When a child is two they are scheduled for a check-up at the health clinic with a child nurse. The main aim of the check-up is to see how the child is doing with language development. Before the appointment the clinic will send out a little questionnaire about your child’s basic language achievements – words, sentences and understandings. As our children will be learning two languages we were previously told that their language development will be a little slower than most as they not only have to learn two languages but also sort out everything into each language. We were told that we shouldn’t expect our children to say full sentences until they are about three years of age.
I’ve been instructed to always, and only speak English to my children. This conflicts with my Norwegian learning as my Norwegian teachers say I must only practice Norwegian at home. But I put my children first and put my Norwegian learning on the back-burner. Unfortunately I had already got into the habit of using Norwegian commands: ikke rør! (Don’t touch!) The rest of my communication has been English, especially when I didn’t know how to say things in Norwegian (which is most often). I thought this would be ok so I could grow my Norwegian with my children. However, an undesired outcome has occurred that wasn’t known until the check-up tests. Instead of Lilu being able to speak Norwegian and English she can only speak Norwegian. The other worryingsom thing is that she can only speak and understand small groups of words in Norwegian because that is all I’ve been able to say to her. Even though Moose speaks to Lilu in Norwegian, she has picked up my patterns of Norwegian speech. This is stunting her language development.
I felt very guilty for using my baby Norwegian on Lilu. I had placed more importance on her learning Norwegian as I felt it would give her a better start in life than learning English so other Norwegian children could understand her. Moose and I had a long conversation with the nurse. She explained how important it was for me to teach Lilu about her cultural heritage, including English. I had heard it before from another nurse but this time it made more sense to me. (I also suppose that nurses have been told to encourage immigrants to teach their children their language and heritage as the two different nurses used the same words and phrasing.) This time it felt like I was given permission to speak English. All my Norwegian life I’ve had to compromise my own language and heritage. I’ve had to place learning Norwegian and living like a Norwegian above being Australian. Sometimes I would feel guilty only being able to speak English as I thought it would hold my kids back. But oddly, I needed the ‘permission’ to feel free to teach my kids English.
Because of Lilu’s lack of language development (in English) we need another clinic appointment in a couple of months time to check her progress. And because of the ‘permission’, when I got home I started using only English straight away. It was amazing how hard it was to constantly speak English. For all the little communications in daily life I have been using Norwegian so now I have to think before I say. Now when I read Lilu the alphabet book we have a sound battle. She points and says ‘deh’ and I point and say ‘dee’. She gets a little annoyed with me as I am now changing things on her but I must be persistent even though it feels now that I am competing with Norwegian rather than ‘embracing’ it. I won’t know the result of things for a couple of years but Lilu is a smart girl and I’m sure she will sort everything out. (I wonder how my Norwegian language will fare my English now.)