Bringing Up Baby Bilingually

Language Training

We have an unprecedented number of children in the UK being brought up using more than one language. We offer three precautionary yet factual ‘tales of the unexpected’

1: Born to Spanish parents living in London, she had been encouraged to embrace the language of Mum and Dad while they in turn did their best, simultaneously and at every opportunity, to develop their daughter’s English.  The development of this practice meant that all three family members employed a blend of Spanish and English vocabulary. When they switched language they simply switched grammars – all the while using the same vocabular mix.

2: Being brought up bilingually in Hampshire by a native speaker of Russian (Dad) and a native speaker of English (Mum), the two daughters were fed one language or another randomly, choosing from between English and Russian.  The young girls, at a tender age unable to differentiate between the two languages, soon developed their own private language, intelligible only to people who could speak both English and Russian.  When they were old enough to go to school, their academic development was hampered because nobody could understand the jumbled language they spoke. They then needed to be de-programmed.

3: The family lived in France. The father was a White Russian.  The mother’s native language, like that of the house-keeper, was Spanish.  When alone with his two sons, when other member of the household were in another room or had gone out, Dad spoke with his two sons only in Russian.  If they were joined at home by Mum, or the housekeeper, Spanish would be the order of the day.  Walking out together through the front door, or when French visitors came in, all family members would switch immediately into French.  The young boys grew up to be effective trilinguals.

As to the moral of these precautionary yet factual accounts, the received wisdom for bringing up minors bilingually or plurilingually – so that they respect the culture of their birth, yet integrate with that of the community at large – is to determine and hold firm to strictures of who speaks what language to whom and when.

Note: The instances above are drawn from formal linguistic research into bilingualism undertaken by Dr J l Kettle-Williams.

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