Archive for Stronger/weaker language

Keep the conversation going

At 4 years old (and 3 months!) Sofiya feels more comfortable expressing herself in English. She had a vocabulary burst during our vacation in Mexico last month with her English-speaking grandparents and, right now, she often chooses to speak to me in English first. I always answer in French (a must!) – sometimes I simply continue the conversation, other times I repeat what she has just said, to give her the vocabulary she needs. It usually takes 2 or 3 exchanges to get the conversation back on track in French. She never shows any frustrations, which is important. This method works for us because it never interrupts the conversation. It’s less abrupt than asking a child point-blank to switch languages, which is potentially damaging (unless it’s done with tact and humor!)

As researcher Traute Taeschner points out in her book The Sun is Feminine: A study on language acquisition in bilingual children, “With time, it becomes harder and harder for the adult to interrupt speech continually, doubling the amount of time needed for each interaction. In the long run, this request is accompanied by anxiety, unhappiness, and dissatisfaction, culminating in an overall state of frustration, and the parent feels he has failed in bringing up his child as a bilingual.”

My goal with Natasha and Sofiya is to make their bilingual language development as smooth and second nature as possible. I know that Sofiya’s hesitation in French is just a phase and my job now is to give her as many opportunities as possible to increase her vocabulary in fun and thoughtful ways geared toward her interests.


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