Through many years of blood, sweat, and tears, we seem to have finally managed to set our eldest daughter (5 years old) on her trilingual journey (English, Spanish, and French). But to this day, she still claims that French -our ML- is her favourite language, which I confess makes me feel a bit sad. And this makes me wonder, do you have a preference for your ML -Japanese- or your ml - English? If so, what is the reason behind this preference? I'm always very curious to know what other bilingual children feel...
Amy, I think this is an interesting question. In fact, I was so curious to see how my kids feel about their languages that I tried to tease out more detailed responses by making a little questionnaire for them to complete (in English). Here's what they wrote. (Note: Lulu will be 14 next month while Roy is 11. Our majority language is Japanese and our minority languages are English and, to a much lesser extent, Spanish.)
1. At what times do you feel you "prefer" Japanese?
Lulu: When I go somewhere with my friends. My friends from school don't really speak English.
Roy: When I speak to Japanese people. Also, when I speak Japanese in front of people from other countries. [He said this makes him feel proud of his ability in Japanese.]
2. At what times do you feel you "prefer" English?
Lulu: When I listen to my favorite songs and I can sing along. [She favors pop music in English much more than pop music in Japanese.] And when people ask me for my help with English stuff. [Again, like Roy, this makes her feel proud of her language ability.]
Roy: Like the first question, when I'm speaking to people who speak English. And when I speak English in front of Japanese people who don't speak it. [Another boost for his self-esteem!)
3. Overall, do you feel that one of your languages is your "favorite"?
Lulu: I think it depends on where you live. So right now I can't really choose but maybe Japanese because I live here and I have to communicate in Japanese.
Roy: I like all my languages because I think they're all cool.
4. If you could keep only one of your languages--which means that you would lose the other one completely and forever--which language would you choose to keep? Why? And how would you feel about losing the other language?
Lulu: I would keep English because it's used all over the world and you can communicate easily. But then I would want to move to America. It would be hard to communicate in Japan.
Roy: English or Spanish because people in a lot of countries can speak them. But I would be sad because Japanese is Mommy's language.
My sense, then, is that their feelings about "preference" are situational--these feelings depend on the specific context of use--and not really on "liking" one language more than another.
So my best advice for considering this question with your own kids, particularly when they're small, is...ignore it entirely. Whether or not they claim to have a "favorite" language, it really makes no difference to the process of nurturing their language development...and, as you suggest, can feel disappointing or dispiriting if they say the majority language is their "favorite." But the truth is--and I think my children's responses have highlighted this point: Once a child has developed active ability in more than one language, his or her "preference" for a certain language is largely situational.
Adam Beck is the author of the popular nonfiction books "Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability" and "I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL!" (illustrated by Pavel Goldaev) as well as the award-winning humorous novel "How I Lost My Ear" (illustrated by Simon Farrow).
Thank you for taking the trouble to answer my question in detail! Yes it is logical to appreciate the use of the language in given situations, I guess I feel the same about my own abilities too. And it does give me the hope that my daughter will come to the same conclusions as you when she grows a little.
Adam, you are absolutely right about ignoring my daughter's comment, she is young and not mature enough yet to have a lifelong preference. But as you know, we bilingual parents can take things a bit more to heart and be a bit too sensitive. I guess the growing of a thick skin also applies to growing it against our own kids' comments too!
I was very surprised when they both chose to keep English (or Spanish) and not Japanese, when living in Japan and having a Japanese-speaking mom and friends. They both seem very practical and mature. I loved their explanations on the why.
Marisa: "Victory moment:" My almost 4-year-old daughter told me yesterday in the ml (rough translation): "mom, there's something wrong with the cartoons, can you fix it, please?"... she was accidentally watching TV in the ML! So I gladly obliged
Jan 18, 2020 4:15:02 GMT 9
Amy: Awww bless her, Marisa!!! That was so cute!! <3
Jan 18, 2020 5:25:44 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Marisa, give that little minority language lover a big hug from me!
Jan 18, 2020 8:04:49 GMT 9
Mayken: We're at Harry Potter Book Night at the English bookshop in Paris. The activities are all in French but my daughter teamed up for the treasure hunt with a girl who also speaks ouf ml German!
Feb 8, 2020 3:50:49 GMT 9
Amy: Was stunned to hear eldest had an anglophone (ml) accent when she began to read in the ML this afternoon!! Didn't last more than a paragraph until her brain switched language, but chuffed mum here!!
Mar 7, 2020 23:05:49 GMT 9
Mayken: My daughter found the secret stash of ml books I'd bought at the closure sale of the ml book store two months ago and hidden away for later. Guess it's a good time for new books now, right?
Mar 18, 2020 5:29:38 GMT 9
Caro C.: My baby (16mo) perfectly knows what "hi5" means and readily shows her hand even when we are not showing our hand first. It feels like the first minor blossom of the bilingual seed.
Jun 1, 2020 13:05:36 GMT 9