It is rare for bilinguals to develop both languages in balance. While the primary environment of the child are the parents, both languages develop equally. However, once the kid begins to socialize, the language of the country of residence inevitably dominates and influences the other. Russian language becomes secondary in the most crucial period of language development: many of the situations and topics are not mastered and the grammatical aspects are not automatized. As a result, we have:
- Foreign fragments when writing (children replace Russian letters with resembling foreign ones: Greek "έψιλον" instead of Russian "е", "ιώτα" instead of "и");
- The confusion of languages when speaking (lack of vocabulary in Russian);
- Errors in noun cases, verb forms and prepositional phrases.
In the period of active socialization and language development, the child makes a choice in favor of the host country language, that becomes a mother tongue for him. Is it possible to believe that another language can be saved as native and will develop harmoniously? Maybe sometimes it happens. But most often for these children Russian language becomes foreign, because under conditions of limited Russian-speaking environment the parents are not able to provide the same number of speech situations, which naturally occur in the language of the host country.
When bilingual children go to the Russian school they are being taught in a same way they teach children in Russia. However, many linguists and educators insist that the methods of teaching these kids Russian as a native language is initially fated to failure. Since they do not own language structures as native speakers it is almost impossible to interest them in Russian. The linguists suggest teaching method Russian as a foreign language. Pupils are offered not grammar rules but speech patterns, on the basis of which the language system is being built.
But here some questions arise. Still, the Russian as a foreign language method is designed to teach foreigners, in comparison with whom our bilingual children have a number of significant advantages:
- Bilingual children possess a big vocabulary (especially passive vocabulary);
- Formed language base (speech activity in everyday communication situations);
- High level of listening (they hear Russian speech from birth).
A significant obstacle in teaching Russian as a foreign language also is spelling. Foreigners are being taught speaking, reading and writing simultaneously, so it is not typical for them to make spelling errors "I write as I speak". These errors yet are common for our bilingual children, because they start speaking much earlier than reading and writing. Therefore, for bilingual kids spelling rules, which are absent in the Russian as a foreign language method, are not devoid of sense.
We come to the conclusion that in teaching bilingual children, it is advisable to combine the principles of teaching Russian as a native and as a foreign language. Individual approach to each child here is especially important, because Russian language is secondary for them and even children of the same age as a rule differ drastically in the level of linguistic competence.
On our lessons we successfully use a training course designed specifically for bilingual children. The textbook is written by teachers of the Slavic Languages Department at the University of Amsterdam in cooperation with the Russian school of Amsterdam. It aims to develop the oral and written skills and master the most important categories of Russian morphology and syntax. It pays great attention to spelling and word formation.