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.
Adam Beck is the founder of Bilingual Monkeys and The Bilingual Zoo, and the author of the popular book Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability amzn.to/22XKuCt and the humorous novel How I Lost My Ear amzn.to/2EsjVRS, both available worldwide. Please support The Bilingual Zoo through Adam's Patreon page www.patreon.com/bilingualmonkeys.
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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Caro C.: OMG I just came across this song and it filled my heart with joy and excitement...perfect for all of us who are parents: youtu.be/g1fcnhB8GOY
May 19, 2019 14:01:55 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Caro, thanks for sharing that lovely song. Raffi was one of our very favorite musicians when my kids were small. We listened to him all the time. I highly recommend his albums as a source of very enjoyable and very effective English input.
May 20, 2019 15:32:26 GMT 9
Mayken: My daughter is on a field trip this week and I feel like I've lost my main purpose
May 20, 2019 20:03:33 GMT 9
Raquel: That's cute, Mayken. I hope you enjoyed all that extra free time.
May 29, 2019 18:17:39 GMT 9
SheilaC: I am concern about our upcoming big change to Public school with all English teaching and minimal Spanish. We have been lucky until now with Spanish speaking Nanny and Spanish immersion preschool. We are doing 2-day per week with Spanish after school.
May 31, 2019 10:51:49 GMT 9
Amy: @sheilac, I suggest you create an actual thread on the "Questions & Concerns" board, so fellow Zoo Keepers can help you with your concerns. 256 characters is too little to discuss something that is so important to your heart
Jun 2, 2019 23:44:41 GMT 9
Mayken: Adam Beck, thanks for that very interesting and timely post - it justifies the large order for ml books and DVDs I'm about to place in view of my daughters upcoming birthday!
Jun 3, 2019 23:46:00 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Great to hear this, Mayken! And happy birthday to both yours and mine! (They have the same birthday, don't they?) And if anyone missed that post, here's the link once more...
Jun 4, 2019 8:03:42 GMT 9