Ask-A-Linguist Message Details
|Subject:||Question about the method of speaking to children in parents' native languages|
I'm Spanish and my wife is British, we live in Spain and have two
children aged 4 and 6. I speak to them in Spanish and my wife
does it in English. My English is fluent (advanced, not proficient)
but my accent is not very British. Our children usually (not always)
speak to my wife in English and to me in Spanish. We visit the UK
family twice a year, a week in easter and a month in summer.
Whilst at the UK, the children only speak in English, and they
catch up quite quickly. As far as I know, this is the OPOL method.
I am not sure if I should change and speak to them in English,
using the MLAH method instead. Is there any recent research wich
suggest which method works out better? Will my accent be
transferred to my children if I change to English-only? Is it ok to
speak to my children in both languages or should I stick to one?
I'd be very pleased if you could help me out, as I am quite
confused. Thank you very much.
Just to give you a pertinent case history, I am a 'gringo'
(American) living in Mexico. My wife is Argentine, and naturally
started speaking Spanish to our daughter when she was born. I did
not speak Spanish then, so I (stupidly, but that's another story)
started speaking Spanish to her (my wife & I have always spoken
English to each other, since we met in the States (she is much
closer to a near-native speaker of English than I am w.r.t.
Spanish). When she was about 1;3 (read: one year, three months),
we moved to Mexico. I continued speaking Spanish to her (by now,
after about 5-6 months in Argentina, my Spanish had advanced from
rudimentary to atrocious), but now with a tremendous 'gringo'
accent and horrible grammar. My Spanish now is what most people
would optimistically call 'near-native' (and it *is* much, much
better than it was, but it's now over 30 years later). It *may*
be about as good, say, as your English (and it is fluent,
generally), but few people (and bless the hearts of those that
do!) fail to recognize me as a non-native speaker (not
The point of all this is that our daughter *never* had the
slightest bit of 'gringo' pronunciation, despite daily and
copious interaction with me. Kids are *extremely* sensitive to
sociolinguistic pressures, and she knew perfectly well that she
needed to speak Mexican Spanish to get along with her teeny-weeny
peers. Likewise, with a few lexical exceptions, she didn't use
Argentine pronunciation, lexicon or grammar. That is, your
children are going to speak the Spanish of Spain, regardless of
what you and your wife do, as long as you are living in Spain.
Likewise, they are going to speak British English (they *might*
switch to American English, for example, if you got an American
nanny, but with your wife's and in-laws' inputs even that is not
certain--perhaps if she switched to speaking Spanish to them, but
that, based on my experience, is much easier said than done).
Note: you also would have a hard time switching to speaking
English to them, now that you have years of experience speaking
to them in Spanish. It would be a little bit like switching to
'tú' with your priest, even if you two became buddies--*very*
hard to do once you start with *usted*. One of my concuños is
Spanish, and he and his (Argentine) wife speak a lot of English
to their kids (they both studied in the US and now live in
Madrid). The kids' Spanish is pretty strictly madrileño. Bottom
line: with a lot of willpower you could very possibly change, but
there is no real (sociolinguistic) reason for you to do so,
especially if you continue annual or so visits to the
grandparents, etc., in the UK. In any case, the kids will muddle
through more than adequately. Good luck.
James L. Fidelholtz
Graduate Program in Language Sciences
Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades
Benem'erita Universidad Aut'onoma de Puebla, M'EXICO
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