I mostly speak English to my children. Acquaintances who comment on this sometimes seem to think I am aiming at some future linguistic advantage for them when they enter the corporate world or some top-secret research organisation. I suspect that they don't make the same sort of assumptions about parents who speak Arabic or Portuguese to their children. Obviously however, I speak English to them not to give them a head-start on other children when they learn languages at school but quite simply so that they can communicate meaningfully with me and the rest of their family. [People with teenage children are probably rolling on the ground laughing now at the very idea of meaningful communication with the monosyllabic troglodytes that have replaced their chatty children. Mine will, of course, be different.]
I speak English to them because it comes naturally about 60% of the time. The rest of the time, French comes more spontanaeously either because we’re talking about something they don’t have the vocabulary for in English, or we’re with French speakers and it feels rude to exclude them. And some of the time I hash up both languages in a single sentence which I know you’re absolutely not supposed to do, but I’ve given up worrying about that because that’s the way my brain works now — intermittently.
Perhaps that background partly explains my horror and disbelief at the French government’s latest pronouncements on legalising illegal immigrants and their children some of whom have been going to French schools for years. To avoid deportation the children have to meet three conditions: they must have been born in France, they must have had all of their schooling in France and they MUST NOT be able to speak the language of their native country. It would be hard to think of a more effective way of promoting inter-generational incomprehension, of hastening the disappearance of certain minority languages, and of maintaining the idea that linguistic and cultural diversity is divisive rather than enriching. What hope for language teaching in France with that sort of ethos? What hope for the respect of other ppeople and cultures?
Bah, words fail me.