You are raising your child with several languages at home. It is extremely rewarding, isn't? To be honest, it is a real challenge and it is not easy every day. However, isn't it a real happiness to know that your child will be able to talk in two languages or more? Everything happens so smoothly and one day, oops!! What's happening? Your child starts to mix languages. Your child mixes the grammar and the vocabulary. And you start to panic... what is going on? What is happening? What can I do? Why are the two languages being mixed up? Did I do or say something wrong?
Not at all, and there is no need to panic. I am not going to go and explain in details what the expert - of whom I am - call code mixing or code switching. What is that? It is simply the interference between two languages, it could be the use of the grammar of one language with the vocabulary of another. Every bilingual person, whether adult or child, is switching code. It is absolutely normal.
When a child does it, he or she is simply experimenting with the languages. He/she is playing with them. The child shows that he/ she has a control of the languages, that he/she can manage them. If a child mixes grammar, it means he/she knows how to construct sentences in both languages. He or she may also lack words in one of the two languages, and knowing the word in the other language, he/she will use it. It may also be because the word in the other language is better to express what he/she wants to say and that he/she cannot express it differently.
So, this mixture of languages, this code switching, is an integral part of the language development of bilingual children. These moments when a child mixes the codes show how he/she uses the languages in a creative manner. It can also be a strategy to make them better understood or to obtain what they want. When a child speaks, he/she chooses in his vocabulary repertoire and in the grammar that he/she masters best in order to convey his/her message, even if it means mixing codes, mixing languages. This does not disturb a child as it would disturb the parents. For a child, it is not confusion, it is not mixing, it is using what he/she knows. Unlike the adults, a child does not need a pure language.
So, what should I do? What should I do if I wish to correct and show my child that he/she is mixing? The first thing to do is not to correct, not to point out the error, which is not a mistake. The mixture of languages is not serious. It will correct itself with time. Do not have a negative attitude towards code mixing. If you insist on correcting, you can repeat the sentence with the right words or the right grammatical construction. The more you correct a child, the more he/she is likely to rebel and refuse to use the language. Being too rigid will be counterproductive. Thinks about this: do you do any code mixing yourself? Do you sometimes use words from another language when you speak? If you do do, why ben your children to do the same?
This code switching allows the children to develop their intellectual capacity. It makes them accept that it is not the same everywhere. It allows them to learn to cope with all situations. Indirectly, the child learns to find a way when he does not know how to do with one language, which will later give them wonderful communication skills.
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Publié ici le 22 février 2019 - First published here : La Boite de Charlie