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Off topic: bilingual toddler: not advisable?
Thread poster: Milos Prudek

Milos Prudek  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 17:47
English to Czech
+ ...
May 9, 2003

My first son will be born in a few weeks and I want him to learn English together with his mother tongue right from his birth.

My partner is somewhat worried about letting our child hearing both languages immediately after birth. A friend of hers strongly adviced against it, quoting people in Switzerland who allegedly don\'t expose their kids to other languages spoken in Switzerland before the kids reach 6.

Purportedly a kid is confused and it is too demanding when he must speak two languages, even resulting in serious problems later on.

I\'m looking for scientific evidence supporting my view as well as any evidence supporting views of my partner, to compare them and come to a conclusion.

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Alison Schwitzgebel
Local time: 17:47
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
I can't give you any scientific evidence but I can share my own experience..... May 9, 2003

My husband is American, I\'m Scottish and we live in Germany. We speak English all the time with our two daughters (4 1/2 and 10 months). Our oldest daughter Mairi speaks German and English fluently, and I can\'t forsee the little one having any problems either. We even joke sometimes and say that she is tri-lingual - German, US English and Scots.

Mairi is fully aware that there are two languages and at least two words for most things - not to mention the fun we have with pronouncing words like tomato and vitamin..... The reports I have read have all been in favor of exposing your children to a second language - especially if it is the native language of one of the parents. I mean if you don\'t then you\'re faced with the very practical problem of one set of grand-parents not being able to communicate with their grandchild.

The one key rule to follow is: Be consistent. If you decide that you\'re going to talk to your kid in your native language all the time, then do just that. Or if you decide that Czech is only going to be spoken at home, then follow that rule.

Don\'t worry about it - just do it. Expand their minds!



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Marcus Malabad  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:47
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
yes to bilingual rearing May 9, 2003


You should comfort your wife and tell her that your kid will grow up healthy and bilingual! There are oodles of research on early child development and language acquisition. To start you on your reading, please go to:

Evidence points only to benefits. The child will not be \"confused\" as you say. The switch from one language to the other will happen automatically. The child will learn quickly that using one set of codes (language) will work with one parent but will not work with the other.

I have seen children exposed to four/five languages and they speak them all (albeit with varying fluency).

But be careful, if you speak in accented [insert language here] to your child, the child would more likely adopt your way of speaking.


(product of multilingualism)

[ This Message was edited by: marcushm on 2003-05-09 18:31]

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Kirill Semenov  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:47
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
Yes, but probably with caution May 9, 2003

Nothing scientific, just a real life.

In Ukraine, both Ukrainian and Russian are almost equal language (at least, everyone understands both). In a family of good friends of mine, dad speaks mostly Ukrainian, and mom -- mostly Russian.

When their son was five, they found he thinks there are two languages: male and female.

Just a warning In fact, I think the more languages the better, since another language is not just words -- it\'s another world view.

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Monika Coulson  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:47
Member (2001)
English to Albanian
+ ...
A book to read and my experience May 9, 2003

I would suggest you to read \"The development of Language\", by Jean Berko Gleason (Fourth Edition). One of the main points here is this: \"Children who acquire a second language when they are very young, are likely to speak it with a native accent. Children growing up learning two or more languages simultaneously can do so without difficulty. Although they may show slight delays in vocabulary growth in each language, because they are learning two or more lexicons, they often have more advanced metalinguistic knowledge than monolingual children.\"

Ok, I will tell you about my experience now. My native language is Albanian and my husband\'s native language is English. We both speak each-other\'s native languages as well. We have a four and a half year old boy. When he was born, we decided to speak to him Albanian only. So far, so good. In time, our son was exposed to the \"other\" language as well, which is English (of course, we live in an English speaking country, my husband\'s family speaks only English, his preschool/church teachers and preschool/church friends speak English, TV, movies are in English etc.) In other words, soon after he was speaking only Albanian, he started to speak English as well. Right now he has a good command of both languages (for his age of course). However, at times he will mix up both languages without even knowing it. An English speaker might not understand him completely, since he will add Albanian words in his speech, and the other way around, an Albanian speaker might not understand him completely, since he will add English words. (My friend who has experienced the same thing with her children several years ago, told me that same thing happened to her children, until they were about 6 years old. At that point, they were able to distinguish both languages from each-other and not mix them.)

Something else that is unique about our son: He will translate the Albanian sentence structure into English. At times he might say: \"computer of mine\" instead of saying \"my computer\". Oh, another funny thing: In Albanian we say \"Mbylle dritën\" (which literally translates as \"Close the light\", but it means \"Turn off the light\"

In his mind, from the beginning, he translated this expression literally, and no matter how much we have tried to correct him, he still says in English \"close the light\"

(Talking about literally translation!!)

Anyway, even though there are difficulties and frustration involved, my husband and I still think that it is best for a child to be exposed as early as possible to a second language. It comes more naturally anyway...

Hope this helps,


[ This Message was edited by: monika on 2003-05-10 07:43]

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Local time: 17:47
English to Spanish
+ ...
Another book and another experience May 9, 2003

I\'m Spanish, my husband is English, we have two children and we live in Spain. From the first day my husband is been talking to the kids in English, and so far we have had no problems at all, on the contrary, we\'ve found that our daughters are more open to the fact there are more languages than Spanish, they are able to understand the two different cultures and they pick up words from another languages faster than monolingual children. Another argument in favour is the mother language. I\'m perfectly fluent in English, but I couldn\'t express my feelings properly in English because I believe you look after and pamper your children mostly the same way your parents did it for you and all the songs, tales, or even silly little things are better expressed in your own language. I don\'t know if I\'m making myself clear. We\'ve got many friends that are \"mixed\" families and none of them seems to have any problems either. We have a book called \"The handbook of the bilingual family\", I can\'t remember the publisher, and I can\'t find right now, but I\'m sure you can find it in It was quite helpful, in plain English, not too scientific and with lots of practical examples and cases, and most importantly, written by a bilingual copule!! I strongly recommend you to read this book.

Good luck on the birth of your son and all the best for all of you.

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Juan Jacob  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:47
French to Spanish
+ ...
I'm trilingual... May 9, 2003

...french, spanish, and catalan, from my very first breath... I maybe have some psycological problems, indeed, like everybody, but I don\'t think to be insane! I bless my parents for given me that unique chance in my live. You call for an scientific point of view... this one is not... but I hope it\'ll be hopefull.

Best regards.

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Andrea Ali  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:47
Member (2003)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Congratulations on your baby (in a few weeks) May 9, 2003

Hi, Milos!

Don\'t get too worried about it! I know two couples living in Argentina. One of them Hugarian+German, the other English+Portuguese. In both cases their children speak the three languages fluently. The only thing they all noticed was that the children began speaking a few months later than other children.

IMHO, the earlier a child is exposed to any language, the better.

My own experience: I just spoke Spanish to my kids, though my husband and I speak English whenever we don\'t want the children to understand what we are talking about (good resource, I must tell you!). At the age of two they started attending an Italian Kindergarten. Now they are 6 and 3 years old, they are attending an English school and it is a lot easier for the younger to learn and understand English. BUT they both understand Italian!

Just relax and enjoy your baby!!!

Good luck!!!

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Rafa Lombardino
United States
Local time: 08:47
Member (2005)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
I'll certainly do it May 10, 2003

Even though we\'re not thinking about getting pregnant anytime soon, my husband and I always talk about it. If our children only learn English, since him and his family are American, they won\'t be able to communicate with my family, which only speaks Portuguese. That\'s why, since the beginning, I try to feed my husband with some daily vocabulary in my own language. We have tried typical Portuguese lessons, but he feels too \"old\" to learn a foreign language that complex -- he\'s only 28, though...

Anyway, I believe I\'ll have the instinct of speaking in Portuguese to my children, but I\'m sure we\'ll speak some English around the house as well. I can also see them being fluent in Spanish, since I speak the language myself and we live in a country with a strong hispanic influence. That\'s exactly what\'s happening to my cousin\'s four-year-old daughter: she may say sentences like \"This caminón is vermelho\", mixing up English (her father\'s language), Spanish and Portuguese (her mother\'s language).

Well, I don\'t believe you should be concerned about it. The sooner they learn a foreign language, the better they\'ll be at it in the future. I have taught English to four-and-a-half-year-old kids and they seems to understand it so much better than the ten-year-olds, the teenagers or even the adults I dealt with because they\'re naive, don\'t try to over analyze sentence structures and they\'re more open to environmental influences such as cartoons and songs.

Good luck with the baby and with the world of foreign languages!

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xxxjmf  Identity Verified
Spanish to English
+ ...
Agree with what others have said May 10, 2003

My husband is a native Spanish speaker (I\'m native English), we live in the US and have a 2 year old son. We speak Spanish in the house as a family, but I read/sing etc. to him only in English and he uses English at daycare as well. He does wonderfully in both languages and is able to communicate with both of our families.

If you are consistent in using your native language with your child he/she will not be confused. My experience has been that my son simply knows that people speak different languages and that his father- and others- speak Spanish. He sometimes switches languages and translates phrases, but he quickly adapts to using just one of the languages if we are in a monolingual environment (ie, he didn\'t use much English with my husband\'s mother when she visited recently). I really think it would have been more difficult if he would have had to \"learn\" Spanish later in childhood, and possibly would have even felt some pressure or been confused if he were visiting my husband\'s family in Spain and couldn\'t communicate with them or understand what his cousins were saying.

Anyway, I think it\'s just easier for everyone involved if you use your native language from the beginning, because then your child won\'t have to make an effort to \"learn\" it, he\'ll just know it....and also you won\'t have to make the effort to teach him.

Best of luck and congrats!

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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:47
Dutch to English
+ ...
English/Dutch May 10, 2003

My experience is similar to what has been described in the previous messages.

My husband is English (but also speaks Dutch) and I am Dutch (but I am trilingual: Dutch, English and Spanish). When we lived in the Netherlands we only spoke English and now that we live in the UK we only speak Dutch at home (i.e. the minority language). My children are now 12 and 9 and are completely bilingual. When they were small they thought that all things had two words. They spoke in full sentences a little later than the \'norm\' (at 2 and a half). At the age of 5 (approx.) they made the connection that there were different languages to be used with different people.

I would bring them up bilingually but be prepared to be consistent. At some point they will ask you to speak to them in XX only.

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Edward Vreeburg  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:47
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Go for it May 10, 2003

But make sure the native person speaks the native language only (that is difficult I know) Otherwise the child will grow up and make the same mistakes as the non-native parent...(Yeah but \"daddy\" says it like that)

If you want until the age of 6 it\'s FAR too late.

If you are the odd one out, (for instance Czech in England) your child may think you are a bit insane, it will help if there are more people who speak your language (grandmothers etc)

Children can learn many languages from a young age; my experience with my son is that he speaks Dutch and French and insisted to learn English when his friends went to the English school, he may speak a bit later then his friends (a couple of months or so, but that is perfectly normal)..

Later, you also have to make sure he can WRITE the language, it will be a big problem for bi-lingual people if they cannot write their language (professionally I mean).

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Roberta Anderson  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:47
Member (2001)
English to Italian
+ ...
consistency and a real environment May 10, 2003

Hi, Milos.

I can also contribute with my own experience: my husband is German, I am Italian and we live in Italy. Since Felix (now 8) was born, I always addressed him and later Sophie (6) in Italian, while my husband addressed them in German (it was hard for my husband start with because I could not speak nor understand German and he felt a bit stupid talking to baby, who could only go gugu-gaga, in a language noone else around him understood; but I made sure he persevered and it soon became a natural approach).

To avoid the danger of German being perceived as a \"minority\" language and therefore put aside by the child (that can often happen; I\'ve seen it with my brothers, both living in England with English wife; although they try to speak Italian to the kids, the kids just answer in English; the older ones can understand but not speak Italian, the younger ones do not even understand it, because the English speakers in the family far outnumber the Italian one), we created a stronger German environment at home: a German-speaking aupair, German only TV for the kids, German videos and CD-ROMS, German audio tapes of kids songs, heaps of German books, German Gameboy diskettes... This way we counteract the Italian majority outside the home (school, relatives, friends, community) and we make sure that German is not perceived as a language spoken only by one person (who by the way can also understand Italian, so why bother? -that\'s the minority syndrome I was describing earlier), and it is associated with fun things, and that the linguistic and cultural input comes from different sources, to ensure variety and richness. We were also quite lucky to meet a couple of other German-Italian families living nearby with children the same age as ours.

Both children switch between the 2 languages depending on the situation; when they play alone, they use whatever language is linked to the game they play (Italian if it is a game learned or played at school, German if it is somehow related to German input). They have recently discovered that some jokes only work in one language, and that direct translation of idiomatic expressions can become a joke in the other language. Their vocabulary is very rich in both languages, and their grammar accurate; when we see they are getting interested in a subject in one language we try and find documentaries, books, whatever fun and appealing on the same topic in the other language. It takes some effort, but the results are great!

In the meantime I have learned some German, enough to follow conversation and cartoons, TV programs etc. So when we are all together, say at mealtime, you would normally here a conversation started up in German, then I contribute to it in Italian, the kids \"translate\" it (unconsciously - they just repeat what they found more interesting, in their own words and in German for the benefit of the aupair or their father, even though they both understand and speak Italian) and so on, with German and Italian both spoken but not mixed up (it is tempting initially to use some mixed expressions, but to be avoided before it becomes a bad habit!).

So the trick for us has been consistency, richness of input in both languages, no \"minority\" situation for one language in respect with the other one, and fun in both languages.

Good luck and enjoy!

[ This Message was edited by: Roberta A. on 2003-05-10 08:13]

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Milos Prudek  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 17:47
English to Czech
+ ...
Clarification of the original post May 10, 2003

Thanks to all who replied to my question with words of encouragement.

I must explain that both me and my partner are native Czech speakers, and we live in Czech republic, in a relatively small town. I learned English at the age of 18, and I can interpret consecutively and, with some difficulty, synchronously. My girlfriend does not speak any foreign languages.

So I have to worry about my mistakes, and I will propably need to find an English teacher and some Czech parents and actually create a sort of a part time nursery school in my small town. Otherwise I\'m worried that a Czech nursery school or daycare would destroy my kid\'s motivation to speak English, even if I provide books and movies in English at home.

Do you think that even with possible mistakes my kid may pick up from me it is a reasonable idea?

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Roberta Anderson  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:47
Member (2001)
English to Italian
+ ...
I don't think that will work, Milos May 10, 2003

Children are very quick at sussing out what is their interlocutor\'s native language and will address him/her only in his/her native language.

They are also great at opting for the easier way out and path of least resistance.

If the child will only hear English from you, he will soon realise that communication will be much easier in Czech... much sooner than you expect!

I\'m sorry if this sounds pessimistic, but it\'s based on my own experience as a child and of witnessing different multilingual situations....

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