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Bilingual baby - what are the rules
Thread poster: xxxduffie68
xxxduffie68
English
May 24, 2005

I speak English as a first language but my mpther is French, I have lived in France and am fluent in French. I have a baby of 1 year. My husband only speaks English. I sometimes speak French to her. My mother also speaks French and ENglish to her. We have French books and cds we read and listen to with her. I am concerned I do not stick to one language exclusively with her. Is this a problem? Can I alternate between the two? My hunband consistetly speaks English to her. I want her to become bilingual.

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Alison Schwitzgebel
France
Local time: 09:04
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Consistency is the key May 24, 2005

Hi Duffie!

Welcome to the wonderful world of bilingual parenting. My husband and I both speak English as our native language, and we live in Germany. Our three kids are being raised bilingually. We speak English to them at home, and they learn German from their friends, at Kindergarten, etc.

I think there is only one main rule when you're raising a bilingual (or even multi-lingual) child. Be consistent when it comes to language.

Basically, there are two systems: one parent, one language, and mother language at home. So the system we use in our family is mother language at home. In your circumstances, it might be best to go with one parent one language. If you feel confident enough about speaking to your little girl in French, then do it all the time. Have your husband speak to her in English all the time.

Another (hybrid) system that you might want to consider is speaking French to her while you're in the house, and English when you're out with her. But do set rules, and stick to them - at least that's my opinion

Hope it all works out for you!

Alison


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Derek Gill Franßen  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 09:04
German to English
+ ...
No (hard and fast) rules... May 24, 2005

But I think Alison is right - consistency would be best, though I sometimes find it difficult myself. Either way there's not much you can do wrong by teaching your child a foreign language, regardless of how much or how little; in the long run, your child will be the better for it (IMHO).

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Persefone
English to Italian
+ ...
What if I am the only one to speak Italian to my child? May 24, 2005

[quote]

Basically, there are two systems: one parent, one language, and mother language at home. So the system we use in our family is mother language at home. In your circumstances, it might be best to go with one parent one language. If you feel confident enough about speaking to your little girl in French, then do it all the time. Have your husband speak to her in English all the time.

Hello Alison!
I thought I'd ask you for advice as it looks like you've already had a few years' experience of the "issue" I may be getting into soon
I am a native Italian but I've been living in Switzerland for 10 years, since I got married to a francophone Swiss.

My husband is fluent in Italian. In fact, he claims that Italian is his mother-tongue because it's the language his parents would speak at home and the first language he learned. Now, I think Italian isn't his first language at all, French is! Though, this is a touchy issue for him...

What would be the best option for us, in your opinion? Shall we both talk Italian to our child and let him/her learn French elsewhere (school, social life) or do you think I should be the only one to speak Italian to him/her?

I know the whole question may sound just too theoretical but I'd be really interested in knowing what you (or anybody else who's had a similar experience) think of it!

Thank you!

Ciao!


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cello  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:04
Spanish to English
+ ...
My experience of two languages at home May 24, 2005

To give you a little context, this is my situation: Spanish father (also an English speaker), British mum (me), 6 year old son, 5 month old daughter - living in Spain.
I agree with what Alison says, and IMO, the 'best' way to do it is to have one language at home and the other for 'public' - in your case that would mean French outside the home and English at home. I think that this system will probably give you a more 'competent' bilingual child who will be able to express ideas clearly and equally in both languages.
Your child will learn French anyway (from gran and at school) so you will probably need to spend more time on English to compensate.
As I say, I think this is the ideal case.
However, you should bear in mind the language that you use most as a couple and be realistic - if your relationship is carried out in French, it may be a little difficult and seem unnatural for you to suddenly switch to English all the time. Although my husband's English is very good, we have always spoken Spanish to each other. When my son was born it was practically impossible for us to change - it felt artificial. So I always spoke/speak English to my son and continued to speak Spanish with my husband (my husband speaks Spanish to my son). Needless to say, my son has a large collection of videos/DVDs/books in English supplied by my parents and when he was very small I used to insist that he watch these rather than (Spanish) TV (this also makes it a lot easier to control what and how much TV a child watches - but that is a different question)
The result of this is that my son understands English and speaks it when he wants to, but often replies in Spanish when I speak English... If he suspects that someone can understand Spanish he just doesn't make the effort to use English at all. If, on the other hand, he knows that English is the only option, he automatically speaks English. For example, my father can say about five words in Spanish, so my son says 'grandpa speaks Spanish' and he tries to teach him more, but 'grandma can't speak Spanish' so it's always English for her...
It was interesting to see that when my daughter was born, since I speak English to her, he also speaks English to her. When his dad is around she gets spoken to in Spanish. As my son puts it: he is 'half in English and half in Spanish' and so is she.


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Benno Groeneveld  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:04
English to Dutch
+ ...
The early years are the easiest May 24, 2005

when you're trying to speak more than one language at home.

I am a native speaker of Dutch, have been in the US for almost 29 years. My American wife doesn't speak the language and I've always found it easier to speak English rather than teach my wife Dutch.

I spoke Dutch to our son (and he heard me speak the language on the phone all the time, I worked at home as a journalist/translator). Which he accepted until he was about seven years old and told me that I should stop speaking Dutch to him.

I did stop, mostly, but now that he's 21 he complains I never listened to him when he was young, except for that one time I shouldn't have listened -- when he didn't want me to speak Dutch any more.

However, I've noticed that he understands a fair amount of the language because he is familiar with the sounds, and I'm confident that he'll pick it up fairly easily if he'll ever need it.

The most important thing, though, that I DID insist upon, is that he has a Dutch passport and will keep that current his whole life.

Benno
St. Paul, Minnesota


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Clare Barnes  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 09:04
Swedish to English
+ ...
Emotional language counts too May 24, 2005

I'm with Alison on this issue - consistency is very important. I have a bilingual son and have worked as a "language trainer" for bilingual children for many years. My experience is that the most "bilingual" children are the ones with the parents who are most consistent in their language use, regardless of whether there are two languages spoken in the home or one at home and one in the wider world.

I don't particularly like the idea of parents switching languages depending on whether they are at home or outside - one reason is that each parent needs to be able to communicate with their child on an emotional level. Can a parent talking to a child in their second language genuinely communicate the emotions behind what they want to say? Disciplining or praising (or whatever!)someone in your second language - however fluent you are - is never as effective or meaningful as using your mother tongue, and I believe that children deserve to have access to their parents' emotions through the use of their mother tongue.

I realise that this may not be accepted by everyone - this is just my opinion, based on my experiences. Please don't just think of it as a case of teaching your child languages - it is also shared communication and emotional bonding within the family.


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Elizabeth Adams  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:04
Member (2002)
Russian to English
+ ...
consistency is complicated... May 24, 2005

I speak only English to my son (1 year 5 months) at home and his father speaks only Russian to him. But when we go out to play I speak Russian to him so that the other kids won't stare at him (we live in Moscow). But if he and I are just taking a walk by ourselves I speak English to him. But then again, if guests come over who don't speak English then we all speak Russian.

So we try to be consistent while taking the context into account.

So far we've noticed that the things he understands - he understands in both languages. Don't ask me how. They're smarter than we are.


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Berni Armstrong  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:04
Member
English
+ ...
I'm generally in favour of OPOL May 24, 2005

it has certainly worked in our case (Dad ENG, Mum ESP, CAT in the school and street).

But however you do it, make sure it's fun and is a gift of love!


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Jean-Jacques Granas
Local time: 09:04
Polish to English
+ ...
Don't worry May 24, 2005

Hi Duffie,

No need to worry.

I am Polish/French and my wife is American. We have two boys (7 and 14). I have always spoken Polish to them while their mother communicates with them solely in English.

Kids pick up stuff at an astounding rate when they are young. Contrary to what people 'warned' us about (unilingual the lot of them!!), our children do not mix up the two languages, they DO know right from left and they do not fall down the stairs. There was a short period around 2-3 when they would mix up words of both languages, but that was before they became aware of such a dimension as languages, and before they became conscious of the fact that their parents spoke in two tongues to them (no pun intended). That period lasted a few months at most. Since then, no problem. The eldest is learnig French and German on top of it all and making good progress in both.

As far as we can tell, it's a matter of teaching them as many languages as possible before they turn 16. And not in single file either. It would seem that operating in a multilingual environment gives children advantages over their peers in many other areas besides languages.

Sleep in peace.

jj


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Jeff Allen  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 09:04
Member (2011)
Multiplelanguages
+ ...
our OPOL context May 24, 2005

In our family it's:
One Parent One Language (OPOL), Dad (me) English, Mom French. Both parents speak both languages very well. However, French is the language that we have used as our home language of communication for 10 years and still do so. So our little 2 1/2 year old son probably hears more French at the dinner table than he hears English. Whenever I talk to him, it is always in English. And I use that general rule inside the home and outside the home in all contexts. If people outside seem bothered by me speaking to him in English because they are French monolinguals, then I just translate in summary form the ideas for them so they don't feel left out.
This has worked very well for us.

As everyone has said, consistency is very important. It requires a bit of linguistic gymnastics in the head to do that, but it is worthwhile.

Jeff
http://www.geocities.com/jeffallenpubs/


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Jeff Allen  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 09:04
Member (2011)
Multiplelanguages
+ ...
unnatural bilingual approach in the home May 24, 2005

cello wrote:
To give you a little context, this is my situation: Spanish father (also an English speaker), British mum (me), 6 year old son, 5 month old daughter - living in Spain.

However, you should bear in mind the language that you use most as a couple and be realistic - if your relationship is carried out in French, it may be a little difficult and seem unnatural for you to suddenly switch to English all the time. Although my husband's English is very good, we have always spoken Spanish to each other. When my son was born it was practically impossible for us to change - it felt artificial. So I always spoke/speak English to my son and continued to speak Spanish with my husband (my husband speaks Spanish to my son). Needless to say, my son has a large collection of videos/DVDs/books in English supplied by my parents and when he was very small I used to insist that he watch these rather than (Spanish) TV (this also makes it a lot easier to control what and how much TV a child watches - but that is a different question)
The result of this is that my son understands English and speaks it when he wants to, but often replies in Spanish when I speak English... If he suspects that someone can understand Spanish he just doesn't make the effort to use English at all. If, on the other hand, he knows that English is the only option, he automatically speaks English. For example, my father can say about five words in Spanish, so my son says 'grandpa speaks Spanish' and he tries to teach him more, but 'grandma can't speak Spanish' so it's always English for her...
It was interesting to see that when my daughter was born, since I speak English to her, he also speaks English to her. When his dad is around she gets spoken to in Spanish. As my son puts it: he is 'half in English and half in Spanish' and so is she.


Yes, this is very similar to my situation. I met my wife in 1989 and only spoke in French with my her and her family. We married in 1994 and moved (back for me) to the US for a few years and always continued to French together there. People there criticized me for that, but I said that it was not natural for us, and that she would learn English in outside home contexts. And you that did work. Thanks to Burger King and day care centers where she worked for the 4-5 years we lived there.
Then we moved back to France and she wanted to keep up her English. I would come home in the evenings and she would want to talk in English, but I would just say that I was tired and wanted to stick to French. This seems to break the "mother tongue" concept, but not really when the natural language of communication has been in French for at least 10 years. Lots of song CDs, movie DVDs and children's books are our way of helping form our son's vocabulary in both languages. My wife tends to put more English songs and rental DVDs for him during the day (BTW, we have discovered in renting DVDs in France that the ones we would expect to be in English and French, such as the Care Bears, are actually only available in French, except for the Disney movies, so she has to ask a lot of questions at different DVD rental stores and have them check first that English is also available). Whenever we are at garage or community sales and see children's video tape films for a euro a cassette, we buy them all to have the best variety possible, although my wife does pretty much detest Sesame Street after having to show it to kids for several years in day care centers. But it is part of the language input that is native.
I come from work each evening and spend time talking to him, reading to him and putting him to bed on weeknights. That reinforces the English a couple of hours a day whereas French is his primary language.
We will be having another child in September and will do the same. This will probably allow our small son, during the time that he is beginning to speak beyond 2 words, to speak to his little sibling in one language or another. He will also start attending nursery/day care school in French at the same time, so it might be the opportunity for us to discuss orienting more of the language between the kids to be in English.

There really is no hard-and-fast rule on how to bring kids up bilingually. Much depends on a number of factors (if both parents have the same native language or not, if both parents speak each other's respective languages or not, the languages known by extended family/relatives, whether each or both of the parents are at home during the day, which language is primarily used in home in contrast to language that is spoken in that country, etc...). Yet since children are little linguistic sponges and using the innate language faculty we all have to acquire language in a record amount of time, it is important to use the earlier years to help provide as much as possible the linguistic input as possible from the different languages of the parents. Whether or not the same languages will be used at age 10 or age 15 is a issue that has to be dealt with when that stage arrives. And it might be a difficult time period. as is the case for teenagers anyway.

Jeff



[Edited at 2005-05-25 20:31]


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Larissa Dinsley  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:04
Member (2003)
English to Russian
+ ...
Stick to one language May 25, 2005

Hi Duffie,

It is important that you speak only French to her if you are not in a French speaking country. I have a three-year old daughter and I have always spoken Russian to her and my husband speaks English to her. And it worked well utill I regularly started taking her to a playground where I felt I had to speak English to her so that other kids understood what's going on. It was a mistake! Soon, I have noticed that she started speaking English to me. I believe that as I am the only person skeaking Russian to her, it is important that I speak as much Russian to her as possible (because she needs as much exposure to another language as we can give her - books, CDs and videos are important but are not the same as a real language) and should not give her an idea that she can speak English to me. I have stopped speaking English to her, even at a playground, and it is getting better now. I also pretend that I do not understand her when she is speaking English to me and I make an effort to repeat in Russian everything she says in English. Hard work!

Cheers!


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Natalia Elo  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 09:04
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
It's not a piece of cake May 25, 2005

duffie68 wrote:

I want her to become bilingual.


I have always been saying that raising bi/multilingual child is like having a full-time job. You have to have it in mind all the time.

Personally I see quite an accomplishment of mine that my older 9-year-old son is speaking only Russian to me. His dad, my ex-husband is Finnish, so my son's second (or it was actually first and the strongest language at some point) mother tongue is Finnish.

Then at the age of 6 he spent 5 months in England with me, went to school there and since then he has spoken English. I support it by all possible means. I speak with my current partner English as well, so he hears it though I doubt the quality of the input as we both are not native speakers.

We have lived in Germany for one and a half year now and he is fluent in German. Last June after being in the country for five months he got better results in reading in Pisa testing than his native German classmates.

In fact all my German friends are saying that he has amazingly wide vocabulary for his age. He is reading a lot, more and more in German, but in Finnish as well. He doesn't read in English but he is listening, for example, Harry Potter on CDs. We don't have TV, but when we rent DVDs I always try to suggest him to choose those with English and/or Finnish option.

As I said, he speaks Russian, which is o.k. but I guess not so good as that of the Russian children in this age in Russia. He reads only little things and when writing makes absolutely awful mistakes.

Till he was 4 I NEVER spoke to him any other language than Russian, because, while in Finland, I'd seen some heartbreaking examples of parents losing common language with their children.

Nowadays we might talk English or Finnish sometimes to each other. My partner is speaking German to both children. The little one is one year and eight months old and speaks only Babysh so far By the way, bilingual children are often late talkers.

Sorry for being so verbose, what I wanted to say is that it is possible but it is quite an effort.

There is also a very good mailing list for bi/multilingual families where parents discuss the matter. If you (or anybody else) want to join it, please do not hesitate contact me in privat, I'll forward you the subscription mail.


Wishing all the best
Natalia

[Edited at 2005-05-25 21:49]

[Edited at 2005-05-25 21:50]


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xxxduffie68
English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks so much for reply - pl forward me the posting May 26, 2005

Dear Natalia

I appreciate your response and would like the mailing list address please!
Many thanks
Duffie

Natalia Elo wrote:

duffie68 wrote:

I want her to become bilingual.


I have always been saying that raising bi/multilingual child is like having a full-time job. You have to have it in mind all the time.

Personally I see quite an accomplishment of mine that my older 9-year-old son is speaking only Russian to me. His dad, my ex-husband is Finnish, so my son's second (or it was actually first and the strongest language at some point) mother tongue is Finnish.

Then at the age of 6 he spent 5 months in England with me, went to school there and since then he has spoken English. I support it by all possible means. I speak with my current partner English as well, so he hears it though I doubt the quality of the input as we both are not native speakers.

We have lived in Germany for one and a half year now and he is fluent in German. Last June after being in the country for five months he got better results in reading in Pisa testing than his native German classmates.

In fact all my German friends are saying that he has amazingly wide vocabulary for his age. He is reading a lot, more and more in German, but in Finnish as well. He doesn't read in English but he is listening, for example, Harry Potter on CDs. We don't have TV, but when we rent DVDs I always try to suggest him to choose those with English and/or Finnish option.

As I said, he speaks Russian, which is o.k. but I guess not so good as that of the Russian children in this age in Russia. He reads only little things and when writing makes absolutely awful mistakes.

Till he was 4 I NEVER spoke to him any other language than Russian, because, while in Finland, I'd seen some heartbreaking examples of parents losing common language with their children.

Nowadays we might talk English or Finnish sometimes to each other. My partner is speaking German to both children. The little one is one year and eight months old and speaks only Babysh so far By the way, bilingual children are often late talkers.

Sorry for being so verbose, what I wanted to say is that it is possible but it is quite an effort.

There is also a very good mailing list for bi/multilingual families where parents discuss the matter. If you (or anybody else) want to join it, please do not hesitate contact me in privat, I'll forward you the subscription mail.


Wishing all the best
Natalia

[Edited at 2005-05-25 21:49]

[Edited at 2005-05-25 21:50]


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