My daughter is about to turn three. We have had resounding success with her learning Arabic. She was an early talker and during a recent visit to my husband's Arab country, it became clear she speaks Arabic much better even than native speakers a year or two older than she is.
I'm her primary caregiver and not a native speaker, but my native-speaker husband is also very present in her daily life. For the past 6 months, my English-only mother lived with us, so my daughter increased her knowledge and ability with English. (I also speak with my husband around 50% of the time in English, a percentage that fluctuates a lot based on different factors. Sometimes it is more like 20% English.) She understands well but her speaking ability in English is weak compared to her Arabic. I am sure this will be remedied totally in a couple of years when she goes to school, or maybe even before then because of community and my mother's influence.
My issue is that I am not a native speaker and I am not even 100% fluent in Arabic. It has been constant work and struggle for me to keep up and learn the Arabic I need to communicate in my family. I can't keep up! I realize it would be nearly impossible for me to provide for her in Arabic the kinds of stories, parenting and creative use of language I'd like to share with her in our daily lives in the next couple of years. Sometimes I am finding it frustrating and difficult to "be myself" with her in Arabic as I struggle to come up with words or phrases. Yet it is hard for me to imagine leaving Arabic behind all together, and I don't want to do that at all. I'm trying to figure out a structured way to organize our lives so I can share stories or guidance/discipline in English while also having plenty of time to speak together in Arabic.
It would be nice if I could sometimes speak English to her and have her continue to just speak Arabic to me, since I understand well, but I don't think it's realistic.Yet I do expect to continue to get better in Arabic, and I expect most communication to be possible in Arabic (as it is now, but in a few years, conversations will be more demanding.)
Wondering if anyone has experience with this. Here are some of my ideas:
- Arabic when we are all together, English (from me to her) when we're alone. So that would mean, a couple of hours before my husband goes to work, at lunch, and from about 6pm until bed, and weekends. That means weekdays she would get about 5 hours of Arabic and 7 hours of English. This doesn't appeal to me very much, as it would require me totally changing my language of interaction when we are alone together. It is very weird for us to speak English to one another, so if we did something like this, we'd have to see how to prevent a traumatic change.
- Continue with Arabic mainly, but use English for storytelling and whenever I am finding it difficult to think/speak about something in Arabic. (I would only use whole sentences of English, not mixed up sentences. I very occasionally speak to her in English now, and I sing English songs to her sometimes. She doesn't mind and always asks me to read to her in English, which I sometimes do.) I think this is "dangerous" because it might give the impression that we're okay with mixing languages constantly, and I'm not really okay with that. I want her to be able to express herself in Arabic, and in English, not just in Arablish. Yet it would be the simplest solution.
- Have two periods of the day on the weekdays, for example after we go to the park and are playing at home, between 10am and noon, and from post-nap until around 5, when I speak English. I could use this time to tell her things or clarify things that I feel I haven't fully expressed in Arabic.
- Organize activities (on our own or with other people) outside the house during which I speak English with her, but keep speaking 95% Arabic at home.
- Keep on chugging along in my Arabic studies and assume it is going to get easier later... (But no matter how good I become in Arabic, I will never be a native speaker and probably won't be fluent as long as I live outside an Arab community. Although in a way, my husband and daughter are a little Arab community.)
Thoughts? Please be gentle. This is a difficult decision for me.
(x-posted on multilingual living)