In-laws, out-laws, friends and the rest of the world… They all have an opinion on you doing this ‘weird thing’ called OPOL (One Parent One Language Strategy). Let’s find out what it was like for my in-laws through the eyes of our nephew:
How did you perceive my introduction of OPOL? What was happening when our kids were born?
I was about 17 when Bob was first born.
Until then, did you actually hear me talking in Czech much? Not really…??
Only a little bit, not a huge amount. If you were on the phone to your mum, obviously you’d be speaking Czech. I’ve been exposed to it by going to Czech as well.
Until then you didn’t hear much Czech when you were in the UK. You’d heard Czech when you went there, but not here.
Yes, that’s right.
Until our kids were born I didn’t speak much Czech, but then suddenly I started talking Czech every day because of them, a bilingual parenting strategy called OPOL. Was it strange for the rest of the family, that it suddenly changed, because obviously before we would always only speak in English? Suddenly I was talking a different language that your parents didn’t understand and noone from your family could understand. How was it? Was it a bit strange or was it ok? Do you still remember?
Obviously, it was a little bit weird hearing it because I haven’t been exposed to it, but I did find it quite interesting hearing a different language being spoken all the time.
Do you know, what did your parents think of it? Did they think that I’ve lost the plot?
No, no, it’s more the conception of ‘they’re around us, they should be speaking in English.’ But I think that’s most of the people’s perception in the UK. You’re in England, you should be speaking English in front of English people.
Do you think that’s what they still think or was it what they thought of it at the beginning?
I think that’s what they thought of it at the beginning, but now they just accept it and obviously they see it as encouraging as it’s a learning curve for the kids and everybody around them.
So you think that they might have thought that it was weird at the beginning but once they’d seen that this was working, this is what’s helping the kids, this is how they learn, they don’t mind it, they tolerate it…
On the scale of opinions, like ‘definitely, we don’t mind it, that’s fine we’re happy with her doing it or Ok, we understand, but we’re not really excited about this ‘OPOL thing’. Where do you think it’s on the scale?
Now we fully accept it, it’s part of your kids’ learning, there is no issue really now.
Did you feel it was ever an issue? Or was it like ok, that’s what she’s doing and we have to just go with the flow.
No, I don’t think there was ever an issue, I just think that the family were like: Oh, we don’t really know what they’re talking about, we’re just a bit concerned…what are they saying? sort of thing.
But then I’ve pretty much always, as far as I remember, said: ‘Now I’m saying this to the boys. Or this is what’s going on.’
Yes, you did. You did always say when they were little: ‘I just said this to them.’ But as they got older and you could start having a conversation with them it wasn’t really necessary to say it in English anymore, because we just knew it was part of their learning.
And then later they started saying themselves what I was saying, didn’t they?
Yes, exactly, they did.
I must admit I was really encouraging them to say it because it’s kind of annoying to be the translator all the time. I deliberately ‘trained’ them to do it. I said something in Czech and then told them: Now you have to say to nanny or so and so what I just said to you. And I think they were actually happy to do it. What do you think?
Yes, they’re really comfortable when doing that. They’re quick as well in what they’re saying. They can just switch between the two languages and translate really well.
I think that was quite an acceptable strategy, wasn’t it? First I was translating and then once they could do it they started doing it? That didn’t exclude anyone out of the conversation or?
Yeah, definitely, they were really good at doing that and they still are.
Do you remember, when they were younger, did you think they were slow talkers, did you think they should be talking by now?
All kids will learn and once they go to school their English picks up more. Obviously with their Czech side of things I didn’t really know because I don’t speak it or don’t know the grammar or anything like that.
Even J can’t remember that it would be an issue, but for me Bob was much quicker talking in both languages while Richie just couldn’t be bothered…you know what I mean? I think he was really quiet. While now he’s not quiet. Basically, my impression was that Bob was 2.5 and he didn’t care what language he was talking in, he could talk in one and then switch into the other one and he was just talking. While with Richie you had to really encourage him to talk in any language…. He was like no, thank you. He couldn’t care less.
Yes, it definitely was like that. And Bob was really good at his young age. You’d say anything and he’d soon know if people are native speakers. Because I used to say some Czech words to him and he’d say it back in English.
Really? I can’t remember that.
Yeah, he wouldn’t have it because he knew that I was English.
That’s interesting. So you tried to speak to him in Czech…
Yes, I said snow to him in Czech and he was just saying it back to me in English.
I have actually spoken to a friend about it and that’s what she said that the kids somehow intuitively knew I have to speak English to these people, I won’t bother with Czech. Or the other way around because a similar thing happens when we go to Czech and someone for some reason tries to speak English to them they wouldn’t have it. They’re almost like ‘what do you want from me’, why are you speaking the wrong language to me?’ If Czech speakers try to speak English to them they’re almost like: ‘Well, I’m not talking English now.’ It’s a little bit strange, they just wouldn’t switch to the other language.
Yes, they wouldn’t, yes. I think there’s definitely something about it. They definitely won’t switch. I think they’re quite good when they are in each country. They stick to one language, to the speakers of the main language. Bob was really really good, you know. You’d say a word like ‘vlak’ and he’d say back ‘train’ in English. And start shouting at me like it’s a ‘train’.
I think when the kids are young and they’re just about to start talking and then suddenly they’re doing it in two languages, people get really fascinated by it. That they talk to you in one language and then they switch into the other one. As they get older it becomes normal but when they are small that’s when everyone admires it…
Yes, it’s amazing to see them just switch. They’d be talking to you and then they don’t even have to think about it and they’d be talking English. They’d just switch instantly.
Are you a little bit jealous they can do it? (Bilingual mama is laughing as she teases her nephew.)
Yes (our nephew’s voice shows an honest disappointment as he admits to this. 😉 )
Is Czech a difficult language then from your point of view? If you’re learning it as an adult?
What languages did you learn at school?
French and Spanish.
Well, in comparison to those two, where does Czech stand?
I think if I was a little bit more exposed to it… I do find it quite easy to pronounce, how it’s written.
Yes, I agree, writing is the easy part once you know the difficult grammar. (Bilingual Mama agrees laughing.)
Czech is easy to read and you know how to pronounce everything. It’s quite straightforward. With the grammar, that’s different, if you try to fit in with English that doesn’t necessarily work. And also they don’t have any gender, which we don’t really understand.
Do you find it funny that things are it/ she/ he?
Hmm, yes, I do. It’s amazing how kids don’t have to even think about these things and they can just switch.
Do you know any families like us that their kids would be able to speak more than one language or be bilingual?
No, not really. There are lots of people I know that are from other countries, like people from Poland, but they haven’t taught it to their child whatsoever. I think it’s such a shame.
Why didn’t they do it? Why do you think they don’t do it?
I don’t know. I think they find it hard, they can’t be bothered.
Why would they find it hard? Because technically, with OPOL you just speak your own native language you can speak well?
I think because their other half isn’t supportive and I think that’s the conception in the UK: You shouldn’t speak another language in front of others… in front of English people. Or I don’t know, maybe it’s just our mindset.
That’s interesting you saying that. Because that’s partly my perception of where the problems lie with children not being brought up bilingually in the UK. Or that it doesn’t work for the family. Because parents don’t want to look like weirdos in public, they feel they could upset someone. So they won’t do it, they can’t stick to OPOL as to a strategy. Or if they do it what happens then is that they are only talking to their child at home, but that’s too little. When you think about kids going to school, parents being at work, being busy with clubs and other activities, we don’t really spend much time at home. The way I see it is that if you do it just at home it’s not enough, the stimulation is not enough. That’s my personal perception based on experience.
I agree, definitely, you need to do a bit whilst out and about because obviously you’re viewing and seeing different things, so the kids can ask you questions: ‘Oh, what’s this… and what’s that… But it the UK, people find it rude. That’s the main issue why people don’t do it, I think.
So would you do it? If you moved let’s say to France, Czech, Turkey… where ever really and you would be in a reverse situation, would you teach your kids English?
Yes, definitely, I would want my children to be able to speak my language and also be able to communicate with my family in the UK and friends that wouldn’t speak the other language.
What a long chat, thank you, nephew!
P.S. Are you struggling to keep up with OPOL in front of your monolingual in-laws? May be I can help, let me know in the comments below.
P.P.S. If you want to know what my darling husband/our daddy a.k.a. the Chief of Mischief thought of OPOL, read my previous blog post here.