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The OPOL (one parent one language) method of bilingual parenting teaches bilingual kids two languages as each parent speaks a separate language to their child.
About One Parent One Language (OPOL)
If you have been reading about the best way to raise bilingual kids, you have probably come across the one parent one language (OPOL) method. Some people call it one person one language. Essentially, in a two-parent household, each parent speaks a different language to the child.
This method is often used when each parent is a native speaker of a different language, and each parent prefers to speak their native language to their child. It is also used in situations where only one parent is bilingual but wants to raise bilingual children.
Children in OPOL households grow up to be simultaneous bilinguals- which means they will pick up languages at the same time.
Parents in OPOL households aren’t generally as tired because each parent only focuses on passing on their own language and culture- no one is speaking their non-native language.
Many parents choose OPOL because they have extended family nearby who are monolingual, and need their young children to understand the minority language from a young age,
Some parents have decided their English-speaking child will learn a second language at school and want to reinforce that language at home. Maybe parents have decided to introduce bilingualism to their kids at a later date. It is a very flexible method for raising bilingual kids.
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The parents clearly have a common language or they wouldn’t have developed a relationship. (Of course, this is not true in extremely extenuating circumstances, but we aren’t discussing that in this article.) This means a child may choose to speak only one language to both parents while maintaining a level of understanding the other language. Older children especially will often reject the non-dominant language when they start school.
In the case where only one parent is bilingual and the other is not, the bilingual parent may be concerned that the other parent is “left out” or does not understand what is happening. Both parents really need to be on the same page regarding this. It is especially helpful if the second parent is a cheerleader of bilingualism, or may be working to learn the second language along with the child.
Let’s be clear- this is not generally a concern in other areas of the world. When I used to teach English language learners I would often have African students whose parents native tribe languages were different, but both parents used the dominant academic language as well. Those kids grew up trilingual with no problem.
School-aged children who are not in bilingual schools will find that they have less minority language exposure than bilingual parents who choose the minority language at home method.
Kids will mix languages- which isn’t all bad, according to this NPR article.
When determining if you should use this method, make sure both spouses are on board. Then plan out each spouse’s role with language input, and what redirection techniques each will use.
Find support! If you are the parent speaking the minority language, make sure you find other parents who are doing the same. Also, it can be important to keep your own language up to speed by watching movies, listening to music, or talking to family in the minority language. You can join our bilingual parenting Facebook group for support.
Here is a great article on the benefits of bilingual parenting.
Make sure to join our bilingual parenting Facebook group- BilingualWe!
What happens if I start OPOL with my kids and it doesn’t work?
Don’t worry! The worst thing that can happen is language rebellion. You can always adjust your bilingual parenting method as needed.
What is OPOL?
OPOL is one parent (or one person) one language, where each parent speaks a different language to their children in order to gain bilingualism.
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Welcome! I’m Christa, a former high school teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. I love all things Spanish and bi-cultural, (especially travel and food!) and you’ll find my observations on life here. Thanks for stopping by