Bilingual Siblings Language Use in Families

by Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert

Author Suzanne Barron Hauwaert Isbn File size 28MB Year 2010 Pages 229 Language English File format PDF Category Family and Friendship Taking a different perspective to traditional case studies on one bilingual child this book discusses the whole family and the realities of life with two or more children and languages What do we know about the language patterns of children in a growing and evolving bilingual family Which languages do the siblings prefer to speak to each other Do the facto

Publisher :

Author : Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert

ISBN :

Year : 2010

Language: English

File Size : 28MB

Category : Family and Friendship



PARENTS' AND TEACHERS' GUIDES
Series Editor: Colin Baker, Bangor University, UK

This series provides immediate advice and practical help on topics where parents and teachers
frequently seek answers. Each book is written by one or more experts in a style that is highly
readable, non-technical and comprehensive. No prior knowledge is assumed: a thorough
understanding of a topic is promised after reading the appropriate book.
Full details of all the books in this series and of all our other publications can be found on
http:/ /www.multilingual-matters.com, or by writing to Muftilingual Matters, St Nicholas House,
31-'34 High Street, Bristol BS12AW, UK

PARENTS' AND TEACHERS' GUIDES
Series Editor: Colin Baker, Bangor University, UK

Bilingual Siblings
Language Use in Families
Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert

MULTILINGUAL MATTERS
Bristol • Buffalo • Toronto

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
A catalog record for this book is available from the library of Congress.
Barron-Hauwaert, Suzanne.
Bilingual Siblings: Language Use in Families/Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert
Parents' and Teachers' Guides: 12
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Bilingualism in children. 2. Brothers and sisters. 3. Families-Language. I. Title.
P115.2.B"3682010
404' .2083--dc22 2010041285
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue entry for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN-13: 978-1-84769-327-3 (hbk)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84769-326-6 (pbk)

Multilingual Matters
UK: St Nicholas House, 31-34 High Street, Bristol BS12AW, UK.
USA: UI'P, 2250 Military Road, Tonawanda. NY 14150, USA
Canada: UTP, 5201 Dufferin Street, North York, Ontario M3H STS, Canada
Copyright© 2011 Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert.
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any means
without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Typeset by Techset Composition Ltd., Salisbury, UK
Printed and bound in Great Britain by the MPG Books Group Ltd

Contents

List of Figures. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix
Acknowledgments
xi
Introduction
1
Two or More Children. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Siblings in Bilingual or Multilingual Families ........................... 4
Who this Book is for ................................................. 6
Three Very Different Siblings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Questions on Family Language Use .................................. 10
1

What Do We Know about Bilingual Families?
The Lack of Sibling Sets in Academic Research .........................
Parent Researchers and Diary Data ...................................
Linguists Researching Bilingual Families..............................
Advice for Parents in Books for Bilingual Families
Summary .........................................................

15
16
17
25
30
35

2

The Growing and Evolving Family
Balancing Majority and Minority Language Use
Adapting Family Strategies to the Growing Family .....................
Fine-Tuning Family Language Strategies ..............................
Relocating and Rebalancing Language Use ............................
In Comes the Majority, Out Goes the Minority
Special Situations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The First or Only Child .............................................
Summary .........................................................

38
38
40
43
45
47
48
50
52

v

vi Bilingual Siblings
3

The Sibling Relationship
Our 'Preferred' Language ...........................................
Child-to-Child Language Use
The School Language Effect . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Mixed Language Use ...............................................
Siblings Helping to Maintain a Minority Language .....................
Summary .........................................................

54
54
57
60
66
68
71

4

Age Difference, Family Size and Language Orders ........................
Close-in-Age Siblings
Wider Age Gap between Siblings
Siblings as Teachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Families with Three or More Children . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Siblings with Different Language Orders ..............................
Summary .........................................................

73
74
76
79
83
86
89

5

Gender and Language
91
The Gender Divide. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 92
Girls, Boys and Language. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93
Early-Speaking Bilingual Girls ....................................... 95
Foreign Languages and Gender. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96
The Girl Myth. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97
Summary ........................................................ 101

6

Birth Order: A Child's Position in the Family............................ 104
First-Born, Middle-Born or Last-Born Children
104
The Birth Order Debate ............................................ 106
Birth Order and Language Use within the Bilingual Family............. 109
Vocabulary and Language Use Linked to Birth Order ................... 111
Does Birth Order Make a Difference? .................................116
Summary ........................................................ .118

7

Individual Differences: Same Languages, Different Language Histories.....
The Nature or Nurture Debate ......................................
Language Acquisition .............................................
Different Language Histories. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Language-Gifted Children . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Extrovert Myth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Language Friction
Summary ........................................................

120
121
123
125
128
130
135
138

Contents vii
8

Bilingualism and Twins, Adoption, Single Parents and Step-Families .......
Twins and Language Use
Bilingual Twins ...................................................
Adoption and Bilingualism
International Adoptions
Single Parents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Siblings with Half-Sisters and Brothers
Summary ........................................................

141
142
144
148
150
152
154
156

9

Five Themes on Family Language Patterns
Our 'Preferred' Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Home to School Transition .........................................
A Strategy to Suit the Children
Same Languages, Different Children
Inter-Sibling Language Use
Conclusion

159
159
160
161
162
163
163

Family Profiles

165

Appendix 1 Summary of Strategies ......................................
One-Parent-One-Language (OPOL) .................................
Mixed Language Use: Bilingual and Multilingual .....................
Minority-Language-at-Home (ML®H) ...............................
Lingua Franca ....................................................
Non-Native ......................................................
Time & Place . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

185
185
187
189
190
191
192

Appendix 2 The Online Survey
Location and Nationality ofthe Families .............................
The Parents and their Language Skills . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Sibling Sets
Parent's Opinions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

194
195
196
198
199

Glossary. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Websites and Chat Forums ...............................................
Recommended Books for Bilingual Families. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Index

202
206
208
210
215

List of Figures

2.1
2.2
3.1
3.2
3.3
4.1
4.2
5.1
6.1
6.2
6.3
6.4
6.5
A.2.1
A.2.2
A.2.3
A.2.4
A.2.5

Strategies followed by families ...................................... 40
Establishing bilingualism is easier when you have only one child ........ 51
Sibling's preferred language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
School/home language use ......................................... 64
Minority/majority language choice at home
70
An older child will usually help teach a younger child to speak a
language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
Children speaking the same or different languages
87
A girl will usually be more successful at becoming bilingual
than a boy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98
Is the first-born child likely to be the most successful at
becoming bilingual?
112
Widest vocabulary use . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
Widest vocabulary use in all languages. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114
Most correct language use . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
Most imaginative use of language
115
Location of families ............................................... 195
Time spent in country of residence
196
Year of birth.
198
Sibling sets ...................................................... 199
Gender of children
200

ix

Acknowledgments

I would first like to thank the Multilingual Matters team. I was fortunate to have
Colin Baker as my editor and I am grateful for his insights and clarity. The Grover
family has played an important role too. Tommi Grover guided the book through to
production and Marjukka Grover gave useful feedback on the first draft. For over six
years Sami Grover, editor of The Bilingual Family Newsletter has commissioned my
quarterly column 'Notes from the OPOL Family' where I write about my children
and family life in two languages.
I am very grateful to all the multilingual families who replied so promptly to my
call for data through The Bilingual Family Newsletter and websites around the world.
Thanks to the 25 families who took the extra time to give me more information for a
case study and reply to all my emails and questions. Their replies and comments
formed the basis of the book. Thanks to Sami Grover and Corey Heller from
Multilingual Living magazine (www.multilingualliving.com) who helped me reach a
wide range of international families for the online survey via their readers.
Thanks to all the parents and teachers who have attended my talks on Family
Bilingualism or have joined the Bilingual Support Groups I ran in Kuala Lumpur and
France over the last seven years. Your stories and experiences were important and
have percolated through into this book. Thanks to all my wonderful friends around
the world; Kuala Lumpur's multilingual cooking group, French mamans in Chicago
and my English friends here in France. Your chats over coffee inspired me and I hope
some of my advice helped your families. Thanks to Sharon and June for their proofreading of the first draft.
Closer to home I would like to say merci to Jacques, my French husband, for his
critical support and computer help. Last, but not least, my three amazing children,
xi

xll Bilingual Siblings

Marc, 13, Nina, 11 and Gabriel, 7, who have provided me with working models of
various stages of bilingualism over time. I would like to say thank you to all their
hard-working teachers and assistants over the last 10 years, who have dealt with
various stages of language refusal, mixed language and speech problems.
As this book goes to print we are living in rural France and our three children are
all attending French schools here. My children continue to surprise me with their
ability to use two languages on a daily basis and feel at home in many cultures. It is
with great pride that I see them making friends in both languages, maintaining links
with their grandparents and cousins in two languages and feeling at home in two
very different countries. Bravo!

http://apol{am ily. blogspot. com

Introduction

This book is all about bilingual and multilingual families; the parents, their children
and their choice of languages. The languages a child hears and speaks can be passed
on by a parent, or linked to a place or a country. The emergence of two or more languages is a wonderful thing to witness in a child's world and the languages can be
mixed together or used in separate situations or locations. As children grow up
bilingually, parents can observe how their children fluidly switch from language to
language to communicate with both sides of the family or within the community
where they live. How do parents prepare for the arrival of a child in a bilingual
family or community? Academic studies and books for parents are available to support parents and to guide them through the child's first words and dual language
use. However, studies rarely go beyond the first child starting school and often by
this time a second or third child has joined the family the parents have usually established the way they communicate with their children, and a clear family language
pattern exists. How do siblings fit into this family language pattern? Do all the siblings follow the same language model or do they adapt language use to suit their
own needs? Will one or more child refuse to speak one language? Will two children
living in the same home, with the same parents and language input, grow up with
identical or have different ways of communicating linguistically? Sibling language
use remains a mystery.
We know very little about the dynamics of bilingual children's speech and how
they communicate away from the influence of parents. In this book you will see how
within a bilingual or multilingual family the siblings generally all speak the same
languages, but not always. One child might prefer to use more or less of the mother's
or father's language. One or more children might be more comfortable speaking the

2 Bilingual Siblings
language of the school, or the community where they live. A bilingual family's biggest challenge is to provide enough exposure to each language, to ensure each child
not only hears both languages but has a chance to speak and practice too. This book
explains how siblings communicate in two or more languages, within the bilingual
and multilingual family setting.

TWO OR MORE CHILDREN
Siblings are the brothers and sisters in a family. It is estimated that 80% of children
in the United States or Europe have a sibling. Around 10% of families have five or
more children and about 1% of all births are twins. According to a study released in
2006, the average American family has 2.1 children. In 2008, statistics showed that
European women have an average of 1.5 children, with a birth rate that has been falling for 30 years (except in France and Spain). In general terms, Canada, Western
Europe, Australia, the Baltic States and China have declining birth rates of less than
two children per family. Growing populations of families with three children are
found in North and South Africa, along with some southeastern states in America.
Central Africa and some parts of South-East Asia have rapidly growing birth rates.
Some brothers and sisters have similar personalities and features, while others may
be very different physically or in character. They may have the same parents, or they
may be part of a family which encompasses half-brothers or sisters or step-siblings
from widowed or divorced parents. There are also families who have adopted or
fostered children.
To investigate how children interact with each other we have to look at the work
of child psychologists. This field of research closely observes children's behavior and
their developing relationships with the people around them. Over the last century,
psychologists have investigated the influence of working parents, stay-at-home
mothers, absent fathers, child-minders and early schooling, often with contradictory
findings. Their results and conclusions can be passed on to parents via doctors and
health workers, often in the form of advice or parenting guides or through parenting
magazines or television programs. Recommendations to parents such as being strict
and disciplined, or allowing the child to choose when they sleep or what they eat can
have serious ramifications on sensitive young children. Recent research into children
has focused on the genetic makeup of a child and how genes might affect the personality of the child, for example, whether a child is 'programmed' to be active or passive. There are also developmental psychologists who look at the effect of the
environment, such as the child's home, school or their parent's education and background. The debate over how the mix of a child's inherited character traits, environmental influences and family makeup forms a child's character, is ongoing. One thing
that the psychologists do agree on is that parenting is a gamble, and what works well
with one child may not suit another.
In general, siblings are rather under-researched, compared to the vast amount of
work done on the mother-child relationship and the effect of the peer group on

Introduction 3
children. Interestingly, some children spend more time with their siblings than with
their parents, and a sibling can play the role of surrogate parent, teacher, playmate
or friend. However, a sibling usually has less dominance than a parent because he or
she is closer to the other children in terms of behavior. Siblings can be close and care
deeply about each other, but there can be intense rivalry, competition and jealousy
over people, property or rights, which creates tension at home. Nevertheless, we
must remember that siblings are in a 'non-voluntary' relationship, and usually have
no choice about their parent's decision to have other children. Siblings are unable to
escape each other at home, and may be obliged to share a room, toys or space. To get
the best out of the forced sibling relationship, children must learn how to live and
learn together. Psychologists agree that older siblings typically play the role of a
teacher and are a strong role model for a younger sibling. The younger siblings often
take the role of pupil and look for help or assistance (with games, writing or reading) from older family members. A younger sibling likes to imitate and interact with
their older brother or sister, but can be overly dependent on their brother or sister, to
the exclusion of other children. Siblings can form a very strong emotional attachment with their baby brother or sister, and protect them from danger or harm.
Children learn, through their siblings, how to negotiate and resolve problems and to
see things from another person's perspective. However, they often turn out with
very different characters and personalities. Long-term studies completed by researchers working closely with families conclude that even siblings living together and
sharing the same experiences can turn out as different as two children raised in two
different environments.

Artides died
USA birth statistics:

On WWW at http:/ /www.census.gov/population/www/cen2000/briefs.html.
Accessed 10.3.10.
On WWW atwww.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-12-19-fertility_N.htm
'Fertility rate in USA on upswing' by Haya El Nasser and Paul Overberg. Accessed
10.3.10.
European birth statistics:

On WWW at http:/ I europa.eu/ rapid/ pressReleasesAction.do?reference=
MEMO I 05 I 96&forma t=HTML&aged=O&language=EN &gui Language=en.
Accessed 25.4.08.
'Europe's changing population structure and its impact on relations between the
generations' (2005).
World family birth statistics:

On WWW at http:/ /www.pregnantpause.org/numbers/fertility.htm. Accessed
10.3.10.
'Fertility Rates (Children per Family) World Statistics' (2001).

4 Bilingual Siblings
SIBLINGS IN BILINGUAL OR MULTILINGUAL FAMILIES
What is a bilingual or multilingual family? It is a family where two or more
languages are used regularly. Within the bilingual family there are many different
variations- two parents with different languages, a family living in a second-language
country, a parent using a second language with their children or a family living in a
community or a country which has two languages. When a second child joins a bilingual family; parents are delighted to watch the now fluently bilingual first child teach
the new baby words or songs that they learnt just a few years ago. In many families
the second or subsequent children become as linguistically competent as their big
brothers and sisters and benefit greatly from the child-friendly conversation and rolemodeling the sibling gives. But what happens if the second child does not turn out to
be as fluent in both languages as the first one? What happens when one child refuses
to speak one language, while the other one speaks it fluently? What if one has a perfect accent while the other sounds like a tourist in his own country? How do we react
when we see one child mixing the languages and the other keeping the languages
separate? These are questions asked by parents around the world.
Take the five following real-life examples.
Lise is the fourth child of French-English parents who lived in England. In England
in the 1970s, the French mother wanted to fit in with her new country and life, and
felt uncomfortable speaking French in public. In private, the French mother chatted to her first-born child and passed on her love of French nursery rhymes. But
by the time Lise arrived, the house was full of English-speaking siblings, local
friends visiting to play and a mother who spoke mostly English at home too. Lise
understands French but does not speak it and now regrets never getting the same
input her older sisters and brothers had. Now a mother of four children herself,
Lise is hoping they will have the chance to speak more French than she did, and
they regularly go to France on holiday or to visit French family.
Corinne is a bilingual French mother married to a Scotsman. Their first son, Brice,
went to a local school in Scotland. Although she had always spoken to him in
French, Corinne found that eight-year-old Brice would not speak French, although
he understood it. When the family moved to Malaysia in 2003, they chose an
English-language school for Brice and decided to put their four-year-old daughter,
Chloe, in a French-language preschool. Corinne wanted at least one of her children
to speak French. Chloe loved the French school and made several French friends,
while still maintaining her English through friends from the condo where she lived.
However, after two years of juggling two very different schools, Corinne decided
to transfer Chloe to the British primary school. Meanwhile, Brice had become more
positive toward French. When the family bought a house near their family in France
for summer holidays, Brice found a reason to practice his emerging French. Now
both children have made friends in the village and chat together in French.

Introduction 5
Mazdida is a Malaysian married to a Frenchman with three children, Adam, Pierre
and Camilla. Mazdida spoke in the local Bahasa Malaya dialect of Malaysia; her
husband spoke French, while English was the main language of communication
between the couple. The first son, Adam, flourished, and after English preschool
was transferred to a French primary school where he did very well. When they put
their second son, Pierre, in the French school three years later it was a different story.
Pierre refused to speak French to the French-speaking class teacher. At a parentteacher meeting, the father wondered why his son could not understand French at
school. When the teacher asked them how much French Pierre spoke at home, the
parents realized that they had all started speaking English at home, without noticing. With time alone speaking just French with his Papa, and a month long trip to
France, Pierre improved. Pierre is now able to participate in classes normally.
Elisabeth is a French national living in New York with three children, Thomas,
Heloise and Theodore. Her French husband loves America and wants the kids to
grow up bilingual. When they arrived in New York in 2004, four-year-old Thomas
had already established his French and quickly picked up English in the local kindergarten. However, his two-year-old sister, Heloise, refused to talk at all and
blocked out both languages. When Heloise began to talk it was in English, the
language of the creche where she spent most days, although she understood
French. The father spoke mostly English with the children too, proud that he was
bringing up his children bilingually. In 2006 Thomas started attending a bilingual
French/English primary school and the linguistic balance changed at home, as
Thomas brought French homework and French-speaking friends to play. Heloise
now felt comfortable trying out some French words with her brother. For the first
time, the siblings spoke French together at home.

Raul, an American lawyer in Chicago, of Mexican descent, is proud of his family
heritage. Like many Mexican-American families, he notes that the use of Spanish
is decreasing, to the shame of his family. Chicago has a high Mexican origin population, yet 96% of Chicanos living there prefer to speak English. Raul says that his
older brother only learnt Spanish curse words, while he learnt just enough to pass
at school, and his younger brother did not learn Spanish at all. Even though their
mother pushed them to watch bilingual news stations, the three teenage boys were
not motivated to actually speak Spanish and read or write in the language. Now,
as an adult, he is making an effort to learn his grandparent's language and is
taking courses and looking for ways to practice Spanish in the community.
The siblings in Lise, Corinne, Mazdida, Elisabeth and Raul's families show the different experiences and reactions can have to their linguistic heritage. Each child
arrives in a family with established language patterns and expectations. Over time,
the parents evolve and adapt their original language choices to fit in with changing

6 Bilingual Siblings
circumstances. How do we reconcile our evolving parenting with establishing bilingualism in the family? Do our family strategies change as the family grows? Do we
stop being strict with language use and accept grammatical errors that we never let
the first one make? How does the language of the older child affect the younger one?
Does the older sibling take the role of parent-teacher for one or more languages? Will
an older sibling make fun of a younger child's mistakes? As the children grow up
they make linguistic decisions for themselves that leave the parents feeling powerless
and unable to intervene or choose the language the siblings choose to speak in. These
issues will be considered throughout the book.

WHO THIS BOOK IS FOR
The book is aimed primarily at parents with two or more children living in a bilingual environment. Parents may already be bringing up their children bilingually, or
wondering how they can help improve, encourage or maintain bilingual language
use in their home. The book is also useful for people working directly with bilingual
and multilingual children; teachers, classroom assistants, counselors and speech
therapists. This book brings together the experiences of over a hundred real bilingual
families taken from an online internet survey, detailed case studies from around the
globe and current research on multilingualism. From informal website discussion
groups to organized seminars and workshops, parents wonder how they can facilitate the best language environment within their particular family. The majority of the
important academic research on bilingualism over the last century was carried on
first-borns or only children. Although this research is still valid we need to include
families with two, three or more children. We also need to consider parents who may
or may not be living together, step-parents and step-siblings, and the important
people in the child's world, the teachers, daycare workers, tutors, nannies and
babysitters. All of these people might affect the child's decision to use or refuse to use
a language.
As an independent researcher, I focus on the bilingual family as a whole. As a
parent of three children, I regularly hear bilingual and multilingual concerns, and the
uncertainty of parenting in two languages. Parents can be geographically divided
from whole branches of their families and lack people to talk to in their first language.
Others can struggle to keep their children academically on track in one language
while supporting another language at home or through the community. Some parents are communicating with their children in their second language. There are parents who wonder why their second or third child uses their languages in a different
way and what they can do to help all their children become bilingual. The influence
of siblings on each other has hardly been studied at all and it is time to hear about the
language development of all children and the sibling dynamics that are created
within the family.
The groundwork for our knowledge on how bilingual children develop has been
done over the last hundred years, by respected academic linguists such as Werner

Introduction 7
Leopold, Jules Ronjat, George Saunders, Alvino Fantini, Traute Taeschner and
Stephen Caldas. The majority of these researchers studied their own children at
home, giving a detailed description of home life with two languages. There are also
important studies carried out by independent researchers, comparing children or
looking for wider trends within bilingual families. In Chapter 1, you can read more
about their case studies, and how they have helped us understand more about
how bilingualism works within the family. Throughout the book I will refer to the
academic studies and how they link to family bilingualism.
The book begins with a selection of questions on siblings and multilingualism.
Chapter 1 is all about what we know about bilingual families, with a brief review of
important and relevant academic studies and books on bilingual parenting. Chapter 2
looks at the growing family and the strategies they can employ to suit their language
needs. In Chapters 3 through 7, we discuss factors which may have an influence on
siblings and their consequent language use: sibling relationships, age gaps, family
size, gender, birth order and individual personality differences. These six factors are
linked to bilingualism and language use, with examples from case studies and families who participated in a survey. Chapter 8 discusses families with specific issues,
such as twins, step-children or adopted siblings. Chapter 9 has an overview of the
main five themes.

THREE VERY DIFFERENT SIBLINGS
My children are the inspiration for my research into bilingualism and multilingualism. I am English and my husband, Jacques, is French. Together we generally
speak English. As a teacher of English as a Second Language before starting a family;
I knew how children could progress from beginners to fluent speakers in a short time.
I was sure that for our children bilingualism would be a given certainty. I had many
questions about bilingualism, which led to a Masters course in Education, and a dissertation on trilingual families two years later. In 2001, I began to research language
strategies, based on my personal experiences and those of families around the world
following one parent-one language (OPOL) or other family strategies. The result was
the book Language Strategies for Bilingual Families - The One Parent One Language
Approach (2004). My research showed that bringing up children bilingually is like any
aspect of parenting, and there is no guarantee a child will become bilingual even with
the best of intentions and materials.
Our first son was born in 1997. We had begun like many families with a clear decision to follow the OPOL strategy, which was frequently recommended in parenting
books. Consequently, I only spoke English to Marc and Jacques spoke French.
However, I found OPOL did not always fit our needs, especially when we were with
friends or family who found it strange that we only spoke one language to our child.
At two years and four months, Marc was just beginning to string two words together
when his sister, Nina, was born in 1999 in Zurich, Switzerland. He was looked after
by a Swiss-German child-minder three mornings a week and a French-speaking

8 Bilingual Siblings
babysitter some afternoons. Marc was a quiet child and managed to communicate
well with gestures, smiles and a limited amount of words. Like many older siblings,
his speech regressed with the arrival of the new baby in our home and because we
had less time to talk or read to him directly.
We moved to France when Marc was three years and three months old, and when
he started going to a French preschool (ecole maternelle) he began to talk. Marc's
English was quite good for his age, and he had just enough French to communicate
with his cousins and at school. Around the same time, one-year-old Nina began to
talk, with a mix of French and English that would be her trademark, and for the first
time the two siblings began to play together and chat, both in English and French. A
move to England a year later meant formal English schooling for Marc and Nina.
French faded away within a few months, while Marc and Nina's level of English
skyrocketed as they made local friends and settled into life in England. Nina became
a chatty and articulate little girl at preschool. But her French remained 'baby talk' and
she preferred to speak English rather than not be able to communicate in French
fluently. Even with frequent trips to France and French visitors, Nina made virtually
no progress from the words she had learnt as a toddler. We were concerned when
three-year-old Nina began answering her French father and her French grandparents
in English. Marc had never done that before, and to us it seemed disappointing that
she would reply in the 'wrong' language after all our efforts to cultivate bilingualism
through the OPOL approach.
In reality, the balance had changed within the family and we had not responded to
it. French was no longer the majority language of communication; the only people
who used French were Marc and his Papa. Marc and Nina spoke mainly in English at
home, because the children they played with after school only spoke English. Nina
was bright enough to see that Papa obviously understood English too and there was
no need for her to speak French with him. We had reached an important stage in our
bilingual family. We had the choice of changing to a minority-languag~at-home strategy (where Jacques, Marc and I would only speak French at home). In theory, this
could push Nina to speak French, but would demand me speaking my rather weak
second language with my husband and son. Or we had the choice of returning to live
in France, with French schools and support from the family.
Work intervened in the end when Jacques was posted to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
at the end of 2002. In Malaysia, English is widely spoken and taught at local schools.
However, for religious and cultural reasons, most expatriates choose an international
school for their children. Seeing that French was on the decline and we would be
living far away from the French family we decided to enroll Marc and Nina in the
Lycee Fran~is, a private French-language school in Kuala Lumpur. Marc settled in
quickly, his French language was still operational and he only had a few problems
with pronunciation of unfamiliar sounds when he was reading. On the other hand,
four-year-old Nina was furious to be dropped into the French system and reacted
strongly to having to speak French all day. Marc was there to help her at school in the
first trimester and he would translate words and phrases for her. Returning to school

Introduction 9
after the long summer holidays Nina spontaneously switched to French. Within a
few weeks she found herself two or three French friends and began to play with Marc
in French. Then to our amazement, she started speaking English with a French accent,
presumably to fit in with her French friends. This was something Marc had never
done, and we always took pride in his clear British accent. Nothing could persuade
Nina otherwise and she continued to speak in her own way. But at least both children
were speaking both languages and we were happy with our choice of school.
In 2003, Gabriel joined the family. The four-year age difference between Nina, and
six years between Marc, meant he was more alone with me, since the others were at
school five days a week. By the time he started speaking, we were finally in a relatively balanced French-English household, where his two siblings had established
their bilingualism. The family strategy was moving from the stricter 'OPOL' to a more
'mixed' strategy. Jacques and I had become more relaxed about which language each
person spoke, we allowed Marc and Nina to mix or choose either language, confident
that they would use the right language when they had to (which they usually did).
With two children in the French school, I began speaking more French with teachers
and the other parents, and my level of French dramatically improved. On holiday in
France, I now spoke French with the children in front of my French family and friends
and even to Jacques. We thought that bilingualism was a given. Two out of our three
children had become bilingual, even with a few teething problems. We had managed
to convince the in-laws, the teachers and the doctors that we were on the right track.
So we rested on our laurels and watched Marc and Nina teach Gabriel.
Gabriel was a quick learner and some of his first words were naughty words,
taught by his big brother and sister. He started going to an English language preschool three days a week at age two in Kuala Lumpur. He had two or three Frenchspeaking friends, often brothers or sisters of his siblings' friends. We soon noticed
that Gabriel forced them all to speak English, even if it was just 'yes' or 'no'. Gabriel
also spoke only English with Jacques, but in an even more pronounced way than
Nina, he would not even let Jacques speak French back to him. Jacques succumbed
and replied in English, breaking the golden rule of OPOL that we had so carefully
followed for seven years. A year living in America after we left Malaysia did not help
either. Gabriel was too young to attend the bilingual French-English school his siblings went too and was even more immersed in English. At age three his spoken
French was limited and something had to be done.
In 2007 we came back to live in France and this time Gabriel had a linguistic shock.
Like Nina, he had to readjust and learn to use his father's language at school and
with the family. But curiously he spoke French with an English accent, the reverse of
Nina's French-accented English. As I write this Marc is a teenager, and in college, or
secondary school, and he still clearly separates the two languages and cultures and
sees himself as having two identities. He rarely mixes and has very good accents
in both languages. Marc likes to correct his sibling's language use. Nina continues
to mix the two languages in her own unique way, dropping in French words in
practically every English sentence, and has a cultural leaning toward France more

10 Bilingual Siblings

than England. Nina's French-accented English can be a barrier with her English
friends but she prefers it like that. Marc and Nina talk together in a mix of English
and French, depending on the subject. They both read in either language. Meanwhile
Gabriel, who attends primary school and is learning his first letters and words,
remains the baby of the family. He clearly understands French very well, and is very
communicative, but he continues to have a strange accent and now is seeing a speech
therapist to correct his articulation.
Are our family's language patterns affected by birth-order, gender, personality or
sibling rivalry? Why does Marc make the effort to speak correctly? Is Nina's mixing
just a way to be different from her older brother or linked to her personality? Should
we have spent more time helping Gabriel with his language development? These are
questions I have not yet found the answers to. How could three children with the
same parental languages be so different? I have not scientifically tested or made
detailed or comparative studies on my children, like some of the well-known parentlinguists such as Werner Leopold, Traute Taeschner,Antonio Fantini, George Saunders
and Steven Caldas (see Chapter 1 for more on these studies). I greatly admire their
in-depth longitudinal studies, which shed light on the specific linguistic side of family
interactions and they inform this book. Nevertheless, since my children could speak
I have made brief notes regarding their first words and phrases and their reaction to
starting school or interaction with family and friends. I have written about my children's linguistic milestones, cultural misunderstandings, sibling interactions and
their social adaptations to English and French (and other languages that we have
come into contact with over the last decade). These observations are published in my
quarterly column 'Notes from the OPOL Family' in The Bilingual Family Newsletter1
and my blog: 'Notes from the OPOL Family'.2 The column and blog chronicle the
linguistic ups and downs of our family. Although I do not offer a scientific linguistic
or psychological analysis, my observations are based on 12 years of closely watching
sibling interaction within my family and observing the siblings of numerous bilingual and multilingual families I know around the world.
(1) The Bilingual Family Newsletter- a quarterly magazine for bilingual families
published by Multilingual Matters. (Ended December 2010 but archive available at www.bilingualfamil ynewsletter.com/ archives. php)
(2) Blog: 'Notes from the OPOL Family' http:/ I opol-family.blogspot.com

QUESTIONS ON FAMILY LANGUAGE USE
Here are a selection of questions asked by parents on the subject of family bilingualism and siblings, with links to the appropriate chapters for more information.
These questions have been taken from parenting chat forums, bilingual websites and
from my personal experience discussing bilingualism with families from around the
world. They are anonymous questions, and any advice is given in general terms and
does not necessarily apply to all families.

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