Bilingual Family: Language as a tool
Being multilingual certainly has it advantages - especially when you're a six-year-old trying to convince your parents into giving you what you want...
Most of our weekends are spent by the soccer field where we cheer on Emma game after game, rain or shine. This can sometimes be a bit tiresome for Sara who is prone to crankiness whenever we leave for a soccer game. The only thing that saves the day is usually the sweet roll that she gets from the booth where other soccer mums (and dads!) are trying to raise half of the money that they spent on ingredients to bake those sweet rolls.
Last weekend we made the strategic mistake of not bringing any cash with us and Sara had to watch one (ONE!) game without eating anything. We had just had lunch at home, and she wasn't hungry. Still, not getting her treat quickly became a disaster, and she threw a temper tantrum as only a real drama queen can. Knowing that she wasn't going to get to me with it, she pleaded with her father, "Papa, papa, s'il te plaît..." Her father (got to love him for that) didn't give in either and ignored her as nothing he said was getting through to her.
What happened next was interesting. After calling out 'papa' for a while from the bleachers where she was lying down as if she was too weak to get up (she's really quite convincing at this), she switched into crying out the same thing in Finnish, "iskä...iskä..." She never, ever uses Finnish with her father and, much to our amusement, we understood immediately that these cries were not intended for him. They were for the benefit of all the people around us who probably didn't speak any French.
By calling out to her dad in Finnish she was really saying to them, "Here I am, calling my father in great distress – and he just ignores me. Surely the fact that I am letting everyone understand the situation will make him feel guilty and get me my sweet roll."
No, it didn't, but we were still fascinated by this new bilingual milestone that she had reached: using her languages for her own purposes. She's only six, so we can't wait to see how she'll use this strategy as a teenager!
What have been your experiences with using language as a tool?
Annika Bourgogne is a language teacher who lives in Helsinki, Finland, with her French husband and two daughters. Passionate about family bilingualism, she is always looking for new ways to combine real-life parenting with the latest research on the subject. Her book Be Bilingual – Practical Ideas for Multilingual Families came out in December 2012. You can read more about Annika's book and new projects on her website and Facebook page.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.