Saturday, July 20, 2013

Yet more about Phyllis

I feel a little weird, writing even more about myself, but I figured this is one way to fit it in, as a continuation of the Meet the Missionary Moms series. (We might have a few more interviews stil coming, too.) A while back a few people in the comments here were curious about how we "do language" in our family. That is something I always like to hear about in other families, so I guess I can try to start a conversation on that here now.

I do have to say that this is probably the one area where we have taken more criticism for our choices than anything else. Would you have guessed that? That makes me a little wary of sharing. Although, I've probably heard it all now, and I'm not scared of you sweet ladies. But I don't want to make anyone else feel judged by the way I word things!

There are quite a few approaches to family language learning: one language at home, the other in public; OPOL (one parent one language); less focus on other languages; school for language learning, etc. In our family, when our first child was born, we spoke Russian to him, and that has continued until now. I don't remember a big powwow to decide that or anything. It just happened. Although, language was already very important to us, and we already knew that from lots of earlier discussion. My husband and I do speak English between the two of us. Russian is our main family language, though, by choice and by default, now that they--the little people--outnumber us adults.

Honestly, I expected our children to be more bi-lingual sooner. I have seen plenty of bi-lingual kids, and they're all supposed to be little sponges, right? Not always. So far, ours have all preferred to learn one language well, and then start branching out into the second language at about age 3. None of them have responded well at all to pressure. What has helped most in becoming bi-lingual, is time with other children. When our oldest two were ages 4 and 2, we spent two and a half months in the states, with a good bit of pressure to speak and almost all their interaction with adults. They left that visit not seeming to know any English. But immediately after that, we spent two and a half weeks with an American family (lots of children to play with!), and that got them speaking. Like I said, by age 3 they usually start to show interest in English. Then, when they get to school age, and I start using some English in our homeschooling, they really take off. Our oldest is 9 years old now, and he can carry on a conversation quite well.

People often ask about how our children can speak Russian so perfectly, when it is a second language for both my husband and me. (As in, "You make so many mistakes! Why don't they?" or "You have such a crazy accent...!" ) Mostly we've learned right along with them. For a while, when our oldest was a toddler, I often felt like I was just a step ahead of him. However, they really have not picked up our accents and mistakes. That was something I worried about at first, but it has never been an issue. Even though they have really mainly learned language from us, all the community interaction, audio books and reading must pay off.

This is getting long.  You also asked about homeschooling. I really don't do anything all that special there. I do use a lot of Russian books. We study Russian history, along with other history. Our math is British (MEP), so it has an international flavor; I explain the lessons in Russian but also try to make sure that they hear the terminology in English. That's about all.

So, did I answer your questions about how we "do language"? Do you have anything more you'd like to know? And what about you: what does language learning look like in your family?


  1. Thanks, Phyllis, I really enjoyed reading this! One difference is that your kids were basically born and raised in Russia and Ukraine.

    Our kids were 10 and 7 when we moved to Ukraine, so their background was English. They took Russian lessons twice a week for the first few years. One didn't do as well in the lessons but still made alot of friends and used his Russian, while the other did quite well in studying but not in using it, until this last year in Ukraine. She really blossomed as part of the youth choir at church. :)

  2. That is a really interesting approach, Phyllis. Good for you! I agree with you that kids don't become bilingual as quickly as we expect. I've seen many "m" kids not say a word until age 3 because two languages is overwhelming, but then others do fine.

    My poor kids have three languages to deal with. We opted for English over Spanish (my son's first language, which he gradually forgot after age 5) since they had Turkish to deal with. It took them years to learn Turkish well. (I was disturbed when my 6-8 year olds couldn't tell a coherent story in Turkish, but then I realized they couldn't do it in English either!)

    All I know is that their Turkish grammar is now better than mine, they're literate in Turkish, AND they're improving their Spanish a lot thanks to the Latin team we now work with. (also understand lots of Portuguese...)