Our Story: The Haug/Kandolf Family

Our family consists of Steinar Haug, a native speaker of Norwegian, Cindy Kandolf, a native speaker of (American) English, and our son Kenneth, who is four years old and rapidly becoming fluent in both languages. We live in the city of Trondheim in central Norway. We are fortunate enough to live in a place where the attitude towards bilingualism is positive, and the "minority" (that is, non-community) language in our family, English, enjoys high status here.

Before Kenneth was born, we had planned to each speak our own language to him. This is frequently referred to as the One Parent, One Language rule (OPOL). This worked well for the first year and a half. Kenneth's first words were a mixture of English and Norwegian, and he appeared to understand both languages well.

When Kenneth was eighteen months old, Cindy returned to her studies, and Kenneth spent several hours a day four days a week with a babysitter who was essentially a monolingual Norwegian speaker. (All of his babysitters so far have spoken only Norwegian to him.) After about four months, it became obvious to us that Kenneth's language use was unbalanced. He still seemed to understand English fairly well, but he was speaking Norwegian at a noticeably higher level than English. At this point we decided to make a change in the pattern of language use at home. Steinar began to speak English with Kenneth. This pattern is called the Minority Language at Home rule (MLaH).

Very soon the wisdom of changing the pattern became clear to us. Kenneth's English caught up to his Norwegian. Unexpectedly, his skills in both languages improved rapidly. It is of course impossible to know why this happened. Such rapid jumps forward are very common in children's language development, and perhaps Kenneth was simply ripe for such an improvement. Or perhaps Kenneth's English was lagging so far behind his Norwegian that it was hindering his development in both languages. Whatever the cause, we were pleased with the results of our decision.

As of this writing, we primarily follow the MLaH rule, but have become less strict about it. Steinar especially will choose the language he uses to Kenneth according to the situation. Cindy tries to always speak English to Kenneth when only family is present, but sometimes speaks Norwegian if there are others nearby, particularly others with limited English skills. He has videotapes and books in both languages, though we have made some effort to read him English books. He knows the alphabet in both languages. Kenneth now attends a Norwegian preschool (barnehage) and his teachers are as pleased as we are about his language skills.

So what would we recommend to other families? In our experience, no one pattern gives the answer for everyone. Each family must determine for themselves which pattern will work best for them. We have found that the best situation for us, with two adults who are both fluent in both the family's languages and a relatively supportive community atmosphere towards bilingualism, is to give one language priority but not to the extent of enforcing rules about what language "should" be spoken. Clearly other families have other problems and issues, and we do not assume others will find our solution to be right for them.

We hope that others will find our story and these Web pages useful as they raise their own bilingual families.

Please send comments to Cindy, Steinar or Kenneth.

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