I originally posted this article to my Sitzman ABC blog, but I thought some Sitzblog readers might be interested, too. If you are, check it out:
Language Use in Bilingual Couples and Families
|My wife Angela and I. Or should I say, “Mi esposa Ángela y yo”?
Or even, “Meine Frau Angela und ich”?
As you may know, I’m from the USA, so my native language is English. I’m married to a Costa Rican named Angela, and her native language is obviously Spanish. One question that people ask us a lot is “What language do you speak at home?” The answer is that we alternate between the two languages, but sometimes people are surprised at how infrequently we switch languages: once a year.
That’s right, every August 25th (the way we chose that date is a more complicated story) we change languages. So about two weeks ago, we ended an English year and started a Spanish year. There are some advantages and some disadvantages to this approach.
I’ve heard of some couples or families that switch between languages every month, week, or even every day, but I think that would be a bit too confusing. The way we do it, once you start a new language year, it’s very unlikely that you’ll forget which language you’re supposed to speak. As a result, one person can really work on building up his or her fluency. You can also avoid falling into a “Spanglish” trap wherein you speak a mixture of two languages, which can be confusing for you or some onlookers (or in this case “onlisteners,” I guess).
There are also some disadvantages. In the case of Angela and I, we usually prefer to not speak our native language. In other words, I prefer our Spanish years, and Angela prefers our English years since we both want to practice a language that’s foreign to us. With this approach, one of us has to go for most of a year with little practice in the target language. We do still speak English with my friends and family and Spanish with Angela’s. Also, while living in Costa Rica many daily interactions out of home are in Spanish, but we both speak mostly English at work, so at least there’s always some practice of both languages.
One big question mark for the future is what we’ll do if we have kids. As I noted in my articles about naming customs (USA here and Costa Rica here), we don’t even know what last names our kids would have, and we’re also unsure how to best raise a bilingual child. I’ve heard that it’s best if each parent always speaks his or her native language with the children so the children don’t mix up the two languages. But if we had a kid and it were a Spanish year, for example, it would maybe be weird for me to speak English with the kid and Spanish with Angela, all in the same conversation. I guess we’ll cross that bridge if/when we come to it.
What about you? Are you in a bilingual or multilingual family or relationship? Do you know anyone who is? How do you handle it, or how would you handle it if you were? Wow, we have a great opportunity here to practice conditional tenses!
Thanks for reading, and have a great day!
|We’re still not sure if our kids will prefer Spanish or English, but at least we can
rest assured that they’ll grow up with camouflage skirts and Iron Maiden music.
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