Dear Dr. Gupta,
We are an English/German-speaking family, currently living in Germany practicing one parent one language (OPOL) with our two-year-old. We’re moving to an English-speaking country soon and are wondering if we should switch to minority language at home (ML@H) to maximise German exposure? Any thoughts?
~ Debating ML@H?
Dear Debating ML@H,
I’m not very keen on deliberate decisions to use particular languages. I feel that parents need to speak to children in the way they feel most comfortable, and that the choice of language should come from a natural need to speak it rather than a planned decision. I’ve also never understood how OPOL works: what do you speak when you are all together? or with other people?
You are right to think, though, that in an English-speaking country, it is German that will be hardest to maintain. A lot will depend on how much exposure your child will have to German: will there be more time with the German or the English-speaking parent? day care or nursery school? Is there any chance of meeting other children who speak German? Will there be Skypeing with friends and relatives who speak German? You can be active in keeping your child’s exposure to German high, without changing the way you use language in your own family.
Certainly the English-speaking parent could mix in a bit more German, and perhaps (if this is something you would normally do) use some German as well as English with the German-speaking parent, but it would surely seem very odd to the English-speaker (and to the child) to completely switch to another language.
~ Dr. Gupta