From the Mouths of Bilingual Babes #23

As a linguist with bilingual children, I’m always following my children around with a notebook writing down as many of the amazing things they say as I can. And even though I know all the academic information about language acquisition and bilingual development etc, I never cease to be enthralled by watching these things actually unfold before my eyes. Here’s another great example of skilful and purposeful code-switching (mixing languages) extracted from a cowboys & horses play session my children didn’t know I was observing:


A: [in French] “Regarde Chef, Le Grand est revenu !” [Look Boss, The Great One has come back!]

N: “Ah oui, c’est vrai et moi aussi je suis revenue !” [Ah yes, that’s true and I have come back too!]

A: … [in English] “No, I’m the horsey!”

N: “Yes, but I’m a horsey too!”

A: … [in French] “Le Grand est revenu, Chef, regarde comme il a grandi ! [The Great One has come back, Boss, look how much he’s grown!”]

N: “Waouh ! Il est vraiment grand maintenant. Bravo, Le Grand !” [Wow! He’s really big now. Well done, Great One!]


The children have invented their own language usage rules here, which say: this game is being played in French, but any meta language we need to use to discuss how we play the game or organise the game will be in English. Notice how one child automatically slips into the other language to say, Hey this is not the way the game is supposed to go! A quick negotiation is carried out in English and then, just as automatically, both children slip back into French to continue playing their imaginary game. Genius! Let me be clear, the children didn’t ‘agree’ on this language rule or arrange it in any way ahead of their game, and they would almost certainly be completely unaware they had switched languages at all. This would all have taken place quite subconsciously. This demonstrates that in bilingual brains BOTH languages are active ALL the time, which is why bilinguals have such great executive function (see post on why you should raise your child bilingually to know what that means).

I’ve been promising you a full post just on mixing languages and IT IS COMING!! But in the meantime if this is an issue in your family, get in touch with me, pick up the phone, jot down an email or book a consultation and we can Get. It. Sorted!

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