The Lorax speaks only Danish so far. Since we plan to move back to the US in two or three years, I figure he needs to completely solidify his Danish now. He will learn English soon enough and, hopefully, will end up fluent in both languages.
But, let me tell you, this bilingual thing is not as simple as one may think. First off, I botched both Natali's and my son, Andreas', chances of bilingualism 6 years ago. For the same reasons as the above, my ex-wife and I spoke only Danish to the kids. Whenever we were in the US, they spoke Danish and my ex-in laws had to learn baby Danish to keep up. Then I started residency and they started US day care for the first time - and everything changed dramatically. Within a month, they were perfectly bilingual. They spoke Danish to us and English to everyone else.
Slowly, they forgot their Danish. I showed them Danish movies and online TV, but slowly it disappeared. I read to them in Danish, but it became clear that they preferred the stories in English. I had my own translation of Dr. Seuss, but they weren't buying it.
Andreas is now completely uni-lingual and Natali, because we moved back, is bilingual.
But what does it mean? Is she really 100% proficient in both languages? No; this becomes clear as we read more difficult literature in both Danish and English. She lacks depth; not just knwoing all the words, but reading between the lines, picking up irony and appreciating grammatical intricacies. I'm not 100% sure if it's just her age, but I suspect it has to do with having to keep up with both languages.
We had a medical student rotate through our department last month. A child of Chinese immigrants, he had grown up in Denmark. He was smart, hard-working; a wonderful med student to work with. But his Danish, once he had to construct a hard, thoughtful sentence, was sorely lacking. He had no accent, but he lacked a certain depth that many people commented on. It fascinated me. I don't know if he has ever gone back to China; he probably has. I'm sure the Chinese think that his Mandarin(i'm not sure he speaks Mandarin) is sub-par, having only spoken it with his parents and other Chinese in Denmark.
Then there is my brother and his wife. My sister-in-law's first language is Malay English. What they speak at home is a variant of what Danes call "Danglish", ie. a mix of Danish and English. Most Danes think of Danglish as Danish with lots of borrowed English words. Their Danglish, however, is primarily English, but they share a complete disregard for grammar and sentence structure. Especially their prepositions are off, as they juggle English and Danish. My brother, for example, doesn't ride his bike; he "rides on his bike" or "cycles".
My brother grew up speaking Danish. He went to college in the US and got married in his early 20s. Since then, he has spoken mostly English, or their variant thereof, at home. Without a doubt, he has lost depth in his Danish, both spoken and written. If he were told to speak for a half hour in complete 100% Danish, he would be in trouble.
So my brother and the medical student, are they bilingual - or no-lingual?
As I sit here pontificating in my ivory tower, I can't ignore my own situation. Admittedly, I'm a little bit like my brother; it's hard not to be. But we do try to speak 100% Danish at home; mostly for the sake of the Girl and the kids, but also for me. We have almost lived in Denmark two years now, and I still speak Danish somewhat haltingly. I have no accent, of course, but I have definite trouble constructing sentences, especially Danish colloquialisms. Yesterday, in an elevator, I got the idea for this blog post. An attending had gotten frustrated with a notoriously non-compliant patient. She is sometimes a little too nice, or docile, so it was cool to hear her speak up. I wanted to tell her that I thought it was cool to see her.. get a little riled up, see her speak with a little oomph, gusto, fanfare, temper. Halfway through the sentence, choices such as these popped up in my head, but no Danish equivalent came to mind. I used the word "fanfare", which can only be used in its literal sense in Danish, ie. the sound that horns make.
And this happens all the time, especially with patients. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there", "just to rule out something serious", "we'll keep an eye one it"; I want to say this all the time: I start a sentence and realize that there is no Danish equivalent and often end up constructing ugly linguistic orphans.
And my English is going to pot, too! The in-laws were here to visit last week, and my English was certainly imperfect. Again, it lacked depth; it lacked that ability to construct a long sentence, while thinking about the subject matter.
Alas, I am also no-lingual!
So what do I have in mind for the kids? Well, this time, I think it's going to stick for Natali, so she might come out on top of all this. For the Lorax, I know we'll keep speaking Danish at home, and we might move back to Denmark at some point. Or he and Natali may go to college here. So I have high hopes for those two.
Andreas? My 7-year old son who lives an ocean away. My parents are visiting him right now, so I've been thinking about him a lot. If he learned to speak just a little Danish, even haltingly, and without any depth, I would be happy as a clam.