With Lee we followed a common strategy for bilingual families: I spoke only English to her and her mother used only Greek. Between my wife (who I’ll call Anna) and me, we used a mixture (my Greek’s pretty good; Anna’s English is fluent).
We live in Greece, so that’s the immersion language – she gets it everywhere, from grandparents, at nursery school etc – but the idea is that the other language becomes a secret language between that parent and the child, and is learned in parallel and discretely (rather than on top of the mother tongue, as second languages are usually mapped). This way, two mother tongues develop – and brain scans have shown differences between the brains of monolingual and bilingual kids.
Now, there are some who say that for the best results, you shouldn’t respond to your kid unless they use the language you use to them, but I never thought that was fair. Language is a tool, after all, and if she used Greek to communicate with me – and succeeded – who was I to pretend she had failed. I also bent the rules when it came to Greek nursery rhymes and songs.
That’s the theory, anyway. In the next post, I’ll tell you how that worked out.