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Subject: Question about the method of speaking to children in parents' native languages
Question: Hi! 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.
Reply: Hola, Lorenzo, 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 necessarily gringoide). 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. Jim James L. Fidelholtz Graduate Program in Language Sciences Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades Benem'erita Universidad Aut'onoma de Puebla, M'EXICO
Reply From: James L Fidelholtz      click here to access email
Date: 02-Oct-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Question about the method of speaking to children in parents' native languages    Madalena Cruz-Ferreira     (02-Oct-2012)
  2. Re: Question about the method of speaking to children in parents' native languages    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (04-Oct-2012)

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