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OPOL series: OPOL and child bilingualism

The “one-parent-one language” (OPOL) approach is regarded as the most common family language system in use to attempt to raise bilingual or multilingual children. With the OPOL approach, each parent or caregiver consistently speaks only one language to the child.

It is often believed that consistency or strict OPOL is the key to the succuess of perfect bilingualism.

However, how consistently or strictly we should follow OPOL rule?

Do we have to pretend not to understand if the child asks us something in the non-target language? Can we switch language in front of children when talking outside of the four walls? Can we allow a certain degree of language-switching, code-mixing, or flexibility? Do extra “language supplements,” such as playgroups, visits from family, or a trip to the country, help children achieve perfect bilingualism if OPOL is not religously followed?

As a parent who is greatly interested in brining up baby bilingual, I particularly want to find out answers to these questions, and discover a realistic way to adapt OPOL to suit my family.

I am beginning a new series on the topics of OPOL. Today, I am reviewing some research done on OPOL system and child bilingualism.

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How strictly or consistently do we need to follow OPOL?

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?

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

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