On March 15, 2005 Maggie was born. Not just my first child, but my very first full-time student.
During my seventeen years of teaching, I have been fully or partially responsible for teaching English as a foreign language to over 2,500 students – from 2 years of age to their parents’ age.
Therefore, bilingualism should not have been such a stressful issue for me. Up until then, I could teach English to any age and any level with great joy, but great confidence as well. And I was honoured by being considered a role model in many cases by several young students who have made us very proud upon becoming adults. I will take this opportunity to thank each and every child and teenager that made our lives so special. We thank you!
What was different in this case was the fact that I was going to be a Parent And Language Teacher all at the same time. I was worried that it would be too great a challenge to deal with properly. The book that I studied intensely and provided me with the professional and experienced guidance needed for such a productive task, is Growing up with two languages, written by Una Cunningham-Andersson and Staffan Andersson. Both professional teachers and with four children of their own. And in this, I trusted.
So we raised bilingual Maggie based on this book and our humble instincts. And it worked perfectly. After several and severe readings and revisions, choosing the ways that best suit our personalities and our family, adjusting and adapting these tips to our family environment, Maggie had none of the problems I feared or guessed she would have.
We chose the One person, One language Method. I spoke to her in English and my husband, Thomas, spoke to her in Greek. We remained consistent to this plan from day one. Our families, too, being very cooperative, became part of this consistency plan. My sister, Vicky, spoke to her in English and my younger sister, Christine, in Greek. My father became the English-speaking Grandpa and my mother, the Greek-speaking giagia (1). My husband’s family enthusiastically became part of the Big Plan, too. His father was the Greek-speaking pappou (2) and as for Thomas’ sisters…his eldest sister, being an English Language teacher herself, spoke to her naturally in English and his younger sister, Caroline, in Greek. We were very lucky to have such a supportive team on our side. We were very lucky to have family members who trusted in our choices of raising Maggie. That played an extremely important and decisive role, too.
Beyond the speaking, there are other skills in language learning that needed to be treated in the same consistent manner.
*Our library became as rich in English books as it is in Greek books.
*Our collections of CDs with songs and stories are fairly divided language-wise.
*Her Teachers/Babysitters, Jahnavi and Elpida were each responsible for one language and we are very grateful to them both for being with Maggie in her early years. While mom was just next door having lessons with her own students in English, Maggie was in The Loras English Academy playroom, playing and learning in each teacher’s native language.
* My opinion of television is quite conservative and to some extent, strict. I really do not trust what might come up next on the screen. That is why we usually have two time zones during the day of extremely carefully chosen children’s channels and educational DVDs. And what scheme did we have to follow for this? English Day, to watch English language programmes and Greek Day, for the second language entertainment; these days alternating one after the other.
Consistently. Year after year. So productively. So smoothly.
Even the small issues that might come up and stress a parent… I had been prepared for by this excellent book.
When Maggie was 2, she was not saying as much as her monolingual (in Greek) peers. The other children were talking to us in paragraphs and Maggie was just saying words and short phrases. And patiently we waited and at the age of about 3, she not only spoke eloquently in both languages but knew in which language she was spoken to and answered in that same language. With beautiful expressions and even special vocabulary, Maggie just progressed and progressed.
Another issue I was warned about through this treasure of a book was that we parents should not feel embarrassed using the language our role requires. We were living in Ioannina, Greece at the time and I had to speak to Maggie in English wherever we were, whomever we were with. Even if I was considered a snob, or a show-off or a real piece of work for our society, I remained loyal to this role.
PLAYTIME with the word CHILD: Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me, we used to say when we were children. So there was no way I was going to be childish and shy about the way I was raising my child, because of other people’s childish behaviour towards us. My child is more important than that.
And then Maggie turned four and a half. We were going to move to Switzerland. Specifically, Zug; a German-speaking Canton. Along with newly-born, Nicholas…
Feat No 2!
Congratulations and a huge thank you to Una Cunningham-Andersson, Senior Lecturer in English language and linguistics at Dalarna, University in Falun, Sweden and Staffan Andersson, Teacher of Computing. Both authors of the book Growing up with two languages and parents of four children.
And a Huge Thank You to our family and friends who supported us throughout Feat No 1 and trusted us in Feat No 2.
1. giagia = the Greek word for grandmother
2. pappou(s) = the Greek word for grandfather
Cunningham-Andersson. U., & Andersson, S. (2005). Growing up with two languages. A practical guide. Great Britain.