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The one person-one language principle (Opol)


Bimba, 5 anni


The one person-one language principle (Opol)


You have probably heard about it, according to the OPOL principle it's reccomended to parents wishing to raise their children bilingual a consistent use of the same language (preferably their mother tongue, but not necessarily) with their child. The theory of this method dates back to 1902 when the French linguist Maurice Grammont coined the phrase "une personne, une langue," which was then from the Eighties on used in numerous studies, especially in its English translation, best known today, one person-one language (Opol).

Grammont argued that by using this method since early childhood, a child could learn two languages without too much effort and without mixing languages. The only condition was a consistent and systematic use of one language by always the same person, thus representing for the child an example of the use of adult language and creating an emotional bond with the child through their language.

Does it really work?

Some scholars have criticized this approach (cfr.Suzanne Doepke "Can the Principle one person-one language be disregarded as unrealistically elitist?", Monash University, Australia) , considering it the preserve of middle and upper social classes, the latter having been the main object of most researches. It would not be a strategy adopted by everyone, but especially by people who, if they are not linguists themselves, have a medium-high cultural level. They thus consider it a principle based on elitist requirements and therefore atypical.

Another criticism suggests that the strategy of OPOL does not guarantee results, but in most cases it is only sufficient to get passive skills in the minority language. In addition, some researchers consider the pattern OPOL as artificial because the parents strive to speak their own language in a consistent manner, eliminating interference (such as code-mixing and code-switching) that would, instead, be a natural aspect of bilingual communication.

It does! But not alone....

However, a careful analysis by Suzanne Doepke through data collection can only confirm that the best results of bilingual education are obtained from those parents who have shown greater consistency in meeting the strategy OPOL, limiting interference.

Probably everyone agrees with the fact that the OPOL is not alone sufficient to the acquisition of the minority language, but the research suggests that this is a necessary condition. The consistency in the choice of language would minimize competition between the two languages (Doepke), while allowing the maximum exposure of the child to the minority language. The longer the exposure to a language, the larger it is the range of situations experienced and the resulting richness of the language that derives from it.

Furthermore, let's not forget that a parent attentive to the child's language development will have more opportunities to identify deficit areas and to find solutions for them. Not to mention that constant contact with you own children implies an adjustment of the linguistic register from child to adult language and, if the communication is consistent in the minority language, it will allow children to develop language skills in both languages at the same time.




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0 #3 Giovanna 2011-09-08 19:52
Dear Sarah,

I'm so sorry to reply so late, but we had some technical problems....
Anyway, you are perfectly right, bilingualism is NOT elitist.... but we should not confound bilingualism with OPOL. The latter is only a method leading to bilingualism, one of many.

One criticism to OPOL suggested that this method is only possible for educated people, with a lot of time to dedicate to their children. And this could be partially true, if you think that OPOL principle does require a lot of energy and time and probably a certain level of linguistic awareness.

In any case, the article was pointing out the efficiency of OPOL and, from my personal experience, I can only confirm it.
0 #2 Sarah @BabyBilingual 2011-07-06 16:52
How interesting that the term OPOL was coined over a century ago by a French linguist!

I haven't read the sources you cited--so perhaps this comment is invalid--but I would argue that OPOL is not necessarily elitist or reserved for the middle and upper classes. It seems that in many developing countries, bilingualism (even multilingualism ) is a way of life due to political upheaval, different ethnic or religious groups living in close proximity, different dialects within the same country, etc. I would guess that in many cases, the families are OPOL by necessity!
0 #1 Sarah @BabyBilingual 2011-07-06 16:24
I hadn't realized that "OPOL" was coined over a century ago by a French linguist! Very interesting.

I haven't read the sources you cited--so perhaps this comment is invalid--but it seems to me that in many parts of the world, bilingualism (even multilingualism ) isn't an elitist choice or an opportunity just for the middle and upper classes.

In a lot of developing countries, rather, bilingualism is a way of life, and I would imagine that OPOL is a common approach when the parents are from different regions or religions or dialects.

But I certainly do agree with your assessment that the more attentive the parents are to the children's linguistic progress, the better for bilingualism!

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