The moment you think you figured it all out and your multilingual family found the right balance between the languages for your one and only child, you realize the baby #2 is on the way. And everything you planned so perfectly may go the way you were not expecting! Every parent with 2+ kids would tell you that dealing with two kids is much more complex, it's not really 1+1... So, the main question you never really thought of before: What language would the siblings speak to each other?
If your first child is old enough, your "job" is relatively easy. Just talk to him and try to convince that the minority language should be spoken among the kids. However, if your second child comes to this world in a rush ( as in my case, the children have less then 2 years difference between each other), you can not really request the older child speak a certain language. Well... you could ask him, you could beg him, but your older child is still working on his own language development so all bets are off and noting can be guaranteed. So, what happens then?
What could determine a choice of the language multilingual siblings speak to each other?
No matter what you do, it would be your older child's call. I think there is a higher possibility for an older child to prefer speaking the minority language to the younger one, if more of the following points are true:
- a child speaks the minority language well enough to communicate with a baby;
- a child has a rich vocabulary in the minority language (doing different kind of activities with your child and reading aloud books on different topics helps a lot in expanding the vocabulary). Read my post on How to read to a baby? and Bilingual child: When to start reading?
- child communication is always in the minority language (even in public). Remember that you can provide a translation or outline of your conversation
- the minority language speaker is the main caregiver and spends most of the time with the children.
- a child had a possibility to use the language on
regular basis with the minority language speakers besides parents ( via Skype, phone,
travel to the country, visits of relatives or friends, minority language
speaking nanny …)
- the family follows minority language at home strategy (ML@H) . Read more about different Languages strategies.
- the initial communication between children starts in the minority language environment or with the active participation of the minority language speaking parent/caregiver; thus setting the language for the future communications.
I hope this will help parents expecting a second baby. In any case, I do not think it is bad, if kids decide to use a different language to speak to each other as long as they keep speaking the minority language with the parent.
If your children speak minority language to each other, please share your thoughts with us. What helped your children to settle on speaking that language? What did you do to support them in making this choice?
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