‘Hopefully nicely’, that would be my latest answer as there has been an increase of heated discussions between the bilingual siblings at our house recently.
In my native language, we say: ‘Small children – small trouble, big children – big trouble’, bilingual or not, period.
No one ever warned me that these sweet and cute little babies with angelic faces that I thought gave me lots of grief with breastfeeding, all these sleepless nights and what came with them, will give me much more or rather much more intense grief when they will be arguing like hell… every day…sometimes the minute they open their angelic blue eyes in morning.… over NOTHING…
Well, most of the time I see it as nothing, but surely in their little worlds it can be of huge importance right now, so stop being so sarcastic, Petra.
Luckily, every cloud has a silver lining:
We get bilingual dramas at our house! …just to spice up our little monsters’ arguments.
Nowadays it usually goes like this – an argument about a piece of lego (starting in English):
‘But Richie, I had it first, can I have it back?’ asks the disgruntled older bilingual.
‘No, you didn’t, I’ve had it first’, replies the younger bilingual cherub.
‘No, I had it first, give it back Richie, it’s mine!’ shouts his older brother in distress.
‘No, I won’t! It’s not yours! I’ve had it first!’ shouts back bilingual cherub no. 2 (still in English) while he’s trying to make a quick escape downstairs hiding THE piece of lego of paramount importance in one of his hands.
Bang, bang, bang, I can hear an avalanche of children rushing down the stairs into the kitchen. Richie, trying to hide behind me.
Their conversation promptly switches into my native language:
‘Mummy, Richie’s taken my lego’, wines Bob.
‘No, no, it’s not yours! It’s mine, mummy!’ shouts back Richie in my native language….
Off we go again, I’m thinking to myself. At least the conversation carries on in my native language, what a bonus!
They are arguing, I am trying to prompt them not to shout, behave like civilised human beings, mediate, calm them down, discuss the situation, desperately find the truth (???), stop the madness, patch it up… you get the gist, bilingual siblings squabbling. Still hell…
As I am a rubbish judge, I usually end up taking THE object of argument off them.
‘If you can’t agree on who’s having it, no one will have it,’ sounds my verdict.
Now they’re both angry with me, still trying to win it for themselves, moaning at me.
They can be very assertive my bilingual cherubs… I am not moving an inch, so off they go, back upstairs, feeling sorry for themselves and comforting each other.
Their conversation usually switches back to English: ‘Mummy’s so unfair, Richie, isn’t she?’
ALL is forgotten, now I am the evil mother.
Pointing fingers is sooo easy, no matter what language.
The joys of parenthood, bilingual siblings or not, period.
But seriously, back to the question: How do my kids speak to each other, nicely or not.
Depends, what they are talking about, who is around, which country they are in, whether they’ve been watching something or listening to something in English or my native language.
The answer is not as straightforward.
I’ve been watching them for years, almost seven to be precise.
They speak to each other in both languages.
Usually not both of the languages at the same time, but they do switch now and then.
There must be a certain trigger, I guess.
But they don’t keep switching all the time or mix the languages, not unless they can’t find the right word.
They usually start having a conversation in one language.
Let’s say in the UK they predominantly address each other in English.
Over the years they’ve established a habit of talking to each other generally in English, probably when the younger one started nursery.
But I’ve noticed that if they are watching a program in my native language they automatically discuss it in my native language.
There is no need to switch into English, but after a while, they kind of realise that they are not talking to each other in English and they seem to deliberately switch into English.
On the other hand, when they are in my native country, they still very often speak English to each other, but the longer they stay and the more they play with other non-English speaking children, the more often they forget about talking to each other in English.
But saying that they both worked out a long time ago, that talking another language can be sometimes very strategic. Especially to your bilingual siblings.
Crafty, bilingual or not, period. 🙂