The majority of families I work with are OPOL (one parent- one language) families, but as I’ve written about before, OPOL is not always as easy, or successful, as it seems. (see these posts: OPOL: Does it always work?, Different perspectives on OPOL, A final roundup of OPOL stories )
Often, OPOL is adopted because the parents speak two different languages, but share only one (sometimes a third) language. It’s common to see families with a Dutch parent and a Brazilian parent, who use English together. Or a French and English couple who use English together. In these cases, OPOL is by default, the parents are using the language they know best. However, these days I seem to be meeting more couples who share languages; who can both speak the other partner’s language comfortably, if not perfectly. For these parents, sharing a language opens the door to having a more balanced family language dynamic.
When both parents can use both languages, division of labour (so to speak) can be done in different ways. For example, a family can choose to use one language during the week together, and one on the weekends. Or, one language at home, and the other outside (also called “minority language at home”). Creative families can find all kinds of ways to divide the two languages across domains, so that all family members get to experience different aspects of life in both languages.
Domains of use is particularly powerful for families with older children, as it models both parents as bilinguals, and both parents as supportive of both languages. It can also respond to a frequent complaint that OPOL parents have; the lack of a “family” languages. In fact, families using this method can end up as very fluid, comfortable bilinguals, who can switch between languages at ease. It can also encourage parents to become more fluent or comfortable in each other’s languages – you don’t need to be a native speaker, or a “perfect” speaker to use another language with your children.
As with any change of approach, it’s important to go into being a “domains of use” family with a plan, and a changeover plan as well, if you are moving from another approach (such as OPOL).