For the last three weeks, I hear almost no Japanese in my house. This was because my parents were visiting, and the kids knew that they would have to speak English or not be understood.
This has never happened before in our house. When we went to Hawaii in February Domba was still barely talking, and what she did say was mostly in Japanese. Of course in Hawaii so many people speak Japanese, and so even the Americans there would speak to her in Japanese, and there were many Japanese people around. The grandparents and her uncle and aunt spoke to her in English and she still answered in Japanese, or with signs. Spinky did pretty good answering but most of what he came up with was still in Japanese, and he needed quite a few reminders to speak in English.
This visit, however, it seems that everything went right. First, I have been talking it up. We have been counting down to the visit since March. I have been reminding the kids ever so gently (maybe!) that they need to practice their English so their grandparents can understand them when they come to stay. It worked enough that General Spinky could be found telling his sister off for speaking Japanese when I left the room occasionally and he was in his bossy mood. But I wasn't sure that it would actually transfer over to results.
But, BAM! My parents arrived and it was like a lightbulb went off. That language their mama is always speaking? Useful. You can actually use it to get through to people. People they love!
I don't think I hear a word of Japanese out of my son's mouth all three weeks. Even when we went to practice for his Sports Day (the BIG EVENT of every kindergarten), and it was just me and him practicing a dance with all the other moms and kids, he spoke to me, in English, in front of his friends. This is a first! Luckily there was a fist pump in the dance so I didn't look like an idiot when I celebrated.
Then there was Domba. In September, Domba was a chatty little thing. However, outside of a couple of songs (like her mashup of Twinkle Twinkle and Baa Baa Black Sheep) the English vocab she actually used was very small. I could count her words on my digits (if I took off my socks) the number of English words she actually knew. But that kind of exploded when my parents arrived.
Here's the thing. I'm scared to death that this won't continue. I need to understand why this happened and recreate that now that my parents are far away.
In Domba's case, I think a lot had to do with her being out of daycare. Spinky kept going to kindy and we met him afterwards, but Domba was at home with my parents and I all day. There was no escape from English. The words she had been hearing and understanding for so long actually became necessary on the couple of days I had to work and she stayed with my parents. Sink or swim, baby Domba.
Spinky, however, was really enjoying the attention. No matter what, there was someone around to listen to his silly stories and protest when he cheated at soccer. (No, I don't think the score is You-474, Granda-0). Mama might be washing dishes but someone will feed his ego. He loved it.
Unfortunately Domba isn't going to be quitting daycare anytime soon. And Spinky will not have my undivided attention all day everyday. But what I can do is put more effort into recreating that. Usually it's Mr. Medea who is out playing soccer but I will make more of an effort with that. I will sneak down to the daycare at lunch sometimes for a bit of mama-daughter girl talk time. And I'm going to make sure they remember how awesome it was to have their grandparents here and communicate with them. I've already framed some pictures.
How do you recreate the ideal situation for your heritage language?