I come from a family of 10, and we moved to Spain when the oldest was 12 and the youngest was not yet born. The older kids were exposed to Spanish and French (in school, the neighborhood and with friends) and the youngest mostly spoke Spanish (the nannies). We also spoke a good deal of English at home initially. However, after a year or so the younger kids mostly spoke Spanish, and as a group we found ourselves speaking Spanish mostly. When we returned to the U.S., after a few years, the younger kids mostly forgot how to speak English. As adults, the converse has occurred. The older the child in our family, the more they retained the languages picked up; and the younger, the more they lost it.
My youngest brother and sister don't speak or understand Spanish at all now, but the older kids are still fluent. The middle kids are mediocre at Spanish. The older brothers in my family married Spanish-speaking women, and when we get together as a family with nieces, nephews, etc., we speak Spanish a lot - with the exception of my youngest siblings. And when not at a huge family gathering (there are generally about 45 of us at the table for Christmas) or talking on the phone,etc., the older kids in our family continue to speak with each other in Spanish.
So, as you can see, age and numbers of years of exposure - at least in our family - seemed to be the defining factor.
15 July 2003
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