Multilingual family: Our family language set-up

What kind of language set up does your multilingual family have? Here's ours...

You've probably heard of one-person-one-language (OPOL). And while that's far from the only model out there on helping our kids learn a language at home, it's certainly one of the most popular.

Our OPOL set-up

We decided from the start that we'd do OPOL, before we even knew that there were other options. It just felt natural and simple in our case. That means the kids speak and hear:
  • Thai — with Nanny (most of the day), Thai family, other household staff, at kindergarten. This is also the language the kids hear outside the house. The kids picked Thai up the most as toddlers and preschoolers. No reading/writing.
  • Japanese with Mama, and now at Japanese elementary school. This is probably in reality the actual 'community language' for Engineer (9) and Tigerlily (8), who read & write primarily in Japanese now.
  • German — with Papa. A bit with their German grandmother too while she was living with us. This is the language we're struggling the most with, simply because Papa isn't home as much (and his German is frankly too sophisticated for little kids :p). If the kids want to watch YouTube, it must be in German, and we're also trying to speak German only at the dinner table. 
And an extra: We didn't actually plan on fostering English (we figured they'd learn it at some point in school...), but the kids ended up getting some exposure anyway:
  • English — here & there... Engineer and Tigerlily learned English at kindergarten, and they are all ears when husband and I talk to each other in English, our common language). We also spent three springs in the US, and the kids watched a LOT of YouTube (sigh).

Any family language?

We actually don't have a family language. Mama and Papa speak English to each other, but if a child enters the conversation, we continue in Japanese or German with the child. I understand enough of German so that's not a problem, but poor Papa doesn't follow the Japanese so I summarize it in English for him.

This means that the kids have been able to understand English more than we expected (so if we want to talk 'secretly' to each other, husband and I have to resort to Spanish — mine being extremely rusty!).

OPOL when we're outside

No matter whom we are with, husband and I stick to our OPOL. It's not out of any fanaticism about OPOL, but simply because it's what we're used to doing. This is how we each communicate with our kids; it doesn't matter who's around us.

If we're saying something that we'd like the others around us to also understand, I would then explain/translate.

(One handy article on how to adapt OPOL when you're with others: Adapting the OPOL Language Strategy — can you tell I'm a fan of Bilingual Kidspot? :D )

More to come on some of our challenges, strategies, etc.!


Popular Posts