Although I certainly have no objection to working parents (I am one myself, after all!), being a two-working parent family adds another layer to your family language dynamic, and another element to your Family Language Plan.
There are a few issues that come into play when choosing/using child care for your children, in a multilingual family.
Firstly, what language childcare are you going to choose, presuming you have a choice? The easy answer is that you should choose someone who is a proficient speaker of the language your child hears least. In our case, that meant that when our twins were little, we choose a nanny who would speak Dutch with them. Our reasoning was that Dutch is a language they need (we do live in the Netherlands, after all) and we do not speak it at home.
However, it is not always that easy to choose or find childcare in the language you need. For families dealing with a minority language only spoken by one (working) parent, it’s often best to choose childcare with that language in mind. Sometimes difficult decisions need to be made about which languages take priority over others – a process that should be addressed in the family language planning process.
Once you have chosen your childcare, there are two other issues that may arise. The question of “proficient speaker” is one of these. I encounter many families who have chosen in-home care for their children, often in the form of live-in au pairs or nannies. Frequently, these caregivers are not native English speakers (or Dutch) but come from other parts of the world. Many parents worry that their children hearing “substandard” language input will be affected by it. For the most part, I encourage parents not to worry – as long as the children are getting ample correct input (from parents, schools etc) there shouldn’t be an issue, beyond some minor and easily rectified items.
However, a secondary concern is “What language is your childminder actually speaking with your children?” I know from experience that all too frequently, childminders use the language that is easiest, rather than the language the parents want them to use. This is especially common in cases where parents put their children into daycare/creche in the majority language, aiming to have their children become fluent. The strength of the Dutch in learning English often becomes a drawback here – in an attempt to be “nice” or to help the children understand better, many childcare workers here will talk to non-Dutch speaking children in English. While their aims may be noble, in fact they are undermining the language acquisition process, by not maximizing language input in the target language. I’m sure this happens elsewhere in the world as well, and it leads me to my title of today – talking to childminders about bilingualism.
If you childminder is a part of your language plan for your children (and they should be!) then you need to have an on-going discussion about your language goals for your children, and the part the nanny/creche etc plays in those goals. Generally speaking, if you include childminders in your plans, and explain to them their important roles, they will be more likely to be consistent in their language use, and therefore your children will get better input in the target language.
So this week’s task is to talk to your childminder about bilingualism – considering how many childminders I know who are bilingual themselves, it’s bound to be an interesting discussion!