Friday, February 25, 2011

bilingual kids

The Bilingual Edge: Why, When, and How to Teach Your Child a Second LanguageSince I'm native Norwegian, Leighton and I decided when I was pregnant that we wanted to raise our child bilingually. We read The Bilingual Edgeand listened to the advice and stories of others. Truth be told, I did find it kind of awkward and challenging to stick to Norwegian at home right away when Lilly was born, even though I'd been teaching a Norwegian literature course in Norwegian up until her birth, surrounded by Norwegian speaking students and colleagues. Because though Leighton had taken Norwegian for a year from a colleague of mine, English had been our primarily language at home.

It helped that we moved to Oslo for a year when Lilly was around 6 weeks; ever since then it's felt natural to have Norwegian be the primary language at home and wherever I am with Lilly.

It's been a little trickier those days I have Lilly's best friend Anna here. When the girls were still one and not big talkers, I used mainly Norwegian still. But when the girls experienced a language explosion after turning two, I felt awkward speaking Norwegian to Anna when she addressed me in English.

A couple of weeks ago, we had some friends over for dinner who'd had a foreign speaking nanny for their child. They highly recommended I try sticking with Norwegian even when Anna was around too.

So yesterday, when Anna was here again, I stuck to Norwegian. And it worked! I can't believe it. She'd say something to me in English, I'd answer in Norwegian, and she'd get it. I would ask her to join me in a yoga pose, and she would. I called for her from the kitchen to come have some snacks, and she came. I asked what kind of snack she'd like, and she answered. Intonation and context probably helped clarify a lot of it to her, but I can't see how that can account for all of it. She must have picked up on a lot of Norwegian from Lilly and I speaking together too.

Anna's mom was excited to hear about Anna's bilingual skills and I felt so much more comfortable speaking Norwegian to Anna rather than going back and forth between Norwegian and English, which has always made me feel awkward, the language forced. Research suggests bilingualism can boost brain power and reduce the risk of Alzheimer (see for instance this recent article in the Guardian), so there are good reasons to stick with it.

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