Bilingual education at home:
Keeping two languages in a household isn’t as easy as it seems. It requires a lot of discipline from both parents.
I grew up in France in a bilingual family, a French-speaking father and an English-speaking mother. They would speak to us in their respective languages and speak to one another in English so that we could hear English at home. It worked quite well until we all got to school. As soon as we started our French school we all rejected the English language. A child wants to fit in and does not want to be different from the others. All our friends spoke French and we could not understand the need to speak English. We just wanted to be like everybody else.
As a result, my parents set up a rule: At suppertime everyone must speak English! By the age of 16, we had all mastered “What’s next?” and “May I be excused?” and our dinner conversations were mainly limited to these two sentences. The rule slowly vanished but luckily we still managed to keep the English we had learnt as children. We are now all bilingual and although we all reluctantly spoke English in France we are all very thankful to our parents that they have given us such a precious gift.
Raising a child in two languages requires a sustained effort over several years.
Intercultural couples are quite common nowadays. A lot of them have their own techniques for keeping two languages (or more) in the household. Some families may not have any techniques and just follow their instincts. Others may choose the “one person one language” rule. For some families the outside world might be where children acquire their second language. Others have geographical rules within the house.
There isn’t one good technique to make someone bilingual. However there are things you can do to help. You can check the section on tips for bilingual parents to find out more about how to foster bilingualism in the home.