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.
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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.
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Adam Beck: Nice, Caro! Give her a high-five from me! And I look forward to hearing about many more happy developments to come!
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Najwa: My eldest sings and verbalizes his figures/cars stories in an invented language that has English sounds and Italian accent. Is it his way to disconnect from his multilingual world?
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Adam Beck: Najwa, it's hard to respond to your question without knowing the full details of the situation. I suggest starting a thread at a suitable board and offering as much information about these circumstances as you can.
Dec 1, 2020 20:54:20 GMT 9