Being bilingual is far from being extraordinary: being monolingual is way more rare than the opposite. The context in which you have to use the L1 or the L2 differs most of the time, as your link to the language. As student of mine is from Armenia: she used to speak Armenian at home, French at school (then at work) and she learned English by pure pleasure. I asked her to rank her languages by fondness: Armenian was first, English was second and French was third.
She told me “Armenian was the language of my family, and of my native country, it has a special place in my heart. I chose to learn English. I didn’t choose French, I had to learn it.” The affective factor is not always taken into consideration when it comes to language, yet, it plays a part.
In 1928, Dr Minkowski of Zurich, Switzerland, published a paper entitled “the case of a multilingual aphasic”. To sum up, he studied the case of a Swiss patient whose mother tongue was Swiss German . At 49 years old, the patient had an apoplectic stroke with loss of consciousness. Minkowski (1928, p.130) wrote “the patient began to speak again two or three days after the fit, but to anyone surprise, he spoke in the beginning only French.”
The doctor dig up the personal history of the patient: his mother tongue was undeniably Swiss German, but at the age of nineteen, he moved to France, where he worked and met someone. He remained six years in France, then went back to Zurich, where he married someone else. He never talked in French again, only in Swiss German and German (mostly for formal activities, which is common in Switzerland). The patient explained that the most beautiful years of his life had been spent in France. His preferred language was French, so despite not using it much, he remained a strong francophile.
Can we talk about “love” when it comes to languages? Can we, as teachers, provoke that love? Despite being French, I prefer to talk and write in English, mostly because I feel awkward writing in French (it’s so pompous, I cannot stand my own style). Some researchers think that the bilingual person change personality when changing language, others think that the bilingual person simply adjusts to the social environment.
Is the attitude towards a language enough to provoke a better acquisition (or learning)?
In that case, now would be the time to change the way we are teaching languages to generate a positive attitude toward the target language…
Minkowski. M, 1928, Sur un cas d’aphasie chez un polyglotte in Revue neurologique, p.130.
Grosjean.F, 1982, Life with two languages, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA