Thursday, 23 August 2012

Bilingual breeze

It's been a while that I've blogged about our bilingual journey and for a while now I had meant to explore how Snowflake is getting on, especially in comparison with Cubling.

My learning from Cubling was that the minority language develops in direct relation to exposure and relevance. Which initially meant almost only passive bilingualism. Once this was turned around to an ability to speak fluently in German, things got much easier and I can now even relax and speak English to her in the company of English speakers who may find our German interchange a tad rude.

With Snowflake, the cards were a bit better - I had a longer maternity leave period and managed to work only 3 days a week until she turns 2. So her exposure to German was greater than it had been for Cubling. It also felt normal and natural to speak German to her: with Cubling I felt initially very strange speaking German to her, because really I spoke English all the time unless I was teaching German - and with Cubling I was mum not teacher, I had to get used to speaking German in Scotland. All of this has been overcome and I never caught myself speaking English with Snowflake, quite the contrary, I catch myself speaking German with other kids, as if speaking German is my default for speaking with children! (not sure what those children make of it...)

The best development ever has to be that Cubling speaks German with Snowflake. Initially I told her that Snowflake would only understand German, and magically, this worked! Of course, Cubling has figured out by now that this is not the case and that her little sister understands and speaks both, but she still mainly speaks German to her. This effectively introduces a) a motivation for her to speak German b) an additional context for speaking German (little sister copies big sister in everything) and c) additional language input. My older girl is most definitely my glamorous assistant.

In effect this means that I'm much more relaxed - on the one hand I don't have to remind myself to speak German only, this has become natural. On the other hand, I do commit big no nos of the OPOL (one parent one language) approach, when I read English books or use a good few English words in my own German (I'm lazy that way).

As for Snowflake, she's so far been as close to being a balanced bilingual as can be for an almost 2 year old. She is not an early bird as far as language development is concerned, but the language she does have is almost parallel. She has a definite awareness of two words for the same thing and will use it mostly correctly with me, her sister or the English speakers in her life. She'll ask for water and then change to Wasser when I don't respond, or even start out with Wasser. Her active language is comparable in both languages, while her older sister stagnated in German and went off in English. She also seems to code switch easily, while Cubling would tend to mix the languages more, especially when she tried to speak German.

As they are very different in temperament and personality I do attribute some of the differences to their relevant personalities, but the largest part must be that Snowflake is exposed to more and more meaningful German. What was a struggle with the firstborn, now seems a breeze now with the younger sibling. Long may it last!

This post is part of the Bilingual Carnival and I'll post a link to the host at Bringing up Baby Bilingual once this is life. Check out the other posts if you have an interest in raising children bilingually, whichever the language pair.


Tallulah@Bilingual Babes said...

Oh, you've done so well to have your kids talk German to each other! Mine used to talk French together, but it has really tapered off as they've got older and the community language really dominates now. Saying that, there are certain contexts where they will talk French together, one of which is playing school (they go to an immersion French school)!

cartside said...

Oh yes, I am pretty sure it'll wane here too, once they get older. But for now, it's rather sweet and it definitely is helping Snowflake to have a really good start in her bilingual journey. Hopefully it'll continue for a little while longer.

Franck Koestel said...

Thanks for sharing. It is great to see that your kids keep on speaking to each other in German. Keeping German as the favorite language for "play" time helps I guess maintain the language.

Franck @ earlylanguages



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