Staying alive: mother-tongue maintenance abroad

How can you help your children to keep their native language alive when they are born abroad and spend little time with mum and dad? An English family living in Luxembourg tells me one way they go about it.

When Eleanor was five so she was between the two Spillschoul years
00055 Erm, I got a, I arranged for a teacher to come across from England, who lived with us for a month in the big summer holidays
Erm, we ran an English summer school (laughs)
00056 That is what she was telling me about, Lucy?
That’s right, summer school Lucy! (laughs)
Right, right! And her cousins attended as well, it was in Henley
No, it was here, but she-
Lives, she comes from near Henley
00057 Oh, right, okay okay
So she lives in the vicinity of my family
Right, right
In England
And I think she’s even taught once at the school where her cous- Eleanor’s
00058 Cousins, erm, go to school, which is the Oratory, and, that was a, for Eleanor, that was a fantastic success that month when Lucy was here. I got together
00059 Eleanor plus another five native English speakers attending Luxembourgish schools, who, five of them, I think we within 6 months of age and one as a little bit younger and
00060 She went through, every day, a couple of English phonics with them and really tired to get them enthusiastic about reading and writing in English, and for some reason
00061 Eleanor was just at the exactly it was it came at exactly the right point for her and you could really see how her English blossomed over over that month it was wonderful

ELEANOR JUNE 01 2010 2

ELEANOR JUNE 01 2010 3

Okay. Erm, actually I’m gong to pick your brain because you could give me some
00077 Information that I haven’t yet collected. Can you tell me how, erm, Luxembourgish Spillschoul, how that functions. What do the children do? Do they really mainly play or do they, are they…
00078 Generally introduced into the world of print? Do they have writing activities and so on, erm, or is it
I think I can get you, erm, the folder in a minute
Oh alright
Of her of
00079 That she did. I would say it’s more pencil control
That they do during that time. I think the older ones, they do their letters
00080 As well they I think they do some elements of letters, phonics and sounds, but it’s, it’s quite basic. I would say the, especially of the 5-6 year olds
00081 Erm, that it’s not as fast as you would expect for that age group in the UK. But for me that was fine. It meant that I really felt as if I had this window of opportunity
00082 Especially with Eleanor being so motivated, to focus on establishing her reading English and writing English before she was getting the German so that that
00083 I felt that was and ad- a delay that I could use to our advantage
Right, right, right

from my fieldnotes: language maintenance when living abroad.


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