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Raising children in your second or third language
Thread poster: xxxlanguageaddi
xxxlanguageaddi
English to Italian
+ ...
Nov 29, 2004

I grew up and went through nearly all of my higher education in American English, and pride myself on speaking well and always improving my proficiency. I learned Italian at 19 and Spanish at 26, and considering how difficult it was to do it as an adult I'd like my children (not yet arrived, but coming soon) to grow up multilingual. Does anyone have any ideas as to how this can be best achieved with parents who are both native English speakers, but who are willing to speak another language (or languages) at home for the sake of smarter children?

A secondary issue: while my Spanish and Italian are both fluent I am certain that my English is better, and I don't want to sacrifice quality of communication. Has anyone been through what I'm considering (raising a child in your second or third language) and might have some good advice? Thanks!


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Fortiter
Local time: 04:46
French to Italian
+ ...
If you're not a native language speaker you may have a problem Nov 29, 2004

languageaddict wrote:

Does anyone have any ideas as to how this can be best achieved with parents who are both native English speakers, but who are willing to speak another language (or languages) at home for the sake of smarter children?

A secondary issue: while my Spanish and Italian are both fluent I am certain that my English is better, and I don't want to sacrifice quality of communication. Has anyone been through what I'm considering (raising a child in your second or third language) and might have some good advice? Thanks!


I think you have a real problem. In fact, the normal ways of growing up a bilingual child are: i) one of its parents speaks one language (his own, in general) with it and the other one speaks the second language (that's the mother tongue of the other parent) - while both of them can speak a third language when communicating together in front of child (if you want to have a trilingual child) -; ii) parents always speak the other language not used by radio, TV, friends, etc (for instance, if you live in America you speak Italian, if you live in Italy you speak American English). Those "natural" methods - used spontaneously by two/three different languages parents - are the best in order to diminish the chance of linguistic confusion among languages to be learned. In fact, child can clearly distinguish different people - speaking different languages - and different situations - where using every language -. And through that that people/situation distinction child gets and keeps language difference more clearly.

(My reference: personal experience. i) me: I was a bilingual child - mother and father were croatian living in Italy -; ii) I've a niece born of my brother - using Italian with her - and a German girl. They're living in Germany)


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Sibylle Herzer
Local time: 04:46
Swedish to German
+ ...
speak your native language Nov 29, 2004

I live in a bilingual family, where I speak the minority language and the kids are bilingual. I have read a lot about bilingualism during my studies and from these and my own experience I can give you this advice:
Most importantly: Only native speakers should "teach" a child its native language. For no matter how fluent you are, its not your native language, does not reach so deep, does not carry the same feeling and range and - very often - is not entirely correct, if not grammatically so phonetically. Especially not in emotional situations. Furthermore it is crucial to be consequent. The children should hear one language from one person, or alternatively, one language in one situation (say at home spanish, in school english). You cannot speak your second language and switch to your first when it suits you. I tried to do that a couple of times and my kids corrected me: "no, daddy speaks like this" or even "I don't understand you". So you have to be really sure: Do you want to speak to your children in a language where you cannot put all your feelings in, all the time, no matter what ?
On the other hand: it is very advantagous to learn two or more languages as a child. I read recently that children possess the ability to learn a language like a native language until well into school. So my advice: Speak your native language with your kids, make it easy and loving and natural and so build a foundation on which to learn second and third languages when the native language is firm in place, at the age of 3, 4 or 5. And let them learn from a native speaker. There are bilingual schools and preschools where this is possible.
[quote]languageaddict wrote:


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Berni Armstrong  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:46
Member
English
+ ...
Horses for courses.... Nov 29, 2004

While sympathising with Sybille on a gut level and her advice is certainly something that I have taken to heart. I was on the bilingual families mailing list (see resources thread: http://www.proz.com/topic/22085 ) and on that list there were quite a few families who were so determined to give their child a head start that they did indeed speak to their child in a non-native language. (English being the most common, but there was even a "Latin in the house" family! and an Esperanto only Dad!).

For some people it seems to work, though I couldn't imagine speaking to Jana, my 6 year old, in anything other than the language in which I can best pun and have fun!

But before you give up on the idea, seek out those on the bilingual families' list who have tried it and get a second opinion.

As Anders on the lsit always says: "Whatever you do, do it with love!"

Cheers,

Berni


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Catherine Reay  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:46
Member (2004)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Have you considered using au pairs? Nov 29, 2004

Hello,

First a little background about my family!
I am British and my partner is Spanish. We live in Catalunya - in my partner's home town, where all locals are bilingual Catalan and Spanish. I started learning Spanish when I was 13 years old, and am now fluent. At home we speak Spanish (when we met we spoke in English but we changed to Spanish because I had to practice for my University studies!!). We have a 16 month old daughter - Georgina Rose. I speak English to her all the time, occasionally summarising in Spanish for the benefit of friends and family who do not understand me. My partner speaks to her in Spanish and she goes to the local playgroup where they speak in Catalan.

At first I found it a little strange talking in English to Georgina in front of other people. However, after a few weeks that feeling went. I think it would be very difficult to speak to your child in a language that was not your own, as it would not come from the heart. And I am having great fun remembering all the children's games and songs that I was taught as a child and which I shared with my sister.

Perhaps employing an au pair from very early on would be an option. I worked as an au pair for 3 months (that is how I came to this area of Spain and met my partner). The child was 5 years old with a British mother and Catalan father. Although the mother spoke in English to the child he really needed a lot more practice and so I was employed to look after him during the summer. By the end of those three months his English had improved dramatically. (It helps if you get a very chatty au pair - as you can tell from this message I don't stop talking!) Although the family set-up is different from your own, if you always chose Spanish-speaking au pairs (for example) each time then your children would learn their language without any problems.

Anyway, I hope this gives you some inspiration.
Take care,
Katy


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Timothy Barton
Local time: 03:46
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
I don't see the harm. Nov 29, 2004

It's something I've been considering for a long time. I'll probably still be living overseas, so I'll just speak to my children in English and they'll have the other languages around them, but if I married an Anglophone I'd speak to my children in French. OK, they won't have a perfect accent, but then neither do I, but the fact I speak it still helps me find work and opens up dozens of different cultures to me. If we only speak to our children in the language in which we are most competent, then we are signing the death warrant on many minority languages (Occitan, Breton, Alsatian, Corsican etc...) that very few people speak better than the dominant language in the area.

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Carmen Álvarez  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:46
English to Spanish
+ ...
Living in a foreign country Nov 30, 2004

I am spanish married to a Japanese and living in Japan since march 2004. I still can not speak good Japanese, so my husband and me communicate in German (we lived 3 years in Germany before).
I guess our children, when they come, will be bilingual in Spanish and Japanese, but I am sure the only way that a child can be trilingual is living in a country with a third language different to the ones he listens to at home.So, if we go back to live in Germany maybe our child could be trilingual.
Anyway I would not recommend it. The poor child would get mad... I think the third language should be learnt when the child is already able to speak and clearly distinguish the other two.


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 05:46
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Reminds me of Goethe Dec 1, 2004

When Goethe was a child his father had the whole family speak different languages each for one week at home, even Hebrew. But those where the days without radio and television. Nowadays no one needs to talk English to child, as it will pick it up in the media. I believe it is almost impossible to "spoil" a child with too many languages, the human brain is a miracle.
Most important: constant love and much time together.


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Catherine Reay  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:46
Member (2004)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I agree with Heinrich Dec 1, 2004

I believe it is almost impossible to "spoil" a child with too many languages, the human brain is a miracle.


A child I know from my au pairing days could speak 4 languages fluently and 2 very well, and he was only 6 years old. His family set up meant that nearly every "important figure" in his life spoke a different nativa language and he had absolutely no problem in switching from one language to another depending on who he was talking to.

I think the most important thing to remember is to be consistent - have the children associate one language with one person (whether or not you decide to speak your own language or your second/third).


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:46
English to Hungarian
+ ...
don't leave it till he/she gets older Dec 6, 2004

The most important thing is, do it straight away and consistently. If you give them "time to get used to" one language, they soon start taking preferences, and the terrible two or three years old may refuse the language he or she doesn't hear often enough, or can't speak with their friends.
There is one basic rule for child rearing, catch them when they are ready, able and willing. That applies for everything, like potty-training or swimming, if you try it too soon, it's a struggle, if you miss the opportunity, you and they are better off to wait some time for their inclination to return.
Language learning starts in the first weeks with the first sounds, and as they wisely said above, best associated with a specific person or persons.
From time to time the child's interest may focus on some specific activity, like standing up, walking, etc. till he masters it, and it is very important to support that.
But by hearing, say, two languages on a daily basis, the language learning should be continuous, "till he masters it" (if there is such thing).


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Alison Kennedy
Local time: 04:46
Italian to English
+ ...
I think I must have done something wrong ......... Dec 18, 2004

I think only personal experience in raising children in a family where the parents speak two different mother tongues tells the story. Let me give you my experience - it may be a lesson - because theory and practice don't always go together.

I have lived in Italy since 1981; I am English (well, Anglo-Irish, actually) and had two children, now 15 and 12 with an Italian who speaks no foreign languages and lives in a small northern Italian town where dialect is still heard and spoken.
With my first-born I started using English with him when he was a toddler (we even had Tom the Tank Engine and Fireman Sam) but communication can be very laboured when it's only mum who is dealing out the language, culture and stimuli. You learn a language as a child by constant repetition of simple everyday concepts and, in a household where the everyday language is Italian, using English became relegated to the moments when we were alone. As the children grew up and and became more "independent" the "dominant" language that surrounded them prevailed. Also raising a family and working doesn't always make language skills a priority - there are a thousand other issues to be sorted out.
I will also admit that I never pushed English with my children and left them to decide which language they want to communicate in.
There are also other problems. My son who was born and is educated in Italy considers himself Italian and, at 15 will ask me not to use English with him in front of friends etc. Adolescents can be very tricky and don't want to appear different from their peers in any way at all. My daughter is a different kettle of fish. She has a good ear for language and actively encourages me to speak English with her.

The result is that I have two adolescent children who have essentially learnt English at school. I would say that my son's English is at an intermediate level and my daughter is advanced for her age - given the Italian teaching system.
Can I do anything about it, now? No, not really. But it is going to cost me a lot of money in vacation school courses if they want to catch up!!!


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Berni Armstrong  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:46
Member
English
+ ...
Holidays in the old country Alison? Dec 18, 2004

Hi Alison,

you are not alone in your lack of success with passing on your native language. Here in Catalunya, I know several English/Catalan couples whose children sound just like yours. The saddest case being a Yorkshire woman in the town here who has to send her daughters to me for English classes! They'll have a go in class, but not at home - bizarre!

I think the best "solution" you might have is if you have relatives who your two could stay with one summer in Ireland or the UK. Being in a situation were they are forced to use their dormant tongue is probably the best way to get them to wake their English skills up. (For best results send them at different times - so they can't speak Italian together).

Don't give up though! That's the main thing.

All the best,

Berni

[Edited at 2004-12-18 20:06]


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Yoanna  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:46
English to Polish
+ ...
The way we do it... Dec 29, 2004

I am Polish, my husband is American and we met in 2000 in Germany, where we both lived and worked, then we came to the States in Jan. 2003. My kids are 2,5yrs and 6mos old. I speak English to them.

Why? Because my son will soon go to preschool and I want him to understand/speak the language the teachers will use; besides, if I use Polish now, he will hardly learn English at the moment - his Dad works so long that my son barely sees him

But me and my husband speak German to each other, and our son is starting to understand it too)) I guess I will try Polish in a year or so.


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Depends on your reason for wanting your kids multi-lingual Jan 29, 2010

Timothy Barton wrote:

It's something I've been considering for a long time. I'll probably still be living overseas, so I'll just speak to my children in English and they'll have the other languages around them, but if I married an Anglophone I'd speak to my children in French. OK, they won't have a perfect accent, but then neither do I, but the fact I speak it still helps me find work and opens up dozens of different cultures to me. If we only speak to our children in the language in which we are most competent, then we are signing the death warrant on many minority languages (Occitan, Breton, Alsatian, Corsican etc...) that very few people speak better than the dominant language in the area.


I totally agree ... I think it depends why you want your children to be multi-lingual...do you want them to be perfect in all the languages you introduce or do you want them to be able to understand and communicate in them only?

Personally I would want them to be able to communicate with the language i.e. read, write, listen and speak... I wouldn't mind accents since almost everyone has them anyway and they don't hinder communication ... also i think maybe having a basic proficiency of a language is enough for now until they decide they want to use it more and then they will already have the stimulus to improve it but it won't be starting from scratch it will only be improvements in the already existing proficiency


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