What is the best language strategy for bilingual children?

The great bilingual language paradigm! The correct way to raise a bilingual child? How should we do this? These are all problems, fears and questions about raising a child in a bilingual environment. Here l want to have a look at one main approach.

One parent one language approach (OPOL): This has been the dominant approach for bilingual learning at home since the early 1900s. It was first mentioned by Maurice Grammont. It is simple in its application yet it requires a high level of consistency on behalf of the parents. This method requires that each parent selects a language and will only speak to their child in their chosen target language. This is probably the best choice for families where there is no clear common target language between the parents. Using my family as an example: we have chosen the OPOL approach, l am from the UK and my wife is Spanish. We live in Spain and my wife does not dominate English. Therefore the logical choice is the OPOL approach, l will speak only in English to my daughter and my wife will speak only in Spanish.

Annick De Houwer  has suggested that OPOL can help with an early development of metalinguistic awareness. In this metalinguistic awareness the child develops the ability to note that language is much more than just symbols, an awareness that words are can be separable from their referents (for example l am “dad” but if someone calls me John, l will still be dad to my daughter, meaning resides in the mind not in the words themselves). The metalinguistic awareness that language is a living being, it can evolve, change and be manipulated by the user to fit their requirements and aid in communication.

So far all of the areas seem positive, however, it is not so. There are various disadvantages to OPOL. The intention of OPOL is to enable simultaneous bilingualism converting both languages into L1, however, if (as in my case) l am the only source of English there is a severe risk of language attrition. Also if (as it is in my case) one of the parents is monolingual then l have to communicate with my wife in her selected language, my daughter could understand this as a hierarchy of languages and she could downgrade English almost to the level of L2.

One Reply to “What is the best language strategy for bilingual children?”

  1. Interesting read. I’m in a similar situation in that I’m British and my wife is Spanish and we live in Spain. But in our case my wife speaks the regional language (Valencian) to our children and I speak English. Apart from these two languages they have also acquired Castilian Spanish as this is the dominant language where we live.
    The fact that my wife and I generally communicate with each other in English has helped improve my kids’ fluency and I’ve noticed that their accent sounds more natural than other kids I know whose parents are also Spanish and English but the dominant language at home is Spanish.
    I think that consistency is crucial and if you truly want your kids to be plurilingual just keep talking in the language(s) you choose and their amazing brains will do the rest. In our case it’s worked a treat and I’m sure they’ll have an.advantage if they ever want to learn a fourth language.

Leave a Reply