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Insight on Why Bilingual Children May Reject a Language

Peer pressure can be strong in influencing children who are bilingual to reject using a language—usually the child's home language, writes François Grosjean, a professor emeritus of psycholinguistics at Neuchâtel University in Switzerland, in a blog at Psychology Today. (Hat tip to @Judiehaynes.)

I recall from reading Grosjean's book, Bilingual: Life and Reality, two years ago that he is the son of an English mother and French father and is fluent in both English and French.

In his blog post in Psychology Today, Grosjean talks about a problem that I've heard discussed often by parents or educators of bilingual children in this country who want those children to keep their bilingualism: It's hard to compete with children's perceptions that English has a higher status socially than their home language.

But Grosjean adds some nuances to the discussion. He cites a study by two researchers of children who were bilingual in French and English over a six-year period in Louisiana and in Quebec during the summer. Because of the children's perception of language status, they chose to be monolingual in English in Louisiana but monolingual in French in Quebec.

So it makes sense that a tried-and-true approach for immigrant parents to get their children to maintain their native language is to send them to stay with relatives in the family's country of origin now and then. I also know a family that has attended a language camp in the summer in the United States where all the participants share a common home language and speak that language at the camp. In this case, the shared home language was Russian.

I like how Grosjean explores the psychology of children's desire to use a language rather than simply the availability of opportunity to use and maintain that language. He's right in saying that parents need to be creative in how they encourage children to keep up and develop their home language.

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