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Raising bilingual kids without doing OPOL

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 

I'm pregnant with my first so I don't have any actual experience with this, but I wanted to know what was the best way of going about things from people who have actually done it. 


DH and I are currently living in Romania. He speaks Romanian natively, but is also fluent in English. I am American and speak Romanian conversationally, but am definitely not fluent. We speak English to each other at home. We're both homebodies. He works from home and I'm a SAHM (or will be, I guess I'm a stay-at-home-wife now), so really my only exposure to Romanian is at church once a week.


We're planning on staying in Romania for the next few years (5-6 max) and then moving to the States long-term. Once we move to the States we likely won't return to Romania to visit since DH doesn't have any living family here. I would like our kids to be fluent in both Romanian and English, but DH doesn't really care if they're fluent in Romanian or not.


So here's the question: how do I teach my kids both languages? OPOL won't work because if I talk to the kids in English, DH isn't going to bother talking to them exclusively in Romanian no matter how much I want him to because he doesn't really care if they know the language or not. However, if I'm really good about talking to them only in Romanian he'd probably go along with it. Will it still work if DH and I continue to talk to each other in English? Another problem is that I've gotten into the bad habit of slipping Romanian words into my English sentences when there isn't a good translation or when the Romanian word just expresses the idea better, and of slipping English words into Romanian sentences when I don't know the Romanian word for something. I assume that I'll have to be really careful not to do that with the kids so that they can "compartmentalize" the languages properly, right?


We won't be putting the kids in daycare or preschool while we're here, and we don't have anybody in our circle of acquaintances with young kids, so most of our kids' language exposure will come from DH and I, with a little bit of Romanian in church once a week and a little bit of English skyping my family once a week. They'll run into other kids when we go to a playground or something of course, but I don't know that they'll have anybody consistent that they see regularly.


Any advice?

post #2 of 4

Well, we're not done with our language experiment for sure, but I have some experience. I speak Russian well as a second language and my husband doesn't speak Russian at all. We live in Hawaii, so English-speaking area. I speak to our 2.5 year old in Russian almost exclusively but I talk to my husband in English and sometimes I talk to them both in English, if I'm saying something for the whole audience, so to speak. I have a Russian sitter for my son four days a week, which obviously helps a lot. He is about 50/50 in English and Russian right now. I only "accept" requests and comments from him in Russian, like if he says "apple?" I repeat it in Russian and say "You want an apple?" in Russian and he repeats it. It's going really well: we can tell who he's talking to by the language he picks, ha ha. He doesn't seem confused that I talk to my husband in English but not him.

In your situation, I would make the effort to talk to him in Romanian and let your husband follow your lead. This is an amazing opportunity for him to hear and absorb Romanian, and you should try your best to let him learn as much as possible. Don't worry about "messing it up," he'll correct from hearing it from your husband and books, people in stores, etc. You live in the country of native speakers, just let him absorb it! Try to minimize your word substitutions, but don't beat yourself up about it. I know you say you don't plan to do daycare, etc., but join some playgroups and stuff- you'll want the company once you have a baby! Then he'll have extra exposure to the language as well. OPOL is the "gold standard" in many people's estimation, but it's not the only way and you certainly shouldn't give up if you think that's not how it will play out in your family. I have already planned to have Russian speakers do future music/art/dance lessons as a "double dose," for us, so you could do that too. It's sooo much easier to teach a kid the majority language in a country, I'm jealous of your opportunity- I have to work like crazy to get Russian in the tropics!

post #3 of 4
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the advice! I'm glad to hear that things are going so well for you--that gives me a lot of encouragement. I guess I'll just keep practicing with my own language skills, then, and not let the knowledge that I'm not perfect cripple me. 

post #4 of 4

Seriously, don't sweat it. Haven't you seen the children of people who don't speak English well and their (perfectly) English-seaking kids? You'll be giving him the amazing gift of a second language!

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