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How multilingual can a child get?
Thread poster: mgabo
mgabo
Germany
Local time: 10:58
Russian to English
+ ...
Jul 20, 2004

I was born in Russia and grew up bilingually (German/Russian) in Germany (only Russian was spoken at home), plus was exposed to both French and English from a very early age (European school + international TV), so that for most intents and purposes I feel quadrilingual.

My wife and I now live in Russia, we're expecting our first child in September. We're planning to adopt an OPOL system (mother Russian, father German - rather than French which I would have preferred but my wife doesn't understand, so it would inhibit tripartite communication).
In addition to that, I am wondering how far we can 'stretch' the one person/one language system.
Some of my wife's relatives, including those who are likely to be around the child during the first year or two of his life, speak Dargi; some of my relatives are bilingual in Russian/Estonian, though all of our relatives on both sides use Russian as their standard language of communication at home. I am wondering whether it makes sense to ask our respective relatives to use only the 'extra' languages when they speak to the child, such that each language would be 'attached' to a particular person - which is how I have always found it easiest to learn new languages.

Has anyone out there tried anything like this? Is it not too confusing for children?

Alternatively, what do people think about one parent speaking TWO languages to the child, both of which are different from both the other parent's language and what's spoken outside (i.e. French and German in my case)?

Mischa


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Ramesh Madhavan  Identity Verified

Local time: 15:28
English
+ ...
As much as he/she is exposed to! Jul 20, 2004

Try this for size! I am an Indian. We speak many languages [26]in India. Even in School, we have a "3-language-formula [English, Hindi {National Language} and our Mother Tongue]". I speak 5 Indian and 3 international languages[Hungarian, German & Chinese]. I feel that it is very important for the two people who will be the centre of your child's universe, to speak the same language whenever the three of you are together. This will give your child the confidence to explore. The rest is left to exposure and how quickly the child will pick up languages.

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Steven Sidore  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 10:58
Member (2003)
German to English
It's not how how multilingual they can get, but what will stick... Jul 20, 2004

I know two "extreme" cases that are pertinent here; one is a British missionary's daughter who grew up somewhere in French Africa. At age 6, she spoke fluently in 6 languages--English, French, Dutch (from mama), and then three of the local African dialects (one from the babysitter, who was not from the immediate area, and then the two dialects). She had no trouble with this, nor keeping them separate. By age 10 the family had returned to Europe, and her grasp of the African dialects had slipped to the purely passive. (She still got ENG and DUT at home, FRE in school). By 13, living in England, the African ones were gone, ENG and DUT were still there, and French was largely (but not wholly) passive. She's now 19, at university, and regards French as a comfortable but foreign language. The other two are native.

Example two: My wife used to work for a language dictionary publishing house. One of their authors, a Brit, can read and write 26 languages, moving from the major Western Europeans on to a whole swatch of African ones and a few ancient ones. (Not surprisingly, he's a scholar.) I don't believe he can talk more than a few of them (I chatted with him in German and his accent is atrocious...), but he can write them well enough to put together successful dictionaries. The kicker: he grew up monolingually in lower middle class London, but makes fairly constant use of them. (He apparently spends a lot of time in London's central library reading foreign newspapers to keep his skills up.)

The point: use it or lose it.


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moriko
English to Japanese
+ ...
Try to make the learning of other languages a happy and fun time Jul 20, 2004

mgabo wrote:

I was born in Russia and grew up bilingually (German/Russian) in Germany (only Russian was spoken at home), plus was exposed to both French and English from a very early age (European school + international TV), so that for most intents and purposes I feel quadrilingual.

My wife and I now live in Russia, we're expecting our first child in September. We're planning to adopt an OPOL system (mother Russian, father German - rather than French which I would have preferred but my wife doesn't understand, so it would inhibit tripartite communication).
In addition to that, I am wondering how far we can 'stretch' the one person/one language system.
Some of my wife's relatives, including those who are likely to be around the child during the first year or two of his life, speak Dargi; some of my relatives are bilingual in Russian/Estonian, though all of our relatives on both sides use Russian as their standard language of communication at home. I am wondering whether it makes sense to ask our respective relatives to use only the 'extra' languages when they speak to the child, such that each language would be 'attached' to a particular person - which is how I have always found it easiest to learn new languages.

Has anyone out there tried anything like this? Is it not too confusing for children?

Alternatively, what do people think about one parent speaking TWO languages to the child, both of which are different from both the other parent's language and what's spoken outside (i.e. French and German in my case)?

Mischa


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Michael Roberts  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:58
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
I don't think children can get *that* confused about language Jul 30, 2004

mgabo wrote:

Has anyone out there tried anything like this? Is it not too confusing for children?

Alternatively, what do people think about one parent speaking TWO languages to the child, both of which are different from both the other parent\'s language and what\'s spoken outside (i.e. French and German in my case)?



I\'ve heard that Zsa Zsa Gabor\'s children were raised in a similar way, with her father speaking only Russian to them, etc. If your family is there a lot, I\'d think they\'d pick up some -- but in my experience with our kids (me EN, wife HU, me+wife DE) if the kids aren\'t really motivated to use a language, they won\'t use it even if they hear it a lot.

My daughter speaks a little German from our using it at home; my son doesn\'t. They\'re both comfortably bilingual, although I\'m told my daughter has a significant American accent in Hungarian, and I believe my son has a Hungarian(ish) accent in English. Well, he\'s five years old, so maybe he\'s just speaking oddly, as young boys are wont to do. It\'s hard to say at this stage.

Anyway, after a month in Germany last summer, my daughter had picked up quite a bit of German; it\'s a question of motivation.

Now, of course, we\'ve moved to Puerto Rico (no reason, beyond the beaches and the fact that they build with concrete and tile, so it\'s better for my son\'s allergies than the ubiquitous wooden construction in the States) -- so the linguistic environment is getting more interesting. Ask me again in a year how multilingual kids can get...


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