A Bilingual Child: Recasting as language modelling

Bilingual Child, passive language, recasting language, Curitiba, BrazilOne of my original goals when starting this blog was to document my son’s bilingual acquisition.  I had images of writing blog posts about his ability to communicate in English and Portuguese, and maybe even starting to learn a third language.

As so often in life, things haven’t quite panned out as I had hoped.  I only speak English to Mr T, but he nearly always replies in Portuguese.  I am not especially worried about this as I know he has an excellent passive knowledge of English because he understands what I’m saying and we have great conversations, just in two languages.

I am reluctant to ‘force’ him to speak English because I don’t want him to feel stressed out by trying to find words he doesn’t know.  I am sure that when he is ready he will speak as much English as he wants and until then I value our own personal style of communication.

While I don’t make Mr T speak English, I do encourage him.  If he wants me to get him something, or if he wants to be allowed to watch yet another episode of Ninjago, he has learnt that if he asks me in English he stands a better chance.

Another strategy I have used is one I have imported from teaching English in class.  If a student makes a mistake one way of correcting them is to recast the phrase.  For example, a student says ‘He like pizza’, the teacher can recast this by saying, ‘Oh, he likes pizza?’  The advantage of this is that you are able to provide a correct model while not necessarily obstructing communication.  There is, however, a downside in that it is not entirely clear that all students notice this form of correction.

Nevertheless, I have used this tactic for the last couple of years with Mr T.  If he says ‘Olha pai, meu dragão é vermelho!’  I recast it in English by saying something like ‘Wow, your dragon is red!’  In my mind this provides more exposure to language that he is interested and so, one day, will move from being passive to active.

We’ve started to see some improvement in his willingness to use English in the last few weeks, so maybe this strategy is starting to pay off.  Or perhaps it is truly useless and something else we are doing is working instead.


7 thoughts on “A Bilingual Child: Recasting as language modelling

  1. Hi Stephen – I have been living a very similar story – my son is 11 now, and I have been speaking English to him from the moment he left his mother’s balley. For years and years he responded in Portuguese and only when friends, who don’t speak Portuguese, come to visit me, he speaks English – and he speaks very well! So, some time ago I stopped worrying and my wife stoopped nagging him to speak English with me, and suddenly he speaks more and more English – strange, isn’t it? Everybody has their moment, don’t they? Cheers

    • Hi Peter, great to see you on here! I am sure that the more we show we are worried about something, the more our children will do it, just to see the effect. You hvae kind of achieved the perfect result: fewer worries, no nagging in the house and more English. Cheers!

  2. Greetings from Canada! We’re a bilingual Mandarin/English family and we’ve gone with the same approach you have with our son– I only speak English with him, but we ‘play’ with Chinese together sometimes; my wife only speaks Chinese to him (and a mix with me). Reading your post, a flood of memories/concerns and thoughts of ‘oh-yeah-I-had-hoped-for-that-too’ came back to me. My son is eight now and I feel like we’re *just* now starting to feel like it’s been a successful (albeit painfully slow) campaign. I feel like we’re having more success with our son than some Chinese immigrant families who have started to speak English at home with their children— in watching other families, it seems like there are a few variations on successful strategies; however, the one key key constant is having at least one parent who sticks to the language– everything else seems to essentially be variations on tactics that take into account children’s personality/interests. I agree that avoiding the idea of ‘forcing’ a child into a language is the way to go. Good luck!

    • Hi Ray, thanks for your comment and I am glad you are starting to see results. You are right that every family dynamic will be slightly different, but the sccessful ones are based on a similar template. Looking at some of friends here in Curitiba who also have bilingual families, some achieve success almost immediately and others take much longer. I don’t know if there is any secret ingredient, except perseverance.

  3. Hello, first of all thanks for this blog, as a parent of 3 bilingual English-Spanish kids (including twins) it’s always fascinating to read about other bilingual children’s experiences. Regarding the effectiveness of recasting in SLA, Lyster & Ranta (1991) found it to be very ineffective, but that was with monolingual FL learners.

    • Hi Tom, thanks for your comment. From personal experience, as well as the reading I have done, I am pretty much convinced that recasting in a second language context is ineffective. I am sure that my students are concentrationg much more on what they are trying to communicate than on what I have just covertly corrected. However, when it takes place across two languages, I have more hope as my son often interacts with what I say and so I think he is paying attention, at least on some level.

  4. Pingback: Raising Bilingual Children: what’s your strategy? | Wordsummit

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