Published by under categories Bilingual Baby, From Lina | comments Comments (2)

Two months ago, I published a post named Why she speaks more English than Chinese? I want to find out why DD speaks more English than Chinese even I have been creating a Chinese-rich environment since her birth (see How I help my baby acquire a second language?).

One reason I figured, maybe also the most important reason, is that I didn’t strictly follow One Parents One Language (OPOL) rule. I read to DD in English as well, only because sometimes she got tired of our limited stock of Chinese books and wanted something different. This is the only time I don’t speak Chinese to her.

Is it the very reason causing her to speak more English than Chinese?

I am not sure. But I do agree that OPOL is the the best and the easiest method for parents to bring up a baby bilingual.

The question is: how strictly or consistently do we need to follow OPOL?

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There are a lot of theoreis and a lot of debates. I found two interesting articles from One is The OPOL-Fanatics from Christiane Küchler Williams. The other is An Apology for Being “Inconsistent” from Alice Lapuerta.

In The OPOL-Fanatics, Christian, as the title of her article suggests, frantically followed the OPOL rule to help her sons acquire German as a second language.

For example, books were strictly segregated into “Papa books” and “Mama Bücher” and no parent would ever cross the line of reading the other language to the child. Only German DVDs could be watched and no commercial American television was allowed.

When they started preschool, she made sure children learned the ABCs in German first, provided the German equivalents of the new words and tried to not fall into the trap of using English expressions of the preschool terms. She tried to find acceptable German alternatives for things like “Potty Time”, “Play Doh” and “Craft session”.

She even went further to assist children’s math homework in German, talked it through in German, calculated in German, formulated the answer in German, then let the children translate the answer into English and writes it down.

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Alice, on the other hand, takes a different approach. She thinks it is not possible and realistic to be always consistent in OPOL. “We just need to switch languages, code-switch, mix, and sometimes invent our own words to communicate. We need to be flexible. We cannot stick to just one method forever and always. ”

In her opinion, consistency simply means: “don’t give up”? Be “persistent”. Therefore, when parents start their bilingualism adventure, it doesn’t matter how they do it, what methods they chose or what rules they have to bend to make them work: be consistent in keeping the faith that it will all work out somehow, in the end.

I am not a linguistic expert. So I cannot make the judgment who is right and who is wrong. But I have to admit, Chris’s article made me sweat and Alice’s made me relaxed.

And I found Susan, my admired linguist and a multilingual mother (see Advice from Susan H. Siu, a multilingual mom), gave a perfect answer to this question: “although we recognize the need for a reasonable amount of focus in order to do things well, we do not want to be arbitrarily rigid in our habits and potentially limit our capacity for enjoyment of language or life in general.

Some families may need and enjoy the predictability offered by a strict OPOL arrangement (or similar plan), and that is wonderful; others, like mine, may not. I hope that no family will feel guilty about doing what works for them. We are, after all, giving our children a gift by helping them to become bilingual, and it is an amazing gift no matter what specific form it takes.”


Related posts:
Why she speaks more English than Chinese?
How I help my baby acquire a second language?
How babies acquire languages?
Stages of baby’s language acquisition
How children acquire second languages?
Stages of children’s second language acquisition
Never too early to learn second tongue
Being bilingual boosts brain power
Bilingualism and cognitive development
More resources on bilingualism and its effects
Why my baby isn’t talking yet?


  1. 1
    Anna@stuffedveggies // October 19th, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    In our family, we have never done OPOL for one reason – I am monolingual. If my husband speaks to my daughter only in another language, then I am never part of the family conversation. To me, never being able to have a three-way conversation creates an unacceptable division in the family. None of the articles I have read on OPOL address this problem.

    I am trying to learn the other language – and ironically, I am the one teaching my dd the other language (since we homeschool, and I am the teacher)

    I do fear that my dd will never have a first-language fluency in a second language, but to me, the family relationship is more valuable.

    If you know a way around this dilemma, I’d be delighted to know about it! : )

  2. 2
    Lina // October 21st, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    @Anna: As the old saying says “All roads lead to Rome”, as long as it is a correct one. I think there are multiple ways to teach children a foreign language. OPOL is just one of them. There is not a one-way-for-all for all families and all situations. As long as your way works in your situation and fits your family, that is the correct way for your children. And I agree with you, ” the family relationship is more valuable”.

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