are the tricks to get him to respond in English without making him feel self-conscious or annoyed?

Many thanks for your help, Nadine.”

Dear Nadine,

You have really made a good start by speaking English constantly with your son following the one-parent-one-language strategy. It is good news that he understands both languages. The issue now is to give him an incentive to speak English with you, and also with your family and friends in America when they visit, or when you go to America. Since he is surrounded by Spanish-speakers and will attend a local school you are his main role-model in English. I think you could both benefit from more exposure to English. Therefore, I would recommend getting together with your American or English-speaking friends and setting up an English-language play-group, where you can share resources such as books or DVDs and celebrate cultural festivals together, such as the 4th of July or Halloween. Encourage the children to play, make crafts and sing in English together.

When your son talks to you in Spanish try to steer the conversation back to English, even though he knows you speak and understand Spanish. There is a technique called the False Monolingual Strategy, where a parent can ‘pretend’ to be monolingual and not understand the other language. This only works with young children, up to about age 5, but can be efficient in reminding a child that each parent speaks only one language. However, you must be clear about maintaining this way of communicating. You could say ‘I don’t understand you’ or ‘Try to say it in English’ when he speaks to you in Spanish. Try not to ask easy questions that require ‘yes/no’ answers. Instead, say ‘Do you want chocolate or strawberry ice-cream?’ or ‘Would you like a cup or a cone?’ Don’t accept pointing or gestures, and ask him to try to make a short sentence.

Children often race ahead in one language at this age, and then find it hard to communicate in the other one, so your son may also need some one-to-one time with you (or other English-speakers) to increase his English vocabulary. He might get a little annoyed or self-conscious initially, but you will both benefit later from being able to have a common language to communicate in, and a bilingual son.

Good luck!

Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert

We’re half-way through with our OPOL week. Hopefully you’ve been learning as much as we have. If you missed our first two posts, you can go here and here to read them. And, we hope you come back for more tomorrow when we bring you a Your Story guest post by one of our loyal readers – and the founder of my bilingual playgroup. Many of you who are just starting your bilingual journey have asked if the OPOL method actually works. This post will be proof that it does!

Plus, remember we’ll be giving away yet another copy of Dr. Naomi Steiner’s book.

To win today’s copy of Dr. Naomi Steiner’s book:

What pressing question or concern do you have regarding raising bilingual children in general? Please let us know by leaving us a comment that we can send to one of our experts for our weekly Ask an Expert series!

Remember we’ll be giving away one copy per day and you can enter once per day. Today’s giveaway will end tonight at midnight EST. Make sure you’re subscribed either by RSS or email so you don’t miss out on this highly informative and useful OPOL week.

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