The thing about babies is that you have to do a lot of things on faith, since you don’t see the results until weeks or months (or years) down the line. I remember teaching Lee and Luke not to go off the couch or a bed headfirst, but to turn around and slide on the belly until the feet touched. I kept turning them and sliding them, and they kept trying to dive off headfirst (sometimes succeeding). Then one day, just like that, they turned on there own.
English was like that for Lee, but the wait was longer. She understood me perfectly well, but though she could come out with bits and bobs when it suited her, the language she was most comfortable speaking in was Greek. It was natural – Greek’s all around her, and it’s the most useful language to her. And language, in the end, is a tool, so you’re obviously going to learn to use the tool with the most utility.
Then, nearly two years ago, we went to London for my brother’s wedding, spent a week there and a week in Dublin with my mum. I remember the look on Lee’s face when she realised nobody understood what she said in Greece. Dumbfounded, then thoughtful. She was pretty quiet in London, but a few days into the stay in Dublin, she just started speaking English. Entire sentences, too, not just words. It was my turn to be dumbfounded.
That’s the thing with the ‘second’ mother tongue – the one that’s not the dominant one, spoken by the majority in the child environment. It there. Everything’s going in, and though it may takes a little longer to come out, it will eventually – especially if it’s got a good reason to.