Sharon: Welkom bij Kletsheads, de podcast over meertalige kinderen. Mijn naam is Sharon Unsworth, taalwetenschapper aan de Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen en moeder van twee meertalige kinderen. Toen ik in verwachting was van onze eerste kind, werden mijn man en ik geconfronteerd met de vraag welke taal we gingen gebruiken toen de baby er eenmaal was. Zelfs al ben zowel ik als mijn man taalkundige, het kostte ons toch enige tijd om te beslissen wat we zouden doen. Het antwoord op deze vraag was misschien verrassend genoeg niet meteen duidelijk. Veel aanstaande ouders worden geconfronteerd met moeilijke keuzes als het gaat om de taal die ze met hun kind willen spreken. Je kunt niet kiezen op wie je verliefd wordt. En hoewel je ten minste één taal gemeen moet hebben om überhaupt verliefd te worden, is het feit dat je beide verschillende moedertaal hebt misschien niet eens iets waar je echt over nadenkt totdat de vraag naar het hebben van een gezin zich aandient. Het verwachten van een baby kan zowel spannend als ontmoedigend zijn. Naast al het lichamelijke gedoe voor de aanstaande moeder, is er nog zoveel te beslissen van het bedenken van wie er wanneer voor de baby gaat zorgen tot het kiezen van de naam. Het is vaak gemakkelijk om de taalkwestie te vergeten. In deze aflevering van Kletsheads praat ik met Eowyn Crisfield over hoe je de soms uitdagende taak voor het plannen voor een meertalige kind kunt aanpakken. Eowyn is expert op het gebied van meertalig onderwijs en opvoeden. Ze komt oorspronkelijk uit Canada, heeft in Nederland gewoond en is onlangs samen met haar man en drie drietalige kinderen naar het Verenigd Koninkrijk verhuisd. Waar ze als docent werkt aan Oxford Brookes University. Ons gesprek vond in het Engels plaats. En ik begon door haar te vragen of het echt noodzakelijk is om al voor de geboorte van je kind te beginnen met plannen als het gaat om zijn of haar meertalige toekomst.
Eowyn Crisfield: If you have a complicated family language situation, the earlier you start planning, the better. Essentially because what you provide for your baby in those first 6 to 12 months are really, really seminal for their language development. And so if there’s a language that’s important to you and you decide not to use it right away, you may be losing one of the best windows you have. Also, I think it’s good to think about it early just because it helps avoid some of the common problems that that people run into along the way. If you know where you’re going, you’re less likely to end up needing help because something went wrong.
Sharon: Yeah, I know. What do you mean by common problems?
Eowyn Crisfield: I think that, you know, parents underestimate how challenging it can be to raise a child bilingually. And so they very often think, well, it’s just as easy if I just speak my language to my child, everything will be fine. And very often it’s not fine. You know, there are issues with language balance and how much input children get and the associated status of the languages that help children decide if they want to use it or not. And even family issues, we always presume that the other parent will be on the same page as us and sometimes that’s just not the case. I met a family in the Netherlands. The mother was from Colombia and the father was from the Netherlands. And her Dutch in-laws were perfectly happy to have a Spanish speaking daughter in law. But we’re quite horrified at the idea of having Spanish speaking grandchildren. And they never talked about it until after the children were born. And it became a really big issue.
Sharon: So talk about it as soon as we can basically
Eowyn Crisfield: Talk about it, talk about it, even better before you’re married.
Sharon: OK, well, we’ll assume baby is on the way or is even already here, I think, for this episode. So I know that you’ve, in your work help families come up with a family language plan. What is that exactly? A family language plan.
Eowyn Crisfield: So a family language plan starts with the idea that you need to set goals for languages to think about what you want your kids to be able to do with them and then to plan for that. So, you know, if you want your child to be able to go to university in a particular language, that isn’t the language of schooling where you live, that takes quite a lot of time and effort to fit into that level. And so the goal setting with both parents, what are the languages in our family? What are our goals? Is that a communicative goal or a literacy goal? helps you decide then how much input the children need in those languages, what kind of input they need? Do they need to learn to read and write? And if they do, and that doesn’t happen at school, how and when is that going to happen? And so a family language plan, it is a flexible document. But essentially, you start with where we’d like to end up with our kids and then you make sure that what you’re doing along the way has a good chance of getting you there. I mean, with lots of families who, you know, their children are twelve or thirteen or fourteen and have no literacy in one of their languages and they have to go back to their home country where hat language is used. And that’s a really bad position to be in. And so it’s kind of about forward thinking and then adjusting as you go, as your life changes.
Sharon: You know, many of our listeners already have bilingual children. Is it too late to come up with their family language plan?
Eowyn Crisfield: I think it’s never too late to make a family language plan. But what you could end up planning for will be different the later you start. And so trying to go back and fix things that have already been done is much more difficult than setting off on the path that you intend to get to at the beginning.
Sharon: Right. And presumably this is really something that everybody should be talking about in the family. It’s not just the person who speaks the other language, as it were.
Eowyn Crisfield: No, certainly not. A family language plan is a collaborative document between both parents and both parents have to be aware of and having conversations with other people who are involved in their family language plan and also with children who are also involved in the family language plan.
Sharon: Right. So as you get older, as the kids get older, then you should be talking to them about, like, really talking about their bilingualism.
Eowyn Crisfield: Absolutely. And I say get older. I mean, by the time they’re two, you should be talking about it at an age appropriate level. You know, the conversation will change as the children get older. But having that family language discussion going from the beginning means that the children aren’t taken by surprise.
Sharon: How do you talk to a two-year-old about being bilingual?
Eowyn Crisfield: I think actually parents tend to do that naturally already really well, when, you know, when the baby or the small child uses the word in the other parents languages say, oh, that’s daddy’s word for cheese, what’s mommy’s word for cheese? And that’s the beginning of your family language discussion. We tend to stop talking about it as they get older because we presume that they just know they have two languages or three or four and that that’s the reality. But the older they get, the more important it gets to engage them in conversations about why they have multiple languages and what’s the importance of them, and particularly why one parent speaks the other parents language, but not the reverse. You know, those kinds of situations, the more you talk about them, the less the children infer for themselves what they think is going on in their family.
Sharon: Als jij een andere taal spreek dan je partner en je wilt graag dat je kind meertalig opgroeit, is het dus belangrijk om het hier zo vroeg mogelijk over te hebben. Maak samen met je partner een ‘family language plan’, een plan voor de talen in je gezin. Bedenk welke doelen jullie hebben met de talen van je kind en wat jij en je kind nodig hebben om die doelen te bereiken. Het family language plan is iets waar iedereen in het gezin samen aan zou moeten werken, dus ook de kinderen als ze ouder worden. Het is ook iets dynamisch, dus ze kunnen een zullen hier dingen in veranderen. Meer hierover later.
Sharon: Having a family language plan is then really one of the things that will help you raise bilingual children successfully. On your blog, which I love, by the way, onraisingbilingualchildren.com, will put the link in the shownotes. So you write, one of the most popular workshops for parents is called Raising Bilingual Children Six Building Blocks for Success. So maybe you can tell us a bit more about these building blocks.
Eowyn Crisfield: So we’ve already talked about a couple of them in passing. The first is to know some theory. And I think that that is something parents underestimate how much they might need to know about bilingualism to get there successfully. And you referenced it yourself as a linguist, married to another linguist. You weren’t even sure what you should do. And I think parents often go in thinking that intuition is enough or that they’ll figure it out when they get there or if they have a problem, they’ll decide. But the more you know about what you’re doing, the better you can make a plan. The second step is to set your goals for your children, and the third is to make your plan. And again, the plan is a dynamic document. You may not and probably will not stick with your first plan, but as your life changes, as your goals change, your plan has to change too. The fourth is to talk to your children, to have those family language conversations on an age appropriate level, but ongoing. The fifth is to talk to other key people in your lives. I like to say that the parents are the architect of the family language plan, but there are lots of other people involved and help building children’s bilingual ability. And they need to know what their job is. They need to know that for the grandparents, please don’t use any English with them. You are the only Portuguese they get or you know, if you hire a babysitter and you want them to pass on a language, be clear with them, this is part of your job. And so those kinds of discussions are really important. And the sixth step is to know when to get help. And that’s really about if you understand the principles of bilingual development, you know that being bilingual doesn’t cause the speech and language delay and doesn’t cause special educational needs. So if you’re concerned about your child or if someone else is saying, oh, they’re delayed because they’re bilingual, you need to know how to find the right professional help. You know who will consider their child from a bilingual perspective rather than from a monolingual.
Sharon: De zes bouwstenen van succes, waar over Eowyn het over heeft zijn: Nummer één, zorg ervoor dat je iets weet over de theorie over meertalig opvoeden. Ze legt zometeen uit wat ze hiermee bedoelt. Het is veel minder eng of ingewikkeld dan het misschien klinkt. Nummer twee, stel doelen voor je kind. Nummer drie, maak een plan. Nummer vier, praat met je kinderen hier over. Nummer vijf, praat ook met andere sleutelfiguren in het leven van je kind, zoals grootouders, leerkrachten of de oppas over wat zij kunnen bijdragen, en zes weet wanneer je hulp nodig hebt. Eowyn had het net over hoe belangrijk het is dat je met iemand praat als je denkt dat je kind mogelijk taalproblemen heeft, dat die persoon ook verstand van meertaligheid zou moeten hebben. Wil je meer hierover weten, luistert dan naar aflevering vier van Kletsheads. We gaan nu verder met Eowyn.
Sharon: So you just want to go right back to the first step. I think some people might be a bit scared by the idea of knowing something about the theory. Can you say a bit more about what exactly you mean by that?
Eowyn Crisfield: I think that it’s just about, you know, knowing the basic principles, knowing that children can become successfully bilingual in all kinds of circumstances, knowing that being bilingual doesn’t cause children to start speaking later. That’s one of the biggest myths out there. And you don’t have to invest in a whole library of books about bilingualism. There’s a lot of good available information online. There’s a lot of bad available information online as well. So if you’re looking online, you have to look at what the source is. There are some really good basic books. I always refer to Colin Baker’s A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism because it’s question-answer. You don’t have to commit to reading the whole book. Families never come to me because it’s going well. So I read all the families who are looking for help because they’re not getting where they want to be. A lot of the time it’s because somebody has given them bad information and bad advice and they believe them. And so they did things that have led to an unsuccessful bilingual situation. It’s an unfortunate fact that pediatricians, child nurses, daycare workers, primary school teachers, speech and language therapists, none of them have standard training on bilingual development. And so parents need to have some conviction that what they’re doing is OK so that they don’t take somebody else’s bad advice and end up with children who aren’t linguistically where they want them to be.
Sharon: Right. Know at least the basics?
Eowyn Crisfield: Know at least the basics. So when the consultative process to three languages is too many, you can say with conviction, actually, no, it’s not. And this is why.
Sharon: OK, so now we’re going to listen to our Kletshead van de Week.
Kletshead van de Week
Sharon: Elke week vertelt een meertalig kind hoe het is om met twee of meer talen op te groeien.
Ayaan: Mijn naam is Ayaan. Ik ben 7 jaar oud en ik spreek Egyptisch.
Sharon: Egyptisch, en Nederlands hoor ik?
Sharon: Hoe is dat om twee talen in je hoofd te hebben?
Sharon: Leuk en wat is daar zo leuk aan?
Ayaan: Dan kun je met sommige mensen iets anders praten en dan kan je met andere mensen ook iets anders praten.
Sharon: Zijn er soms minder leuke dingen daar aan?
Sharon: En met wie spreek je Egyptisch?
Ayaan: Met mijn moeder en mijn grote broer.
Sharon: Is dat je zus die ik daar zie lopen? Welke taal spreek je met je zus?
Ayaan: Ook Egyptisch.
Sharon: Ik kan geen Egyptisch. Wil je mij een woord leren? Verzin een moeilijk woord. Wat kan ik zeggen?
Ayaan: Ana behibak.
Sharon: Hibbik, wat betekent dat?
Ayaan: Ik hou van jou.
Sharon: Nou, dat vind ik een heel erg leuk iets te leren. Nou, dat ga ik onthouden voor als ik mensen ontmoet. Stel dat je ouder wordt en dat je mama wordt, welke taal ga jij spreken tegen je kinderen?
Sharon: Vind je dat belangrijk, dat zij dat ook leren?
Ayaan: Dan kan ik daarnaartoe en kan ik dan Egyptisch praten, want als ik naar Egypte ga en dan praat ik Nederlands dan verstaan ze mij niet.
Sharon: Ja, dat kan ik me voorstellen. En hoe zeg je dankjewel en tot ziens in Egyptisch?
Sharon: Shukran. Is dat dankjewel? En wat is doei?
Ayaan: Ma’is salaama.
Sharon: Ma’is salaama? Shukran en ma’is salaama.
Sharon: We’ve spoken already, Eowyn, about the six building blocks for success, so how to raise a bilingual child more generally. Perhaps we can talk a bit more about advice you might give in particular situations that parents are faced with as they think about how they’re going to tackle this issue. For example, if you have you know, one parent speaks a language, let’s say, other than Dutch, say Spanish. The Dutch-speaking parent, also speaks Spanish, but not as a native speaker, what would you recommend? Would you always recommend sticking to your native language?
Eowyn Crisfield: No, not necessarily. I think that actually one of the kind of the biggest misleading bits of information on the Internet is that one parent, one language or the OPOL-approach is the best way for success. And so a family like that would automatically think, oh, well, one parent, one language, and our child will be bilingual, Dutch and Spanish. But in fact, it’s really about the amount of input that children get in each of their languages. And so a child with a Dutch parent going to Dutch ‘crèche’, Dutch school and having Dutch family living in the Netherlands, with one parent speaking Spanish, doesn’t have a very good chance of fully developing in Spanish. Whereas if the other parent commits to using Spanish as well, they’ll get a lot more input in Spanish. And so I think if the non-native speaking parent is comfortable with it, at least carving out certain times of day or certain days of the week when everybody uses the minority language together. It gives the children a much better chance for success.
Sharon: Right. So that’s actually what we decided to do in our family. So my husband decided of his own accord, not everybody believes that, but of his own accord, he decided he would speak English to our children. He felt that he could do that quite comfortably. And I can really see that that has helped because they still speak English to each other. They enjoy speaking English. Sometimes when I tell people about this, I get a bit of a, you know, raised eyebrow, like, really, you’re having a non-native speaker speak in their language to a child where, you know, when you talk to non-native species of Dutch, we often say as experts don’t speak Dutch to your children if you’re not a non-native speaker.
Eowyn Crisfield: It’s not about the native/non-native paradigm. It’s about comfort and fluency, and it’s also about the situation. And so if you are comfortable, like I spoke to my kids of French, I’m not a native French speaker, but I happen to be a fluent French speaker, and I really wanted them to have that. But I needed to be sure that my French was comfortable enough to do that and that it does take quite a high level to be able to have a conversation with a two-year-old in a language that you’re not native in. It is fine to have a conversation with a nine-year-old is different and with a 16-year-old. And so you have to think about, you know, as your kids grow up, as your level of language, going to be able to meet them. The other issue with not telling parents to speak Dutch to their kids, for example, in the Netherlands, is because very often that advice is given as a way to prioritize Dutch and to sideline a minority language. And so it’s also about, again, always, always goes back to input. If you speaking Dutch with your children means they don’t get enough input in English, then that’s not the right thing to do. Your husband speaking English to your kids does not mean they’re not going to get enough input in Dutch. So it’s a fine thing to do. And so it’s more complex than just the native speaker/non-native speaker question. It’s also always back to are they going to get enough input to meet the goals that you set for them and how are you going to get there?
Sharon: In deze nieuwe rubriek horen we van een ouder, leerkracht of logopedist over hun ervaringen met meertalige kinderen. We beginnen met het inspirerende verhaal van Dessu, vader van vier meertalige kinderen met vier verschillende talen in de mix. Klinkt ingewikkeld, nadat je Dessu hebt geluisterd, zul je denken dat het de normaalste zaak van de wereld is. Net zoals Ayaan, onze Kletshead van de Week, is ons gesprek opgenomen op het Kletskoppen kindertaalfestival hier in Nijmegen, vandaar de achtergrondgeluiden.
Dessu: I am Dessu. I was born in Ethiopia and I came to the Netherlands thirteen years ago to study.
Sharon: Yeah. And I see you’ve got a little boy or a girl.
Dessu: a boy.
Sharon: A boy. And which language do you speak to your little boy?
Dessu:I speak to him in Amharic. This is my mother tongue from Ethiopia. Yeah. And his mama speaks to him in Italian.
Sharon: In Italian?
Dessu: Yeah. She is half Italian, and half Croatian.
Sharon: Oh wow. So, so hears Italian from you and Amharic from you. And which language do you speak to each other?
Dessu: We speak English to each other. And he has two brothers, half-brothers. They speak also Dutch, so they speak to him in Dutch. One of them speak to him in Dutch, the other one speak to him in Italian, and he hear us also talking in English. So he’s exposed for four languages.
Sharon: And how old is he? He’s quite young, right?
Dessu: He’s two years and four months. You know, it’s amazing. He can switch quickly. When he speaks to me, he uses my mother tongue. And when he speaks to Nelly, Italian. With his brothers, Dutch or Italian, depending on the situation.
Sharon: How does that feel for you to see that?
Dessu: I’m amazed, yeah.
Sharon: And surprised?
Dessu: Yeah and I’m happy. I was exposed, you know, to a number of languages, not only languages, but also cultures.
Sharon: Yeah. So you see, so for you, it’s not just being able to speak the language. It’s also the culture as well.
Sharon: Yeah. What kind of things do you think about when you think about exposing them to their culture?
Dessu: Yeah, for me, especially. With Nelly, we decided to speak our own mother tongue to the children, because we understood getting emotionally connected is more important than teaching them the grammar or the vocabulary of the language, right. So that was essential that we speak to them our mother tongues.
Sharon: Yeah, and do you understand Italian?
Dessu: Yes, I do.
Sharon: And so does your partner understand Amharic?
Sharon: And so do you ever find that a problem? Because a lot of parents ask me about this situation, right, where they don’t necessarily understand each other’s language that well and they are worried that somebody will feel left out. Is that something that you experience?
Dessu: I think it’s your expectation. So first, we understood we have very diverse background and we cannot pick up everything at the time. And we were open enough to learn and we and we understood also it takes time. And I don’t really speak Italian, but now I understand what the conversation is about. And Nelly is also picking up very fast. She’s much better in languages than me.
Sharon: So, it’s kind of part of the deal?
Dessu: Yes, yes. Yes.
Sharon: And what do you worry about your children in terms of their languages? Is there anything that worries you about them being multilingual?
Speaker 1: No, it’s an opportunity. Yeah, they will understand the culture and the perspective of different societies. I think that’s a blessing.
Sharon: Yeah, I agree completely. And what do you hope for them, when he’s 20? What languages does he speak?
Dessu: I don’t know. Maybe, my feeling is I don’t care about that much because it is his choice. Yeah, but I think he will have a big heart and he will have the understanding of many cultures, many people perspectives. And I think he will serve as a bridge/preach for society.
Sharon: Really? Thank you ever so much. It’s been a lovely conversation.
Sharon: In de situatie, zoals die van Dessu, spreken beide ouders verschillende talen met de kinderen, en onderling een derde taal, vaak het Engels. Dit soort situatie komt veel vaker voor dan je misschien zou denken. Ik vroeg aan Eowyn wat voor advies zij aan ouders geeft in zulke gevallen.
Eowyn Crisfield: I’ve worked with many, many, many, many families like that, especially in the Netherlands. It tends to be the most common paradigm of bilingual families, in the expat community certainly. And there is no one right answer. Some families feel very strongly that they need to have a common language between the parents and with the children, and so they will prioritize English even when the kids are young, even though it’s not a part of the family background. Other parents are happier to accept a kind of dynamic, multilingual conversations when the kids are young, where the dad speaks in Russian to them and they say something to the mum in Portuguese and the mum says something back in Portuguese, and then the mum says something to them English, and that can work. And it does work if the family’s comfortable with it. And so it’s really, again, about goal setting. What do you want for each of your languages? Kind of ballpark how much input is going to be required to get there? And is there space then for introducing English in other ways? And so a lot of times, you know, the expat families in the Netherlands who are like that would choose for English language ‘crèche’ or playschool because that was a way for their child to get English and still have the input in each of the parental languages. And so, again, it’s about the planning aspect. It’s not just the parents. You have other times in the day when the kids are with other people who can be tasked to develop a third language or a fourth, that doesn’t then impinge on the parents using their own languages at home.
Sharon: So you talk about reason bilingual children as both a gift and a responsibility? What do you mean by that?
Eowyn Crisfield: Well, I think that, you know, for any child, the ability to have two, three or four languages from a young age is really beneficial on many levels. We know that it’s beneficial linguistically. We know that there’s a growing body of research that says beneficial socially. The the jury’s out on cognitively, but there are lots of reasons why it’s good or better for children to be raised with more than one language. But it’s a responsibility to get it right, because I have met, over my time doing this, families with children who didn’t have a language that they could use properly simply because the planning hadn’t happened. And the parents have jumped around between languages and countries so much that the child never had a chance to develop fully in any language. And so those are children who are kind of academically compromised. And so I think that the responsibility of the parents is if you’ve made the decision to raise your child bilingual, either like you did by accidentally marrying someone who speaks another language or by putting them in another language schooling. Your responsibility is to do your best to get it right.
Sharon: Right. And you’ve been doing this for many years now right? So I think about 15 years or so working with many different organisations, schools, families, all around the world, would you say that the advice you’ve given has changed over the years?
Eowyn Crisfield: Definitely. Definitely. I mean, certainly very early on, we were still quite convinced about the cognitive benefits of being bilingual. And that was always a big selling point for the parents. You know, my child, their executive function will be better or their decision making ability will be better. And I think there’s been a recent renewal of interest in other aspects of the cognitive benefits debate that shows us that actually we don’t know those things for sure. And so in parent sessions now, I don’t even really mention them except to say if you’re hoping to make your child smarter, that’s probably not the case. And so that’s changed. I think my advice about language mixing has changed. I think we’ve come from a position where we used to say you should only ever speak your language with your child or it will confuse them to realizing that actually it’s not confusing for children to hear more than one language from the same person. And I think even way back in the beyond, when I was first doing this, there used to be kind of a common understanding that bilingual children, you know, commonly started to talk later than monolingual children. And we know now that that’s not the case. And so, as you know, as a researcher, I think that it’s up to me to make sure that I’m keeping up with research in the field to make sure that the advice that I give people is to the best of our knowledge right now and not based on something that I read 10 years ago.
Sharon: Right, exactly. And also the same time acknowledging that as science progresses, then what we know about bilingualism changes. And so our advice might change.
Eowyn Crisfield: Absolutely right. Definitely.
Sharon: I’ve got one last question for you. So as a parent, do you always follow the advice that you give others?
Eowyn Crisfield: No, I and I talk about this in my parent sessions as well. And I think one of the reasons that that session is as popular as it is, is because it it’s my knowledge as a researcher, but also my understanding as somebody who’s been trying for 17 years to raise three children with three languages. And what I’ve learned along the way, I wasn’t consistent enough with my twins when they were little in French simply because everybody around them was speaking Dutch or English. And, well, when you have twins, you’re not consistent with much. And so they didn’t get enough of that early input, I think, to feel as comfortable with the language as my older daughter did. A lot of the things that I tell parents to do are what is best practice. Tempered by what I know about this reality, growing multilingual families and the complexities that come with that right.
Sharon Is there anything that you wish you’d done differently?
Eowyn Crisfield: Oh boy, I do wish I’d been more consistent in my use of French with my twins. They struggle with me using French with them now just because it’s not as natural for them. And so if I could turn the clock back and pay more attention to that, I probably would. But at the time, with so much going on with three young kids and no family and nobody else speaking French around, it was a fairly easy thing to let go of. And we also made different educational decisions for them. My older daughter went to the French school almost to the end of primary. And so she is also, you know, beautifully balanced for what that means, bilingual. But the school that they were at, I knew would not be a good fit for my twins educationally. And so I moved them to an English language school after three years in French. It was the right choice for them in terms of so many other things. And so I think sometimes as parents, we need to recognize that our children’s bilingualism isn’t the only thing that we’re planning for. It’s one of the things. And that if there’s a conflict between their well-being and their languages, we need to look at that critically and make the right decision for the child rather than for our own personal aspirations for them in terms of language.
Sharon: Wil je meer weten over Kletsheads? Ga dan naar http://www.kletsheadspodcast.nl.Daar vind je ook meer informatie over deze aflevering. Wil je geen aflevering missen? Abonneer je dan op Kletsheads via je favoriete podcast app. Bedankt voor het luisteren. Graag tot de volgende keer.
Dit transcript is gecreëerd met behulp van amberscript.com en gecheckt door Aniek Ebbinge.