Growing up with more than one language, to me, is an incredible asset.
So when Cubling was on the way I read up a bit about bilingualism and raising bilingual children, to get it right. I wasn't impressed with the available literature. There isn't much and even the internet didn't offer much useful information. The accepted recommendation is to either split languages according to person (one person speaks one language, another person speaks the other) or to have one home language and use the other language outside the home.
Both approaches are inappropriate for our circumstances, we don't live in worlds perfect for bilingual language acquisition. My beloved, though able to speak German, isn't proficient enough for us to have German as a home language. While I attempt to speak German to Cubling whenever possible, it is simply not always possible. For instance, my mummy friends are almost exclusively English speaking. When we meet up, Cubling hears me speak English, hears me address other children in English, and often hears me address her in English because I don't want the other mums or children feel excluded. Similarly when we spend the weekends with Cubling's cousin, she hears me speak English to everyone except her. I also don't think it's helpful for her to hear me speak English to my beloved, or indeed to hear me struggle to find the German word for yet another thing that is just not coming back to me.
A Spanish friend of mine in Germany is in a similar situation, in spite all her efforts of speaking Spanish only to her first daughter, encountered resistance because it wasn't useful beyond speaking with mummy. The girl ended up refusing to speak Spanish and telling her mum to stop that nonsense.
Aware of this issue, and after some recommendations from the new Edinburgh based project Bilingualism Matters, I was keen to ensure additional situations where German was used in Cubling's life, to increase exposure to German and her perception of its usefulness. First, I joined the German Kinderclub. The drawback of this club was it's location across the city and the timing of its meetings. It meant that I lost a full Saturday every other week for 2 hours of unstructured play with mostly older kids (who would speak English amongst themselves while mums spoke German amongst themselves - interestingly, it seems that the expat German/Austrian/Swiss is always the woman). There wasn't much meaningful exposure, at least not enough to make this long trip worthwhile. It has to be said though that the celebration of German style festivals is an important aspect of the club and I will stay connected with it.
I also tried to organise a German speaking mum and toddler group closer to home. To be honest, it was ambitious and I got as far as getting the contacts, but not as far as hosting it regularly. Why? Well, I work 4 full days a week, and time is ever short. Weekends are family time for most, and dividing Fridays up between 2 toddler groups and all my friends is bound to fail.
Thankfully, I have a good German friend with a child the same age as Cubling. We see each other regularly so there is at least some non-mummy German input. Not a lot, but much better than nothing. So trips to Germany are important and we decided this time that only Cub
ling and I would go, to ensure that she would get maximum exposure to German. I came back with lots of heavy books and DVDs in my rucksack, in the hope that they'll be more fun than some of the English books and keep Cubling hooked on German. Effectively that means that I'm very generous with letting her watch German TV (while I know that watching TV in itself does not promote language development, the idea is to create a positive association with the weaker language), some may of course call this approach bribery.
If you have any experience of raising bilingual children that you would like to share, please do, I'm keen to hear your stories!