Our secret language

15 Mar 2013

My husband and I speak a secret language. This language is probably not secret to you (since you are reading this blog) but it is secret to our daughter. We speak a language together that our other little family member does not speak (so far) and only understands a few basic words.

My husband and I met in England and spoke English as a lingua franca as I did not speak Portuguese and he spoke only very basic French when we first met.*
When LJ was born, we discussed switching to French or even Portuguese between us as we feared English would rapidly become her dominant language while we still lived in England. We tried switching to French. We did it ... for about a week! But I found it too difficult. Discussing the weather was fine but discussing our day at work, the TV schedule or our finances was too difficult. We had established a relationship in English for a decade and I felt I was not myself when I spoke French to him. I felt I was a different person. LJ, therefore heard a fair amount of English for the first 13 months of her life (between us, from most of our friends and even more so from 8 months old as she was in nursery everyday). At 13 months old, she moved and English became limited to her parents interactions.
Today, living in Germany, we are quite glad we didn't switch. Our daughter hears a 4th language between her dad and mum. If what we talk about involves her, we switch to our own language (French or Portuguese). Her dad sometimes says a few words to her in English but it is occasional. We don't really speak to her directly in English. We, as a couple, watch TV in English and she watches the occasional cartoon in English.
I am not completely sure how much English she understands. She now sometimes asks: "Maman, what have you said to Papa?". Of course, we always explain. I am not really worried about her English lagging behind though. My plans were to not really make any conscious effort to reinforce her English, like I do for French or Portuguese, because English will be taught at school soon enough. English is everywhere these days and when she wants to learn it, she will have a good head start, I hope.
Despite my resolutions about not reinforcing English though, a few weeks ago, feeling lonely and in need of some English for myself, I took her to a story time session in English at a local library. Despite my warnings about the stories being in English, she was puzzled at first. I could see it. Yet, she listened. She even got quite excited about the green egg and ham. By the end of the hour, she had not muttered a word in English (even when asked) but she had got into it and was keen to eat the cake and play the end game.
In truth, I wish there was such a story time or any other kind of playgroup for Portuguese-speaking children. But as there isn't, I may just resolve myself to give her different experiences in English.

* for the record, he now speaks very good French and I can manage some basic Portuguese.

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