Feat No 1: Bilingual Maggie… and how it worked

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.

Thank you.

Maggie, two and a half years old

Maggie, two and a half years old

Notes:
1. giagia = the Greek word for grandmother
2. pappou(s) = the Greek word for grandfather

References:
Cunningham-Andersson. U., & Andersson, S. (2005). Growing up with two languages. A practical guide. Great Britain.

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21 thoughts on “Feat No 1: Bilingual Maggie… and how it worked

  1. Tyson Seburn (@seburnt) February 3, 2013 at 23:43 Reply

    Welcome aboard the blogging journey. 🙂 Fascinating approach to linguistic child-rearing. It’s amazing that you and your family had the conviction to see it through so consistently, when most of us couldn’t hold a diet for more than a few weeks. It’s nice to see evidence at play here.

    • Eugenia Loras February 3, 2013 at 23:51 Reply

      Thank you very very much for being the first to read and comment on this blog, Tyson.

      Wishing you all the best,
      Eugenia

  2. Rose Bard February 4, 2013 at 00:11 Reply

    Thanks for the wonderful post on bilingualism. I have a boy (2y7m) who speaks English and Portuguese. I will try to get that book as I have many doubts myself. Thanks for the book recommendation and for sharing your own experience. Welcome to blogsphere. 🙂

    • Eugenia Loras February 4, 2013 at 00:54 Reply

      Thank you very much for reading and enjoying this first post of ours. Hopefully we will all get something good out of it. Even just to help reduce the stress on such issues is very important. The book helped a lot and the support I received from my family.
      Thanking you very much and wishing you all the best,
      Eugenia

  3. eflnotes February 4, 2013 at 00:22 Reply

    interesting read, thanks for this and the book recommendation.

    we live in France and have a 9 month old son and internet research did not really enlighten me as to a good approach. what i gleaned is to use something that the parents feel comfortable with so we decided to settle on minority language at home approach, that is we both speak to our baby in English (my wife is French).

    i have also read as you point out in your post that exposing the child to as much of the minority language as one can in terms of books, films, music, relatives is important.

    speaking to other multi-lingual parents is also useful thing to do and reading posts from them 🙂

    ta
    mura

    • Eugenia Loras February 4, 2013 at 00:49 Reply

      Thank you very much for reading this post! I hope it helps parents a bit especially with the book recommendation. In the next few days I shall post Feat No 2 in which Mulitlingualism appears in our lives and there are two children involved this time! It always helps to share experiences.

      Wishing you all the best and thanking you very much,
      Eugenia

  4. fotini February 4, 2013 at 00:27 Reply

    Eugenia I’ve known you since we were children and I’ve always admired you…then you became my teacher also and now reading this brought tears to my eyes…really!!!

    I’m so sorry that I didn;t had the chance to say goodbye but I.m so proud of you and Vicky and all you have succeeded !!!!

    you’re the best mother M+N could get!!!!!!! Yoy;ve done a perfect “job” I think!!!

    • Eugenia Loras February 4, 2013 at 00:45 Reply

      Fotini!!! Thank you so much! We are overwhelmed! Thank you for your kind words and we must meet next time we come to Greece! Thank you for being our friend all these years!

  5. Vicky Loras February 4, 2013 at 08:23 Reply

    It is great to see you blogging and about such an important issue, that you have a very good knowledge of and can help other parents and educators as well.

    I am so proud of you!

    Congratulations,
    Vicky

    • Eugenia Loras February 4, 2013 at 12:41 Reply

      Vicky Loras, Thank you very much for everything ever since they day you were born. You may have arrived in our family after me, and I may have taught you everything you know (hahaha) but you too have taught me everything I know!
      Congratulations on everything Vicky! Love you! And a special Thank You to our younger sister, Christine for everything as well! Love you Christine!

  6. swisssirja February 4, 2013 at 09:12 Reply

    Hello Eugenia and thank you so much for starting blogging!
    Reading your post evoked quite contradictory feelings in me. On one hand, I felt happy and positive about your bilingual project success, yet on the other hand I was a bit sad. Sad that I didn’t have the clarity of thought and determined mind to carry out something similar with my three kids! I have lived in Switzerland for thirteen years now. I am the only Estonian in the region and Estonian being such a minor language on world scale you can well imagine no-one in the vicinity has even the slightest idea of it 😉 When our first child was born I felt quite lonely and isolated. My family was far and I myself was still doing my best to integrate. So the only supportive family network available was strictly French speaking. What I am trying to say is that my bilingual kids have grown to be more or less monolingual. There are days I blame myself, am quite merciless even. But then I think back at the tough beginnings and I find some excuses. It’s hard to fight alone. By now the kids are 10, 8 and 6. The oldest girl, being such a diligent learner and eager to please 🙂 understands more or less everything and can speak rather well. The boys, though, would need a year’s immersion in the country (something we cannot afford)
    Anyway, right now I try my best to keep the language alive in the family- I even introduced a policy where the kids can pinch me whenever they hear me speak French to them 😉 Better late than never…
    Once again, welcome to the wonderful world of blogging!!!!

    • Eugenia Loras February 4, 2013 at 12:35 Reply

      Dear Sirja,

      First of all, please turn the pinch into a kiss for a super mama who has raised three healthy and happy children. Congratulations for that incredible achievement.

      Thank you very very much for your kind words and also for your feedback. You should not blame yourself when having so many tasks to handle all at once. Sometimes things are not as easy and sometimes they are even impossible under certain circumstances. In the next few days, Feat No 2 will be posted and you will understand that we too faced and still face several issues as the number of children and languages increased in our family.

      Thanking you again very much for everything and wishing you all the best,
      Eugenia

  7. guze08520 February 4, 2013 at 17:58 Reply

    We used the same book to raise our kids with English and Portuguese. Now, nearly 8 and 5, we are living in Brazil near my wife’s family, they go to a bilingual school, and are (age appropriate) perfectly fluent in both languages. Congrats to you and your family! This is not an easy thing to do

    • Eugenia Loras February 4, 2013 at 18:05 Reply

      Wow! What a very pleasant coincidence! Thank you very much for your comments and Congratulations to you and your family, too!
      Wishing you all the best and thanking you again,
      Eugenia
      P. S. You are right about the efforts entailed in achieving these celebratory events but also maintaining them!

  8. Fotini February 4, 2013 at 18:51 Reply

    Is is important to meet soon!!! I met Christine today…such a doll…!!! come soon

  9. […] still in Greece then, where we had the luxury of our families’ population and diversity and Feat No 1 was applicable even to […]

  10. […] have no problem playing in Greek if a Greek speaking person is involved like their father, their giagia, my younger sister or anyone else when we visit […]

  11. Ana Francia (@anatfrancia) February 19, 2013 at 08:16 Reply

    Eugenia, thanks for sharing your experience! We are also trying to raise our Eva bilingual and reading your post was really encouraging! Thanks!

    • Eugenia Loras February 19, 2013 at 09:51 Reply

      Thank you very much Ana! We wish you all the best with Eva and we hope sharing our experiences will really encourage and relieve families as much as possible as they go beyond theory; they are daily full-time experiences.

      Thanking you again,
      Eugenia

  12. […] The first one that I started studying was Growing up with two languages by Una Cunningham-Andersson … Two educators and parents of four children that were raised bilingually. That combination alone was a guarantee for me that the specific book was a good choice to start off with. When I was pregnant to our first child, we were living in Greece and bilingualism was our concern and focus. I studied, selected, adjusted, skipped, repeated and applied whatever I understood was relevant to our family and business situation. […]

  13. […] those familiar to us paths. We still stick to each of us using their own language as introduced in Feat No 1 and we maintain and fully use our investments as explained in Feat No 2. Maggie and Nicholas’ […]

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