Unlike most of my posts, this one has only little to do with bilingualism and everything to do with trying to survive in the everyday family life (but don’t worry, there will be a bilingual twist to it at the end).

A bilingual family is in most ways no different than a monolingual one. Whether it’s one or more languages that are spoken in the home, our days are filled with school, work and activities – and there are chores that wait for us when we get home. Cooking, cleaning, and laundry are just examples of the many things that need to be done regularly to avoid chaos.

I admit that I have not been very good at involving my children in these chores. I have wanted them to play, read, and be kids in their free time (which is limited as it takes them 45 minutes one way to go to their bilingual school  by bus).  This summer, however, when the dish washer broke down we realized that this just didn’t work anymore with kids who are 8 and 13.  I have been paying for my earlier relaxed attitude now that I would like for them to contribute more than they’re used to.

Three things I wanted to avoid:

1. Paying for chores. I know that there are parents who pay for chores, good grades, or even goals scored in a soccer (or other) game. I didn’t want to do it as I’m afraid they will then learn to not do anything unless they’re paid for it. I think this can be a dangerous attitude to have.

2. Using chores as a punishment. Again, I don’t want them to associate chores with being punished – I would hate for them to go through their adult life feeling they’re punished for everything they need to do at home.

3. Nagging. This was my (only) strategy for a few months. It accomplished nothing despite making me hate the sound of my own voice. Seriously, I sounded like my own mom and remember the effect her nagging had on me.

I still wanted them to participate in chores so new solutions were needed! I got inspired by an image I saw online where children  could get ungrounded by accumulating a certain amount of points by doing chores. Each chore had a number of points attached to it and the person grounded could choose how they reached the 500 points required. To me, this felt a bit too much like number two in the list above, but there was something I liked about the point system.

I thought about it for a few days and called a family meeting to explain my idea -starting with the fact that dad and I regularly did most of the chores, and that we wanted for them to participate, too. Realizing that it was difficult for them to know how much was reasonable, I suggested that we come up with a point value for each chore and an amount of points that each kid needs to collect per week. Surprisingly, my idea was met with relative enthusiasm, and we set off to make a list of chores and points. This was a good exercice in going through all the things that need to done in the house every week, and the children assigned each chore a point value. They were quite reasonable, I thought. We also agreed that they could do chores only once their homework for that day was done. This is what it would look like:


The bilingual twist I promised. One of the keys to making bilingualism work in daily life is to add a bilingual twist whenever you can. As it is very important for me that our children regularly do a little extra for their language skills, I offered them the possibility to replace 20% of the chore points by doing language-related activities. These could include reading in the minority language every evening (for Emma this means English as she reads in both her native languages anyway), writing a letter or an email in the minority language or doing exercices in their minority language exercice books.


They accepted without any complaints that there was no special reward involved. We don’t give them a regular allowance (to avoid the entitlement attitude and comments like: “You OWE me my 5 euros”). Instead, we give them money when they need it and occasionally some extra (encouraging them to always put a little bit of that money in a box that is for saving only and not to be touched under any circumstances). We also reminded them that the things they get to do on a regular basis (sleepovers with friends, going to the movies occasionally, having a movie and pizza night – let alone all the traveling we do) are all something “extra” and not to be taken for granted. On the other hand, if by Friday it looks like they’re way behind in their weekly points, they will need to put in more time and effort during the weekend with the consequence of possibly not being able to do the things they want to do (subtly teaching them time management at the same time…).

Today is Day 1, I will keep you posted when we see how it goes. In the mean time – how do you navigate the domestic jungle (and combine it with your multilingual efforts?) Please share here or at http://www.facebook.com/bebilingual.net