Episode 44 – Q&A – Should I be concerned that my kids switch languages when talking to each other?

Episode 44

On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I address a mother’s concern about her daughters switching between English and French when speaking to each other.  I describe code switching and language borrowing and whether or not they should be of concern.

Episode #44- Transcript

Hello and welcome to another question and answer edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast.

I am excited to be with you again this week and want to thank you for all your support.  I can tell you that producing a podcast twice as a week is not easy but it is incredibly rewarding when I get emails and messages from listeners sharing how it is helping them on their multilingual journey.  So to you I say both keep up the hard work with your kiddos and thank you very much for tuning in to the show!

Alright, let’s get to business!

This week’s question came in via email from Maria.  Let me read you the question:

Question: I have two teenage daughters, thirteen and fifteen.  They are both bilingual, slightly stronger in the community language French, but speak wonderful English as well.  I have noticed that when they speak to each other they sometimes, not always, but sometimes switch and back forth in English and French.  Should I be concerned?  What can I do to prevent this?

Thanks Maria for your question and for allowing me to share it with others on the podcast.

What you are describing above is called Code Switching.  We talked about this on episode 33 with Dr. Alejandro Brice so that’s actually a great starting point for you to check out.  You can hear what Dr. Brice, a speech pathologist, had to say on the subject.  For those of you that would like to check out that like to check out the show notes, I will include a link to the interview there so you can get right to that resource without having to navigate the website.

Let me describe Code Switching so that we are all on the same page. Code switching occurs when a multilingual individual alternates between two or more languages throughout one conversation.  You may have heard it referred to it before as Franglais in your case or Spanglish if they individual speaks Spanish and English, Runglish for Russian and English.. you get the gist!

The first thing I can tell you is don’t worry, your children are not confused! Your girls are actually just actively speaking both languages.  Both girls speak English and French so they know they can do that with each other without missing a beat.

My first question to you to consider would be: do you notice the same behavior when they are speaking to monolingual individuals? In other words, do you hear them speaking Franglais when speaking to an individual who only speaks English?

I am going to guess that the answer is no.  They speak exclusively in French in that case, given how in your question you mentioned that their fluency levels are high in both languages.

Now let’s say for example, that the answer is yes. You notice that even when they are speaking to an English speaker, they speak mostly in English but every now and then they use terms in French.  If that were to be the case, then your daughters may be quote on quote borrowing.

Borrowing typically happens when you are engaging in a conversation and from time to time you are loaning words from another language.  Typically, when an individual is borrowing from another language, it is because he or she may not have the word they need to use as part of their vocabulary in the language that the conversation is being carried in.

Let me give you an example, let’s say I am going to say the following: “Le agrege un Hashtag a mi foto.”  In Spanish I just said: “I added a hashtag to my photo.”  If you speak Spanish or if you listen carefully to what I said, you’ll notice that I borrowed the word hashtag from English because I don’t actually know what the word is in Spanish.  That would be an example of borrowing.

Now that we have defined both terms here, let’s talk about your second part of the question. Should you worry and what can you do about it?

Regarding if you should worry, NO.  I often say that we have many obstacles in the language journey and this one you can place in the “Let’s not worry about it too much bucket.”

If your daughters are code switching when speaking to you and your husband, just ask them to stick to the one language.  What’s working for you is that they are older and so you can reason with them.  Explain to them that you want them to keep enhancing their skills in both languages so that they can continue to excel in both languages and so you would prefer if they could stick to one or the other.

If your daughters are borrowing, then try to identify what they are missing in their vocabulary and teach them the words in the respective language.  So you’ll have to observe here for a little bit but you may find some patterns of what vocabulary areas you want to enforce.  If they are communicating with you and you notice them borrowing, just simply throw out the correct word and have them add it to their vocabulary toolkit.

This also goes back to exposure! You can leverage the help of family members, for example, who may only speak one of the languages.  They will know that they can’t use both languages like they do with each other so they will have stick to one or the other language.  So that maybe if you are worried about it and you want to do something about it just create situations for them where they have to speak one language exclusively so they start doing that by themselves.

Alright Maria, above all, you shouldn’t worry about this too much.  This is something normal for multilinguals.  I code switch from time to time with my siblings because they are also bilingual.  I am comfortable with them so we may just switch as we go.  I don’t, interestingly enough do this with other Spanish/English bilinguals, just my siblings so I am not surprised that you are seeing your daughters doing it because they are just so comfortable with each other that it is just part of a natural process.

If you do notice that it is impacting their handle of either the heritage language or the community language, you may want to certainly take in a more proactive approach and find ways to encourage them to still protect their languages but otherwise this may just be another phase of their multilingual journey.

That wraps up today’s episode.  Remember you can ask a question too, just head over to bilingualavenue.com/contact.  We are always looking for more question from our audience so don’t hesitate to send in yours! They are all welcomed!

May you have fun travels on your language journey. Hope to see you again on the avenue.

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