Passive Bilingualism

When a person understand two language but speaks only one of them they are considered to be a passive bilingual.

I am very sad to say it, but I am contemplating giving up on Eila as she has entered that passively bilingual stage that can last a lifetime (literally) and it is harder and harder to continue speaking to her in a minority language that is not my first language especially when she responds in another language. I spend a lot of time mixing the languages already and it irritates and confuses me, so I can only imagine what her brain is doing to sort it all out.

Right now, Eila is learning gobs and gobs of new words and phrases each day. This is very excited and extremely helpful in understanding what she wants and needs. Yet, I’m finding myself a little more disappointed at the end of each day as I realize that her vocabulary in English is already almost as good as mine in French. It’s also discouraging because she almost always responds in English. When she learns a new word in French, she’ll use it until she learns that word in English and then she drops the French word for the English. For example, last week when it snowed, we talked all about “la neige” and Eila blabbed on and on about water and cold and snow in French and then she learned that “la neige” is snow in English and I haven’t heard a thing in French, but she is talking about snow in English at least once a day.

Intellectually, I realized that this was the way it would most likely be. This is the standard way that kids in a bilingual home with a minority language spoken at home function. This is why so many parents give up (especially when they also know the majority language well and don’t see a great need or use for the minority language in everyday life). It is hard to speak to your kids in one language when they respond in a different language. It sort of messes with the brain and strange combinations of both languages come out.

Emotionally, though, I’m feeling discouraged and even a little like I fighting a losing battle. I see the benefits and have already put in a lot of work, but wonder if it isn’t a waste of energy and brainpower. There are so many things that I want to teach my kids and among the most important are things like: loving God and others and being respectful and kind. Speaking another language is a nice thing, but not essential for the end result of a person who loves God with all heart, soul, body, and mind.

For now, I continue to speak in French and hope that it will do more good than harm for Eila’s development. She’s learning lots of sign language too and using that frequently, so we’ll see what God has in store for us.

To read more about passive bilingualism, see:

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