Back in August I made a post about my bilingual children and language learning. I wanted to make the follow up post sooner but kept putting it off due to lack of time due to laziness. Now, I am making myself sit down and do it.
While in college, during one of my social psychology courses, I learned that a mother naturally talks to her children in a sing song high pitched voice. A mother is more likely to repeat words and sentences over and over than a father is. I assumed that is where the term ‘mother tongue’ came from. I tried to find this information online to write about it in this post. What I found wasn’t what I learned in college.
I found that mother tongue doesn’t mean the mother’s language.
The term “mother tongue” should not be interpreted to mean that it is the language of one’s mother. In some paternal societies, the wife moves in with the husband and thus may have a different first language, or dialect, than the local language of the husband. Yet their children usually only speak their local language. Only a few will learn to speak their mothers’ languages like natives. Mother in this context probably originated from the definition of mother as source, or origin; as in mother-country or land.
In fact, most adults (not just mothers) and children in all cultures will talk to babies using baby talk. While baby talking a person speaks using short and simple words spoken in a high pitched cooing voice.
After reading this information I thought about it. Are mothers better at teaching language or is it a stereotype?
In our family, I am the main teacher as far as language goes. In the beginning I taught the kids French right along with English. I am naturally and sometimes overwhelmingly nurturing and talkative.
While we lived in America, the kids were able to speak in French with Vilay and they understood him. Yet, they didn’t speak French at an increasingly higher level over time. I saw that English was taking over where as when we lived in France both languages progressed at a near equal pace.
Honestly, I think it is because I sing with them and read to them more than Vilay does. Of course, I am singing and reading mostly in English since that is my native language. Day to day, I am the one that takes care of the children. I give them their bath, feed them, change diapers, clean up after them, brush their hair and teeth and all the other little chores of life.
Don’t get me wrong. Vilay does correct the kids in French and English. He does occasionally cook and change diapers. Yet, he isn’t as involved with the children as I am.
I talk to the kids. We have big conversations every day. I ask them questions about the world and how things work. I play with them.
My husband will do these things but not as often. I am the parent that spends the most quality time with our children even when we lived in America and I was the one working. I was still the main caregiver of our children. My husband simply isn’t as nurturing as I am.
I am not saying he isn’t a good father. He is. It is that he does not take care of them unless he has to. Meaning if I am not there he will do what he must do until I get home to take over. It is the daily chores he doesn’t want to do. Those little chores are important in raising a child. Childcare isn’t about being the fun parent. It is work.
Vilay is the fun and silly dad and the strictor out of the two of us. Which is kinda ironic. How can he be fun and strict all at the same time? Yet, he is.
I would take it even further to say that even more than the day to day childcare is the fact that I work on building their language skills. Vilay doesn’t put as much energy into it as I do. He is more laid back about it than I am.
Speaking a language correctly requires learning to navigate in that language. I give my kids the skills to navigate in English. I talk to them about English and give them different examples of how to say something.
It isn’t really about learning rules. You can know the rules of a language and still not speak it naturally or even well.
I teach my kids American slang, American idiomatic phrases, songs and make up and play language games with them. American-English is a part of who they are deep inside just as French is. When we are living in a French speaking world their every day lives are split equally between American-English and French because of all the extra work I do.
We talk about how it is important for them to speak English so that they can talk with our family in the States. We talk about what it means for them to be American. I tell them stories about American history and customs that are appropriate to their age.
Each day, I teach my children how to speak like an American and to be American. I do it all naturally and unforced just as any American mother or father does in the States. Yet, I have to work a little harder at it because I am the sole native English speaker in our life.
In the end, I have to conclude that the reason my children are stronger in both languages when we live in a francophone world as opposed to an anglophone world is because I am the main caregiver and I am a stronger teacher than my husband.
While men can be as nurturing as women, I will say that I do think that more women are apt to be better at teaching language. Not because we are born knowing how to do it. But, because we are taught from the beginning through socialization to be more nurturing and attentive to children than men are.
However, I think that is slowly changing. More and more men are participating in the daily care of their children.
It is becoming less of a choice for men to change diapers and more of daily reality. It only makes sense that if fathers are giving kids baths, feeding them, changing diapers, dressing them and playing with them that fathers will also be more involved in their children’s language development.
I can’t blame Vilay for the fact that I am the main caretaker. I was raised to be. It is who I am. Even if in my heart I want to work, there is a part of me that makes me feel guilty for even considering not staying at home with my children.
Why do I jump first when one of our children cry at night? It is because I think my husband won’t be able to calm them with a mother’s touch. It is my ego. So, it is not only my husband that is caught up in all the ideas of what a mother’s job is and what a father’s job is.
We are both equally cabable of taking good care of our children. However, it would be hard for me to let him take over or even share as the main caregiver of our children. It is a learning process for both of us.
I do think it would be better for our children if I learned to let go of some of the responsibility of caring for our children and if my husband learned to take on more of those responsibilities.
It is safe to say that men aren’t alone in the need to break free from society’s stereotypical way of thinking.
It will take time and effort on the part of both sexes.
Until that time, it is better for my children to continue being bilingual in French speaking Switzerland or France.