As shared in my last blog post, by the end of the four weeks in Portugal I was rather pleased with myself and our progress. But now that we’re home, how are we going to make sure that the bilingual inroads we made will last?
Making it stick
This trip was as much for my benefit as it was for the children’s. And I don’t mean relaxation – that it was not! It was an opportunity to reset – to start new habits in relation to the minority language.
The previous trip to Portugal had been a revelation, however, between our last visit in December and mid-July the amount of Portuguese spoken in our household had diminished gradually. As we didn’t have the habit of speaking the language since they were born, and life got complicated recently, it just kept sliding.
That’s why I want to encourage as many parents as possible to define a language strategy before their baby is born,
so that they can create good habits that will lead to a stress-free bilingual journey.
Like Sophia, I gradually replaced English with Portuguese during our most recent trip to Portugal and the three of us have been good at keeping it up so far. We may not have an opportunity to have such a long holiday in Portugal any time soon, so I really must dig deep and make it count.
The 3-point plan
I now know how easy it is to slide back into bad habits, even after a successful trip back home, so I need to reinforce my plan.
I’ve been reflecting on why it’s been so difficult, and what we can do to change the status quo. It has become evident that we must create the conditions that make it easier to maintain good habits.
My recently reviewed plan goes beyond reminders to speak the language. It sets the time and space around us so that Portuguese is inescapable and always front of mind.
Point 1 – Remove barriers and create conditions that make it easier to engage with the target language
- We’ll declutter. Starting with a spring clean that will get rid of books and toys that bring no joy and are no longer age appropriate. We’ll also try to redress the balance in English v Portuguese books. The Portuguese books and games will be more visible, so we can easily pick them up and play at any point.
- Set up weekly playdates with Portuguese friends. By setting a regular date and time of day there’s less effort in organising and it’s always in the diary. Read more about playgroupds and playdates here
- It’s easy to resort to tablets and TV to give everyone a break. If that’s the case, at the very least we should ensure that the content is as much in the target language as possible. We’ll set up the TV and tablet to ensure any screen time is mostly in the target language. That means deleting some of the apps we have in English and refreshing the target language apps every few months, finding new age-appropriate and engaging Portuguese. Once it’s done, it’s all set up and much easier to get things in Portuguese when crunch time comes.
Point 2 – Rituals and routines
- We are a go with the flow kind of family but without clear routines things just get too messy. If we want to progress in every way, this year we need to embrace monotonous routine. There will be stricter morning and evening routines, to reduce stress and improve sleep. There will be regular Portuguese school at home after school. We will always wake up to Portuguese radio to set the tone (even that ritual we enjoyed so much ended up sliding)
- As part of the routine, we aim to always speak to Avo just before dinner and with the Portuguese cousins or friends in Portugal at the weekend. If we schedule it and it becomes a regular routine it’ll become easier to commit to. Read more about making video calls home fun.
- Meal times is when we all slow down and it becomes a Portuguese only zone. Even with Daddy, who doesn’t speak but understands the language
Strand 3 – Literacy
- Sophia is starting Year 1 in a few weeks, as well as after-school weekly Portuguese lessons. We’ll slowly build on that to work on her target language literacy and inspire her become as enthused about reading in Portuguese as she does in English
- For home-school, I’ll prepare the lessons in advance and put the materials aside. There will be an element of choice on their part but by prepping in advance I can ensure that that half an hour or so is more impactful
- Daddy does the homework with the girls to reduce the number of occasions when I, the minority language parent, must speak English
- Read at least one minority language story at bedtime, no matter how tired I feel. Preferably more.
Tackling the parent’s language attrition
Underlining all of this is the minority language parent – the pillar of the family’s bilingual journey. It can be challenging to be the only one speaking the language, especially when one has little exposure to it.
To tackle my own language attrition, when the bilinguals start losing fluency in their mother tongue, I’m upping my stakes in terms of my own exposure to Portuguese. By doing so, I reduce my language attrition and bring Portuguese front of mind:
I’ve been listening to podcasts for a while in the house and the car, always in English. Recently I sought podcasts in Portuguese and found a few I like and now when I’m within hearing distance from the girls, I listen to the Portuguese casts.
I’ve subscribed to the target language news alerts in my PC, in Portuguese and I’ve got new Portuguese books for myself in Portuguese that I am very interested in and know I will enjoy reading, such as this one:
A commitment to visiting the country of the target language
Last year I committed to visiting Portugal at least once a year. Now I will also ensure that I will try my hardest to go for as long as possible, even if that means going without daddy due to work commitments. The benefits of these trips are just off the scale! Read more about the benefits of visiting the home country and how we got on in our recent four week trip to Portugal.