Our family is one of those typically South African hybrids – I’m Afrikaans, my ex-husband (and still good friend) is English. When our children were born I was determined they would grow up bilingual. But our eldest was barely six months old when clinic sisters and paediatricianswere quick to inform me it was better for kids to learn only one language in the first few years of their lives. I wanted to argue but they were firm: you’re just going to confuse your children.
Today I really regret listening to their advice. Eleanor (15) started talking to me in Afrikaans for the first time only a year ago; Jonathan (12) simply tells me to please talk to him in "his language" – although the other day he did do an Afrikaans oral completely without Mom’s help and proudly came to tell me he’d got 17 out of 20 for it. When I asked him what it was on he said he’d talked about Mom’s job and about Daddy who worked for a "nuuspapier". But hey, we’ll get there one day . . .
Years ago I eagerly started Zulu lessons but work pressure forced me to give them up reluctantly. Our kids have both had to learn Xhosa at school but they’re not really interested. And now Eleanor has discovered French – to tell the truth she’s planning to live in Paris one day and picnic beside the Seine every day.
What to do with kids who grow up in a bilingual household? When do you start talking to them in a second (or third) language? On page 34 experts advise the many South Africans struggling with the same dilemma.
I’m still sorry I didn’t follow my instincts when my children were little. An Afrikaans friend who’s also married to an English guy and who lives on a farm in the Free State had her three kids learn three languages from when they were babies – English as home language, Afrikaans with relatives and Sotho with the labourers on the farm. There’s probably no greater gift.
We hope you enjoy this issue of YOU Pulse. It’s fresh and summery with lots of pleasurable and interesting reads. Why not give someone a gift subscription? Or spoil yourself for a change!
I hope you and your family have a happy summer,