My linguistic resolution for this summer was to speak more French with my kids. Two weeks left in the summer, and how is that going? The answer, unfortunately, is not so well… What I have learned this summer, after spending five weeks in North American (half in the US and half in Canada) is that it isn’t as easy to be bilingual in a monolingual world. Now, I kind of knew that already. I talk about it in my seminars, and I discuss it often with families in Family Language Plan sessions. But really, you need to experience it to believe it. We have the great benefit of living in a thoroughly multilingual environment. We are surrounded by expats and immigrants from all over the world, and the Dutch aren’t exactly slouches at learning other languages either. Being in places where English is was a real eye-opener for me.
Firstly, it was much harder to use a language that excludes when you are the only one doing so. Here at home, I use French all the time in front of people who don’t speak French, and English in front of people who don’t speak much English. I do what I need to communicate with my kids in the language I feel is “right” for any situation. In a monolingual environment it feels very different to be the only people doing something different. I often started something in French and then veered towards English out of discomfort or guilt. Even though I know that I have nothing to feel bad about, it still seems “rude” in such an English-dominant environment.
Secondly, my kids were much more prone to respond to me in English, no matter what language I chose to use with them. Obviously, on some level, they were feeling the same pressure to conform to the majority language as I was. Or else they were just taking the chance to be linguistically lazy…
The bottom line is that families making the choice for bilingualism in a monolingual environment are doing a hard job. Kudos to all of you trying to make it work – I wish you much success and I’d love to hear your stories.