This morning, feeling a bit boosted by a few comments on my blog, I went searching for further guidance regarding my last post about Kaya's English usage and my response patterns. Strangely enough, the page that I opened to contained a chart detailing Parents' Response Strategies.
Ask and you shall receive.
My last post was so emotional...not that that's bad (or even good). It just is. But I thought I would balance it out and follow it up with a more "educational" angle, sharing with those who might be interested in what the 'experts' have to say.
First of all, I find great relief in this phrase: "Given the odds mentioned above of children becoming active and balanced bilinguals, it clearly takes some ingenuity to create a bilingual atmosphere that can compete with a global language or with the local majority languages."
I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees it as competition at times. Kaya gets SO much English input, and I have to bust my butt to try to balance it out. I actually just did a layout of her weekly language exposure, and as it turns out, she gets about 28hrs during an average week, or about 36%, of primarily German. At least 26 of her 77 waking hours are spent in primarily dual exposure, where both Geoff and I are present, interacting with her in both English and German. And the remaining 25 or so hours are with limited or no German exposure whatsoever. According to some researchers, children must spend 30% or more of their time in the minority language if they are going to be able to use it, as opposed to just understand it (active vs. passive bilingualism). Other researchers say that 20% is the cut-off for becoming actively bilingual. There are so many factors at play (50% is genetics!), it makes sense that they verdict is still out. For us, too...I wonder what constitutes "interaction". There are many days when, during my "primarily German time" with Kaya, I have an English-speaking friend over, interacting with both of us in English. There are other moments, as well, where we're out in the community, and she's interacting with English-speakers. So, her German interaction time is definitely somewhere between the 36-20%, certainly closer to 20 or less in some weeks.
Clearly, the point is to offer her as much German interaction as possible. That means getting down on the floor with her to play, or having her help me in the kitchen. It can be so easy (and needed!) to just let her play independently, but I want to remember that it's the interaction that really makes the difference in regards to her acquisition.
What just hit me, in this process of analysis, is that this whole time, throughout so much of this bilingual-child-rearing process, I've been riddled with fear. It's been driving so many of my actions. And it's not the fear itself that comes as a surprise to me, for that's been pretty obvious, but instead, my tendency to push aside the information that may accompany the fear in an attempt to overcome the fear itself. For example, a few weeks ago, I wondered how much German input Kaya has been getting. More accurately, I feared that she wasn't getting enough, that I wasn't giving her enough. At the time, however, in my desire to move beyond my fear, I brushed off any information that I could take from the situation: how much input is Kaya getting? Is it enough? Can I do anything more? If so, what else can I do? In other words, I was throwing out the baby with the bathwater in my rush to be more passionate than fearful. If I can be objective, rather than judgmental, I could be a lot more productive and at peace with it all.
So, the point that I initially sat down to make is this: When a child uses the "wrong" language, there is a spectrum of parental responses that sends a clear message about what is expected. Apparently, studies show that children pick up on these messages, so it's important to know which message you are and are wanting to send. According to Elizabeth Lanza, a pyscholinguist and mother of two bilingual children, there are 5 points on the spectrum of parental responses. Starting from the end where the message is for a monolingual mode (i.e. Kaya and I speak only German with each other) and moving to the end with a tolerance for bilingual mode (Kaya and I move in and out of German and English as we speak to each other):
1. "I don't understand" (said in minority language)
2. "Did you say X" (said in minority language)
3. Repeating child's utterance (in minority language)
4. Moving on (in minority language) with no comment
5. Code-switching to follow the child to the majority language (meaning that I would switch my language, after a few words or phrases and end up speaking English with Kaya)
Finding this spectrum has been really helpful for me. It leaves me feeling validated in how I generally respond to what Kaya says. On Friday, I had myself talked into the idea that it was silly for me to "ask her" constantly, in German, what she'd just said in English. But, according to the spectrum, it sits somewhere between #2 and #3, sending the clear message that my desire is for us to interact in all German. I also appreciate the reminder to "make the request implicitly as much as possible, without interrupting the flow of the conversation" and "if you can redirect the child subtly, so much the better." I knew I didn't like telling Kaya to speak German with me...I appreciate the expert 'slap on the hand', and will avoid this tendency in the future. It does have me wondering about George Saunder's tendency, which we've come to follow as well, to tell the child, in the minority language, "that's what Mama/Dada says". That doesn't seem very implicit...
Tonight, I started to employ #2 on the spectrum: Did you say (x)?, and was impressed with the results. The three of us were in Kaya's room, getting her ready for bed, when she told me she wanted to "read a book" (it's rare that she says "Buch lesen (wesen) anymore...nearly impossible to get her to say it, even when I've reminded her explicitly). So, while we were sitting in the infamous rocker, I asked her, "Hast du 'Buch lesen' gesagt?" [Did you say "Buch lesen"? (read a book)]. She immediately responded with "Ja, Buch wesen" [Yeah, read a book], and reached over to grab a book. I was shocked. I thought I'd try it again when she asked me for her "milk" (a word she usually uses with me in German but lately has been busting out in English, too). "Hast du 'Milch' gesagt", I asked her. [Did you say 'Milch' (milk)?] Once again, she responded with a "Ja, Milch" [Yeah, milk].
So, maybe those experts know a thing or two. Maybe I'll have to keep them in mind when I feel in over my head next time (and yes, as a fellow non-nativer advised, maybe I'll reference us bloggers in more of those moments, too!).
This book that I've been referencing is definitely one of my favorites on the subject, called Raising a Bilingual Child, by Barbara Zurer Pearson, Ph.D. Easy to read and very validating on many fronts. I'll add it to my book list on the right so you can access it later if you wish...