Even though she was born and raised in Lebanon, Isla’s first and strongest language is English.
Honestly, we expected her to be both fluent in English and Arabic by this time. We do live, after all, in an Arabic speaking country, and both her Daddy and I speak Arabic (though not fluently… yet! :))
There are two main reasons her English is much stronger. One, Beirut. English is so prevalent here, and Isla is clearly a foreigner, so people just assume she doesn’t speak Arabic. Even though we insist that people use Arabic so that she can learn, they rarely do. So her Arabic input has never been high enough. When someone asks her a question in Arabic, she replies in English and they understand her, it just reinforces to her that she doesn’t actually need Arabic.
The second reason is her personality. She is shy and she’s a perfectionist, two character traits that make learning a language very difficult. Caleb and I both attribute our relative success at learning Arabic to the fact that we weren’t afraid to just go out and speak, knowing we would make a million (and more!) mistakes. But Isla wouldn’t even try to speak unless she knew she could say it perfectly, and even once she was sure, she was often too shy to talk.
While being in school has helped her a lot, most of the Arabic that she was speaking from school was Fussha. So a good friend of ours has been tutoring her in Lebanese Arabic once a week. It’s made an amazing difference, more in her confidence than anything else. She’s much more comfortable speaking Arabic, which means she uses it more, which means she gets better and better.
Getting a good base in a second language makes it easier to learn a third and even fourth language. I’m amazed at how good her French accent is, although she really only knows phrases and songs that she’s learned at school.
I also die every time she speaks school English. Somehow her brain has differentiated between the English she hears at home and the English she uses at school, and her accent changes accordingly. I don’t know if she’s even cognizant of it, but recently her school English has been getting stronger and stronger. We’ve tried correcting her pronunciation a few times, but at this stage in the game it’s not worth the fight. She’ll figure it out eventually when she goes through her “what do you mean I’m not actually Lebanese!?!” identity crisis at some point.
For now, we just enjoy listening to her speak English, Arabic, a bit of French and “second English.” :)