A few weeks ago we were driving home from Beaver Scouts, where I help out every Friday and we were giving a lift to one of Richie’s best friends Seb.
You might find it strange but as a One-Parent-One Language Strategy and consistency advocate I keep up with what ‘I preach’ and speak to my kids in my native language even in the presence of their monolingual friends.
I almost can’t do it any other way because by now my bilingual monkeys are so used to speaking to me in my language that they find it a little bit strange and difficult to speak to me in English.
It’s almost like if they have a little switch in their brains saying: ‘Mum’s language on, English off’ when talking to me.
To be honest, I am not too upset about it as that is exactly where I wanted them to be:
I wanted them to get in a habit of communicating with me in my native language.
And as you know, old habits die hard.
Which can be a bad thing, but you can take good advantage of this, if you want to get yourself and your bilingual monkeys speaking your native language freely in public and in the presence of other people who might not understand you.
But back to Richie’s little friend and our car journey:
There had been some conversation going on between the boys in the back of the car and then Richie asked me something in my native language.
I replied to him in my native language and then translated for Seb what had just been said:
‘Seb, Richie’s just asked me why we’re not going straight to your house.
And I said because your mummy’s waiting for you at our house as she needs to borrow our skiing helmets.’
That’s the usual way how the bilingual conversation goes at our house when others are around.
It’s either me translating /interpreting what’s been said or my bilingual monkeys do it.
‘I see’, said Seb. And then he suddenly asked Richie:
‘Richie, does your mummy speak to you in English sometimes?’
And Richie replies:
‘No, she doesn’t, she doesn’t want to. She wants me to practice my Czech.’
(Oops, my secret’s out again.) Now, this is partially true.
I find it actually hilarious that my son’s perception is: ‘No, she doesn’t.’
As it keeps the rules of our bilingual house very simple and straightforward.
I am glad he keeps to the rules at least in one department.
On the other hand, it’s not like it NEVER happens. Kids exaggerate, bilingual or not.
Yes, I do speak to my kids in English now and then, and yes it does happen more often the older they are, for social reasons.
Sometimes it’s more practical to address everyone around just in English as it’s much quicker, I totally agree.
But when there are time and space, I still want to keep up with my consistency rule and I am still aiming for my 99.99% of the time goal as explained here.
When our bilingual boys were younger, like babies and probably until they had started school when they were around 4.5 years old, I was pretty strict with my consistency rules and that’s exactly what has brought us the results we’re reaping now.
But once they got over the 4-year mark and we started to socialise more outside of the nursery and school and were bringing more visitors around for playdays, it proved to be sometimes less practical.
Like situations when you’re shouting at two kids who are whizzing off on their scooters in the park in two different languages: ‘STOOOOOP! COME BACK NOW PLEEEASE’….
Or ‘Don’t cross the road, stop and look around first… now we can cross. Don’t run off….’
You get the gist.
But back to Seb and his conversation with Richie:
‘Richie’s mummy, why don’t you want to speak English to Richie?’
And here’s the time for my bilingual parenting sales pitch:
‘You see Seb, if I didn’t speak to Richie in Czech, then he wouldn’t learn it. And if he didn’t learn it, then he couldn’t practice it and when we go to Czech and he sees his grandma and great grandma and all his cousins, aunties and uncles he wouldn’t be able to speak to them.
My mum speaks some English, but my grandma, Richie’s great grandma doesn’t, neither do his little cousins.
If Richie didn’t speak my language, he wouldn’t be able to play with them properly.
Can you imagine, when you go to Ireland to see your grandparents and cousins that you wouldn’t be able to speak to them?
How could you play with your cousins if you couldn’t understand them?
It wouldn’t be the same, would it?’
And I can see his brain’s ticking.
‘Yes, that would be really strange,’ Seb agrees. And he’s sold.
My bilingual parenting sales pitch worked so well as always.
It’s nice and simple. Even 6-year-olds can understand it.
P.S. Please feel free to SHARE and copy my sales pitch, and re-use it on your bilingual parenting journey whenever you like. No brainer, your bilingual monkeys’ friends will be sold.
P.S.S. And maybe, you might even get them so intrigued that you ignite a little spark of passion for languages in another little person, who knows?