We’re raising our youngest daughter bilingual (with Irish) here in the USA. The success of this endeavor so far has been clear and gratifying. I have often wondered how I would be able to measure our success, because English is spoken in the home alongside Irish, and of course outside the home it’s everywhere. I was curious if Irish was dominant, and by how much. I had suspected she was slightly Irish dominant, but the results were surprising.
To track her progress, we decided to start writing down every word she uses and we know she understands the meaning of. We didn’t count each and every time she’s imitated a sound she heard, and made sure we waited for her to display consistent knowledge and usage of each word. There are, of course, a much larger pool of words she consistently understands, but hasn’t verbalized on her own yet.
This is uniquely effective at her current age, because she is still in the stage when she uses one word for each concept/object. In a few months she’ll begin using both languages, according to bilingual experts, but for now it’s a ball, not a liathróid (though she does indeed understand the Irish word when we use it).
So, the results were:
9 clearly English words
5 words that are the same in Irish and English (like car/carr, teddy/teidí, etc…)
31 Irish words in her vocabulary!
This is confirmation that our bilingual goal is working. I would say the decision for both parents to speak Irish, and her older sister’s goodwill to learn and participate has led to this success. I have read in many places that the support of the older siblings is as crucial as the parents. The other day our older daughter told me she now understands more Irish than French- despite having studied French in school for twice as long (seven years, to be exact).
We also find it interesting that the widespread view that bilinguals begin speaking later doesn’t apply to our daughter. She’s above average in the number of words she’s speaking. Being able to measure her progression in two languages is not only helpful, but the results are encouraging and will keep us on this path!