Key Strategy 3. INPUT. You as a Language Model

This blog post is all about the language you speak; your accent, accuracy, and your idiosyncrasies.


I deal with bringing up a child in a language that is not your native one in another post and devote a whole chapter to it in the book. 

With enough exposure, your children will speak with your accent and all your idiosyncratic forms of the language, or idiolect, especially if you are the sole language source.So, remember that they are a mirror of the way you speak. You may hear words and phrases that you did not know you used, and they can always blame you for the way they speak!

To show you how important your parents are in your language and pronunciation acquisition, my mother passed on to me a particular (and wrong!) pronunciation of ‘very’; I pronounced it ‘thery’ /‘ð ɛri/ instead of  ‘very’/vɛri/. Amazingly, this went undetected until a Spanish girlfriend pointed it out when I was twenty-six! Embarrassed, I quickly corrected it.

You may also need to think about grammar and dialect. Languages have standard forms and dialect variations. It is generally best to teach your child the standard forms if possible, so they can communicate with a bigger number of heritage language speakers.

Your idiolect may include dialect words from different countries where you have lived (Irish ones in my case) and others that are passed down like heirlooms through the generations. In my case, we use a few Welsh words, passed down from my great-grandmother (who was a bilingual Welsh-English speaker), and I have now passed these on to my son, so he also says, “Iechyd da” /Yaki da:/  “Cheers!”

The Accuracy of your language

When you have lived in a foreign country for a long time and speak the local language well, it is easy to fall into the habit of using certain local language words in your own heritage language. In some cases, this is probably quite useful, especially if the word is a concept that does not exist in your country of origin. In the UK, for instance, lawyers are divided into solicitors and barristers. It would be fine to say el solicitor if you are speaking Spanish in the UK, as this refers to a type of lawyer only found in the UK. 

A lazy form of language mixing called Spanglish in Spain or Franglais in France is often used by ex-pats.

Typical examples: saying ‘the parking’ instead of ‘car-park’/‘parking lot’, or ‘the camping’ instead of ‘the campsite’, or talking about activities during ‘patio’ instead of ‘break time’/‘recess’. 

You may be the only language model for your child, so whatever you say, the mistakes, slang words and idiosyncrasies of your idiolect will be passed on to them. Try to give them a foundation in standard vocabulary and grammar first.

For more detailed information and advice, check out the book on Amazon: The 5 Key Strategies of Successful Bilingual Families.

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