I am the mother of a 14 month old who is being raised bilingually. I am a native English speaker (American) but speak Armenian fluently and my husband is a native Armenian speaker. We both speak Armenian to our daughter.
We had planned to speak English to her when my parents and other English speakers were around but we’ve noticed that even though she understands Armenian and says many Armenian words, she often uses English words when they seem “easier” than the Armenian equivalent. Is this fairly normal for a bilingual child? Do we need to speak Armenian with her even when there are English-only speakers present?
I worry about her continuing to speak Armenian as she gets older and want to try to provide the best foundation we can for her. It’s probably too early to start worrying, but I’m a mom, it’s my job! 🙂
Thank you for your time and consideration of my question.
From what you say, I gather two things. First, your daughter is well aware that both Armenian and English are languages that matter to her: she can understand and use both. Second, that your worry concerns her eventually losing Armenian. I also presume your worry comes from your family living in an English-speaking country, although you don’t say this.
You can use your two family languages in the way you choose. If you fear that Armenian may be at risk, as it were, go on using it to your girl. She will understand that this is the language that mum and dad use to her, and she will respond accordingly. If you want to switch to English with her when English-only speakers are around, you can do this too.
There is no problem whatsoever in using different languages to a child. This is what happens in multilingual countries all over the world, and your girl will understand that mum and dad use English with her when specific people are around. This is what being multilingual is all about, using different languages for different purposes and with different people.
Your daughter’s use of easier words in one of her languages is typical of multilingual children, and typical of any child. All children create their own baby-words, and other ways of dealing with language difficulties, because small children have yet to develop sophisticated pronunciation and language abilities. They’re learning. Have a look at this Ask-a-Linguist FAQ, where I explain children’s language acquisition strategies.
My children also chose the easier words among their languages, when they started speaking, as I report in my book Three is a crowd?. In fact, we all do the same thing, at any age: monolinguals too, when they choose “easy” words like “thingamajig” or “thingy.” The difference is that multilinguals have the choice to do it in different languages.
Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.