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Psychological impact of a bilingual education- part 3

 read part 1

read  part 2


Always tell the truth or about the method of pretending not to understand and about methods of error correction

Always tell the truth: this has always been my motto with my children since their birth. Obviously I have not failed to omit certain things or to slightly modify the truth, when I deemed it necessary, but I always thought that children deserve to experience the highest confidence in their mother. Therefore, also regarding the language, I never agreed with the method "Mom does not understand dad’s language" to encourage them to speak Italian with me. I must admit that sometimes I fall into the temptation to do so, because I can not deny the effectiveness of the method, but if I do it, it’s for specific words that, deep down, I could not even really know ...

My children are aware of the fact that their mom is studying dad’s language (Dutch in our case) and that she is doing her best although sometimes the results do not do show it, and that’s also why mom manages to talk to teachers, mothers of classmates (since my children attend a Dutch speaking school) and paternal grandparents. For my children this situation is completely natural, because they have well perceived that "mom speaks some Dutch," and they should not engage in great conversations with her in that language. However, the fact remains that in the evening the whole family can enjoy a good cartoon in Dutch!

My children have never shown an aversion to one or the other language so far, but I realize that by going to school in Dutch, one must make them feel the need to speak Italian and above all a good Italian. That’s why it's important that they have contacts with other Italians, so that I do not represent the only contact for them. In addition, to encourage them to improve the language, I pretend not to understand - yes I do it when they don’t express themselves properly in Italian! The message I want to convey to them is that if you do not learn to speak Italian correctly the others won’t understand.

Among the many voices raised in favor of bilingualism there is the one of the Linguistic Society of America that addresses the issue in a popular, but clear and precise way. I will not repeat here the various definitions of bilingualism, or the different positions that derive from them, a subject which, we understand, has not found a common agreement among scholars so far. I will only drive your attention on a short phrase that makes the difference: talking about bilingualism that derives from the exposure of a child to two languages, the article focuses on the fact that exposure alone does not make a child bilingual, but there must be interaction.

The concept is extended by specifying that if the exposure to a second language takes place exclusively through television, for instance, the child will not grow up bilingual. One might object that the child will be a passive bilingual, but on this issue I’ve already expressed my doubts earlier. In any case, it will be difficult for the child to grow up as an active bilingual. Interaction therefore provides an active connection, with the participation of the two interlocutors. That’s why experts insist on consistency to be respected when talking to your children by always using the same language and, I would add, by expecting an answer in the same language.

I must admit that, against all modern theory, I have some doubts about the method of correcting errors that nowadays is considered more appropriate. Experts recommend that you do not correct the error by interrupting a conversation, but letting the child talk, and then simply repeating the sentence correctly. Under the assumption (perhaps incorrect) that nowadays, in my opinion, we tend to leave our children too much freedom and too few rules, my feeling is that this approach to error follows a bit 'the same direction.

Repetition of the correct sentence, in my experience, does not always make the child aware of the error, since the wording was understood. It certainly is a method that avoids frustration for the child and this is a factor to be taken into account. Nevertheless, the frustration can actually be fought with appropriate praise (see post) when in fact the child reaches the correct result. In fact, even this leaves me sometimes perplexed: I have the impression that the tendency, nowadays, to protect our children sometimes spills over in a desperate attempt to pave the way for them at any price. And on this I don’t totally agree.

Back to the correction of errors, I personally do not hesitate to interrupt their speech and demand that the sentence is repeated correctly, because my purpose, I repeat it, is to make it clear to my children that if the message arrives incorrectly there may be even unpleasant consequences such as "Mom, I’m under the bed" (meaning under the covers). At this point mom will never find me since she has being looking in the wrong place! Thus, even for mistakes I do not really like to hide the truth under a more acceptable garment, which could lead to misunderstandings about what is really acceptable and what is hopelessly wrong.



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