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.
This the fifth of the 11 Q & A, 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 our 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.
Is it all right to raise a child in a non-native language, even if parents don’t speak the language absolutely perfectly (but well enough) and they don’t have a perfect native accent?
The really important factor in children acquiring two (or more) languages, and then maintaining them, is the need they have for those languages: to communicate with parents and family members, to take part in daycare or school activities, to interact with people in their community, etc. If parents can create the need for more than one language, and other factors are favorable, then children will become bilingual.
Among the other factors, we find the amount of language input and the type of input, both mentioned in the question above. Two points are important.
First, not knowing a language perfectly well and having an accent in it is not a reason for not speaking that language to a child. After all, in families who adopt the “one language in the home, the other outside the home” strategy, there is often one parent who is not a native speaker of the home language. Note also that many families who have changed linguistic regions or countries, and have to help their children who are schooled in another language, often do not themselves have perfect knowledge of the outside language.
The second point is that it is very important for children to receive as much exposure as possible to each language. Thus, the parents who don’t know a language well, but who are using it with their child, will want to find ways of increasing the child’s exposure to that language. Sometimes this is easy (e.g. it is the language of the community and/or the school) but sometimes it is more difficult.
In my new book, I relate how a family developed various stratagems to increase their children’s natural exposure to their weaker language.
Relevant chapters in Bilingual: Life and Reality which addresses this question: chapters 14 & 17.
Past Ask François Grosjean Q&A in the series:
- The first in the series is Ask François Grosjean: Are My Bilingual Children Getting Enough Exposure?
- The second in the series is Ask François Grosjean: What is the best method for helping children become bilingual?
- The third in the series is Ask François Grosjean: Can I Change From One Language Or Method To Another?
- The fourth in the series is Ask François Grosjean: What Does Research Say About the Benefits of Multilingualism?