Constellations of a Multilingual Education

Are there certain configurations which facilitate the acquisition of a foreign language?

The facility in which a child learns a second language depends not only on ability of the child but also on established rules( see for example, “the Rule of Thumb”) ans his surroundings. The combination of these factors makes it either easier for the child to learn the second language or difficult, influencing the speed at which he learns.

The decision to raise a child in more than one language is based on past instances. The desire to raise a child bilingually can arise from  any or some of the following reasons: emigration, intercultural marriages, work abroad, or cultural ties to various countries.

The sum between the norm adopted and the reality of the surroundings determines the point at which our children begin to learn the language. This can either favor or disfavor one or more languages and result in different speeds of language development.

Of the countless combinations that occur in this bilingual configuration we would like to analyse those occurrying  the most and their ramifications for acquisition of several languages.

Case 1: The parents speak two distinct languages. The language of one parent is that of the country in which they reside. At home, either one language is spoken, or both.

The example: The child speaks Spanish with the mother and German with the father. They live in Germany and at home both Spanish and German are spoken.

The Analysis: In this example there is a danger that the host language( in this case German) dominates. Spanish as the secondary language is therefore weaker and muss be reinforced by the mother.

Case 2: Both parents speak the same language although another language is spoken in the society. At home the language of the parents is mainly spoken but intermingled occasionaly with the foreign language.

The example: The parents speak both English but live in Germany. At home English is spoken but the occasional mixing of German occurs.

The analysis: In this combination the language of the environment is the stronger influence and greater attention must be placed on learning English well.

Case 3: Both parents speak two distinct languages. The language of the society differs. The language spoken at home can be either one of the parents or society or even a fourth.

The example: The child speaks Spanish with the mother and Dutch with the father. The language spoken at home is English. The language spoken outside of the home is German.

The analysis: This is a case where there is clearly no dominant language and therefore each language must be reinforced individually.

Case 4: Both parents speak the same language. The language spoken outside the home is the same language spoken by the parents with the exception that the child attends a school where instruction occurs in another language.

Example: The home language is German but the child is enrolled at the International School of Frankfurt where English is the predominate language.

Analysis: The German language dominates here in this example and will be the stronger language so support of the English language is required.

Case 5: Both parents speak the same language, live in the country where the language is spoken but due to an extended assignment abroad speak to the child in a another language. The home language is either one or at times both.

Example: The parents are German nationals but lived for an extended time in the U.S.A. and one of the parents speaks to the child in English. At home both German and English are spoken.

Analysis: The dominant language here is German.  The English language here needs to be reinforced in other ways outside of the home.

Case 6: Both parents are polyglots, and they live in a land having more than one official language. The languages are intermingled inside as well as outside the home.

Example: Both parents speak with their child in French and English and they live in Canada. At home and outside the home both languages are spoken.

Analysis: In this example since both languages have equal weight since they are spoken inside and outside the home.

The point of departure influences but does not determine the end result of how well a child learns both languages. It is therefore recommended to really reflect which constellation apply and which language requires reinforcement.

Tip: Parents should place greater priority on supporting the development of the second language by all means possible including but not limited to instruction material, social contacts, and institutes of language.

Tip: Also look our articles review in our Blog.

Further in Raising Children Bilingually: Roll of the Parents

Back to Raising Children Bilingually: Older Children and the Learning of Languages