While Prof. Emeritus François Grosjean was working on his wonderful book Bilingual: Life and Reality, he asked me to send him a list of questions that I felt weighed the heaviest on the minds of parents raising multilingual children. It is my honor to present both my questions and Prof. Grosjean’s answers here at Multilingual Living over the course of the next few weeks.
There are eleven Q & A in all which originally appeared in The Bilingual Family Newsletter, one of my favorite publications for families raising children in more than one language (in addition to my own Multilingual Living Magazine, of course)! After each of of Prof. Grosjean’s answers you will find a list of the specific chapters from Bilingual: Life and Reality in which he addresses each question. Enjoy!
How can one tell if children are getting enough exposure to each language?
In the case of children acquiring two languages simultaneously, it is important that they receive input (exposure) from each language on a daily or almost daily basis when the parents are using a strategy that involves both languages. If the parents’ aim is simply to bring the child into contact with another language, then less input is necessary. But if they want the child to use two languages on a daily basis, then there must be a lot of input from both languages.
As to the nature of the input, two points are important. First, the input should come from interaction with people (talking, playing, or reading) and not just from DVDs and television. Children will develop a language if they feel they need it and human interactants create that need.
Second, moments should be reserved where the input comes from people who do not know the other language, if at all possible, so that the input is free of elements of that other language in the form of code-switches and borrowings. Bringing in the other language is normal in a bilingual environment but it is important that bilingual children realize that they will also find themselves in monolingual situations at various times where only one language can be used.
Finally, there is no good measure of “enough exposure” but if the child is starting to be clearly dominant in one language and is tending not to understand or speak the other, then changes will have to be brought to the relative importance given to the two (or more) languages in his or her life.
Relevant chapters in Bilingual: Life and Reality which address this question: 4, 5, 14, 15, 16 & 17.
Stay tuned for our next installment of “Ask François Grosjean” in the coming days.