I am a Swede who moved with my Anglo Australian hubby to Australia where we have been for the last 2 years.We now have a 19 month old daughter that we are bringing up bilingually. I mostly speak Swedish to her and my husband English but many times he helps out with repeating words she picks up in Swedish and me in English, is this bad & confusing to her?
I would also like your opinion on the following: my daughter and I are going home to Sweden for a 6 week visit. My husband is scared she will forget English and I also like to keep up what she learned, for example: ‘Twinkle little star” in English and some other words. How should I go about language for such a long trip? — Emma
Speaking to children in more than one language is neither harmful nor confusing. This is in fact what parents do wherever individual multilingualism is the norm, in all continents.
From the way you formulate your question, I presume you must have heard about the so-called “one person-one language” policy (OPOL), where each parent in a mixed family sticks to their own language to speak to their children. The OPOL is a linguistic behaviour that was observed in studies dealing with monolingual parents in mixed families. It is not an overall recommendation for how to bring up children multilingually. There are many multilingual parents like you and your husband around the world, who raise multilingual children through using several languages to them.
Your husband need not be scared that your girl will lose her English. She will, quite naturally, prefer Swedish while she is in a Swedish environment and will almost instantly improve her command of this language. When she returns to Australia, she will probably appear to have forgotten the English that she knew.
If you think about it yourself, it is likely that the same thing will happen to you to some degree – I know it certainly happens to me: you may feel that your English has rusted a bit while you were away from daily use of that language, and the same with your Swedish in an English-only environment. Like you, your girl will remember her English again, and go on improving it, as soon as she returns to where English is used.
A bit of extra reassurance: my children did exactly this, forgetting and then remembering and then forgetting again, and so on, two of their languages, one of them Swedish, as it happens, according to the frequency and length of their stays in the countries where those languages are used. That’s what languages are there for, to be used as needed, and children are very good at understanding what is required of them, including where use of languages is concerned.
While you are in Sweden, why not use English to sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ with your girl, or read books to her, or play with her the “let’s talk like daddy” game, or “write letters” to daddy with huge colourful drawings, or speak to him on a toy phone, since English is one of your languages too? I did the same with my children. There is no copyright in languages.
Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.