Monday, August 22, 2005

What are we going to speak for dinner ?!

My concern for my son's language development solidified when I started to wonder which one, if any, will become our family language.

At the moment, we decided to apply the "one person, one language" method:
  • I address Milo exclusively in Italian
  • his father speaks to him in Dutch only
  • the nanny speaks to him in French (and this is, at the moment, the language he hears the most, in quantitative terms, being also the language of the environment)
  • he regularly hears English passively, since this is the language his parents use among each other and with several friends

But in a few years, when, let's say, he'll be 3 or 4, which language will we speak once we are all sitting at the dinner table? Are we going to keep on switching according to our interlocutor? Will English eventually take over? Or French?

To give you also a better understanding of the complexity of our situation:

  • I speak fluently Italian, English and French, but I do not understand Dutch
  • Milo's dad, on the contrary is fluent in English, French, Dutch and has a very good understanding of Italian

We spent the weekend in Brussels visiting our friend David, who's Flemish (hence Dutch speaking), married to a Turkish woman; they communicate in French and their 2 1/2 years old daughter is growing up trilingual. Until now, they also have stuck each to his own language, and their girl seems to understand very well all three languages. David seems convinced that none of the three languages will prevail as a family one, and they will keep on switching: a perspective I find fascinating, but also somewhat schizophrenic!


Eddie Lin said...

This is very fascinating. I speak English primarily and my wife speaks English exclusively. I also speak Mandarin Chinese at the level of a five year-old. My Italian is even worse. My French is confined to cursing and ordering alcoholic beverages along with goose liver.

My 16 month old daughter can speak English words and understand Mandarin but can't say any words. She can say her ABCs but stops at "B". We are very proud.

Jack said...

It's an interesting problem.
Maybe you could adopt a new language and learn it together as a family.