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MLAH – Minority Language At Home Method

MLAH Minority Language At Home Language Strategy Bilingual Kids

Minority Language At Home Method, – MLAH or ML@H

There are a few different methods used to raising a bilingual child depending on your family situation. One of the most popular is OPOL, which I have written about in a previous post. Another is MLAH – Minority Language at Home. This approach is exactly how it sounds. The main language (or majority language) is used in the community, and the “Minority Language at Home”.

Families who follow MLAH are usually migrants or expats. Families who have moved abroad to a country where the community language is different to their native language. Other parents however, also decide to use the Minority Language at home in order to improve the minority language. Of course, it can only work if both parents can speak the minority language, and this is not always the case.

Does the Minority Language At Home Approach really work?

Professor Francois Grosjean,  one of the most famous specialists in bilingualism, suggests MLAH as the best method for helping children become bilingual. Based on his research: “the strategy has a clear advantage, in that the weaker language (the home language) will receive much more input than if only one parent uses it as in the OPOL – One Parent One Language strategy

Not all families are in a situation where it can work though. As mentioned, both parents need to be able to speak the minority language and be comfortable using it consistently.

What are the problems with MLAH, and what can you do to make it work for you?

Though it seems to be the most effective method, there are parents who have expressed some concern with speaking only the minority language at home.

The main one being that when children start school. Initially if children have been brought up speaking the minority language at home, children tend to be behind their peers because of the lack of knowledge of the local language. Many believe that this is a great disadvantage. However, it has been proved time and time again, that children are able to pick up languages quite quickly if given a good amount of exposure. Most children who start school without much knowledge of the local language, are usually able to become proficient within a short period. In most cases, the community language takes over, and becomes the stronger one.

If parents are really concerned about this point, simply immersing the child in a play group or social group before they enter school, is a way of introducing the community language beforehand. This way there isn’t too much of a shock when they start school.

Another issue is when parents speak the minority language at home, but then speak the community language to their children in public. Children may feel that their “home language” is not good enough to be spoken in the community. They may start to feel different to the other children, or even sometimes ashamed. Parents passing on your native language to your child are not just passing on their language, but also a part of your culture, a part of who you are. Children need to see that you are proud of who you are, so they can be proud of who they are too.

If the Minority at Home method is not working?

If you think that the MLAH method isn’t working for your family, there are other options, depending on the languages parents speak. Where parents have a different native language, there is the OPOL approach where each parent speaks one language to their child. There is also the Time and Place method, where each language is used in a different context. You can read more about each approach here.

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MLAH Minority Language At Home Language Strategy Bilingual Kids

3 Comments

  1. Interesting article.We use the OPOL method though just because it seems the most natural choice for us.

  2. Martie

    Our daughter was born in Spain, both parents are English and fluent in Spanish. We decided to speak only English at home, but put her into Spanish only education from her first birthday – playgroup, kindergarten and infant school.

    She is 7 now, bilingual but English is her stronger language. The problem we have now is that she is in an “international bilingual school” which is mainly Spanish kids trying to learn English but with most classes in Spanish. She is often asked to translate for the recently arrived British kids, both by the teachers and the pupils. This affecting her work as she is easily distracted anyway. Child labour!

    • Hi Martie,
      This is actually a common occurrence in International schools. The kids who know both play “translater” for the kids that don’t and yes you are right it can affect their work.
      Your daughter is lucky that she already has a great base with English at home. I am sure as she gets into the older years though, the other children will have caught up and hopefully she won’t have to translate too much!

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