Bilingual parenting
Thread poster: Olly Pekelharing

Olly Pekelharing  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 11:55
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
Jul 30, 2010

I'm trying to raise my children bilingually (that is to say I try to communicate with them in my mother tongue and they hear Dutch everywhere else), but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to keep it up. My oldest (4) clearly indicates that he prefers me to speak in Dutch and watch DVDs in Dutch instead of English, though he understands English perfectly (though never speaks a word). Has anyone got any tips for stimulating children to speak another language? I live out in the middle of nowhere, so it's hard to find other English-speaking parents and children. My other problem is that I find that I'm less and less consistent in communicating in my mother-tongue. After living here almost 20 years, Dutch now comes more naturally to me, as I rarely find myself in English-speaking situations, so it would be easy to drop the English altogether, but this I don't want to do! Advice welcome!

 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:55
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
All sorts of approaches Jul 30, 2010

Hm... Indeed this is a tricky situation.

From what I have seen in families around me, indeed children find it hard and unpleasant to speak a parent's language if they live in a country where that language is not spoken. In your case, they do everything in Dutch and want to talk in Dutch with their father. It is only natural. I daresay that the worst you can do is make this a drama. Children might forget about their early experiences, but something remains inside of them that will come out later on.

The best experience I have seen around was that of my sister-in-law. She and my brother raised their children in Spain for over a decade, and of course spoke mostly Spanish. My sister-in-law nevertheless made sure to speak to her children in German very frequently and visited Germany with them as much as they could, so that it was only natural to speak Spanish in Spain, German in Germany. 4 years ago my brother and sister-in-law broke up and for a number of reasons she decided to return to Germany, where the children found German a bit difficult at first (especially in school), but within a year they were up to speed with German and were able to advance in their academic lifes again. Now they speak perfect German, and perfect Spanish of course. No drama.

So I reckon it's best to naturally speak to your children in English when you feel like it or deem it adequate, let them speak whatever they like, but also expect them (not force them) to speak English when in your home country and with their English-speaking relatives. In due time, you will see how they learn proper English in no time.

I find that families in which languages are imposed to children (i.e. they don't stand a chance to communicate with their parents in the language they freely choose) will have their problems later on. Let's not get obsessed with these things. Children are children! We surely want our children to be good, sensible, intelligent people. Language impositions simply work against that goal.


 

Olly Pekelharing  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 11:55
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
TOPIC STARTER
Agree: no forcing Jul 30, 2010

Thanks for your input Tomás,

Definitely agree that forcing children isn't the way. I know parents who pretend they don't hear their children when they speak to them in the wrong language, which doesn't feel right to me. I must say though, it takes a degree of discipline to continuously reply in English while Dutch is being spoke to you.
Sadly I can't get across to my native country very often, as it's across the other side of the world (NZ)! I am going to make a concious effort to holiday in England more often: I love the country and as you say it will be good practice for the kids. So next year its going to be a UK holiday!

Olly


 

Laura Mussutto  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:55
Member (2009)
English to Italian
+ ...
Formal learning environment helps Jul 30, 2010

My son is 6 and is exactly the same: he understands everything I say in Italian, but talks to me in English (unless I offer him a choice between 2 things - eg, do you want pear or apple, in which case he's happy to stretch himself to answering in a one-word sentence in Italian!).
However, he's been going to Italian lessons for over a year, and that has really helped a lot: he makes more of an effort to "produce" sentences in a formal environment (albeit in a "learning through play" approach), and his reading and writing in Italian has come on in leaps and bounds.
So, I'd say try to use English as and when possible for now, and then one day they'll be studying it at school: I'm sure they'll soon realise they have an advantage over the other children and make the most of it!
Also, don't forget that English is the language of pop/rock songs, computer games, IT and all the things that are generally über cool for kids, so having an English dad will probably soon become a great advantage.
Come to think of it, because you are in the middle of nowhere and your children are of pre-school age, you could organise an English-speaking play-group - I'm pretty sure a lot of Dutch mums would be quite happy to give their children that famous "advantage in life", and your children would benefit too.


 

Julia Cameron  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:55
Spanish to English
+ ...
Speak to them in English Jul 30, 2010

Hi Olly,

I have exactly ther same problem as you, in that I live in the middle of nowhere and I am the only English person in my village. I too was speaking to my three children a great deal in Spanish, but about six months ago I decided to really make an effort to speak to them all the time in English and once a week we have a game, when they must speak for half an hour in English and whoever has spoken the most is the winner and gets a treat. I also try and get them them to read a couple of pages of an English story book once a week, but I don't force them.

It does seem to be paying off, all three of them understand me perfectly and my ten year old son, who is a disaster at school, has even started to speak to me in English on a daily basis and although he is still far from perfect he is now able to have a proper conversation with his grandad over the telephone.

We also go back to England in the summer and I try to encourage them to make friends with the other children in the park and we go to the sports centre, the library at storytime and the swimming pool.
I think just trying to remember to speak to them in English will be a big help


 

John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:55
Spanish to English
+ ...
Take him to see London Jul 30, 2010

I live in a small village outside Valencia in Spain. My wife and I have always spoken to our two children in English and they attended school in Spanish and Valencian. My eldest, a boy, regarded English as an obscure language spoken exclusively by his parents -- until we took him to visit London when he was six. He was amazed by the size and bustle of the city. He also suddenly realised that English could be useful and later took pride in speaking it well.

His positive attitude rubbed off on our youngest child - who also took great pride in being able to read each Harry Potter book before any of her school friends.

We have also found that when given a choice they always prefer to watch TV programs and films in English. Satellite TV and DVDs can be a big help.

My son has just been given a place to study law at Valencia university - and was delighted to find that he could do the entire degree course in English.


 

Emma Ratcliffe  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 04:55
Member (2009)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Bilingual parenting Jul 30, 2010

I was brought up in Spanish speaking countries but my Dad always had a simple rule at home, speak to him in English. We had all day long to speak in Spanish and we had to make the effort to speak with him in English. That would also include speaking to our UK relatives in English, of course.

He also made us take English courses to prove that we had learned the language and get certified by Cambridge University.

I dearly thank him for making me go through that process, which I hated, my professional life has always been successful because of being bilingual.

So do encourage your children to at least speak to you in English. Don't fold your arms, the globalization world they will have to work in their professional lives requires they speak English more than any other language.


 

Dorothy Pouch  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:55
French to English
+ ...
Bilingual Parenting Jul 30, 2010

Same problem here. My husband's French and we live in United States. We lived for a time in France, but when we returned to the States, our daughter forgot all her French. My husband speaks French to her every day, so she understands it, but she can't utter a word in French, only English. She seems to be inclined towards languages, however. Her English vocabulary is large for her age and she writes quite well in English. She wants to study both French and Spanish as electives when the time comes. So I say don't stress!

 

Ana Malovrh  Identity Verified
Slovenia
Local time: 11:55
Member (2010)
German to Slovenian
+ ...
Keep on talking Jul 30, 2010

The most important thing is, that you speak to the child.

My parents tried to teach me German when I was five and I hated it. They never forced me, but they were consistent and even if I didn't want to participate in home classes with a teacher together with my brother, I had to sit there and listen.

Psycholinguists say that a child's brain develops the natural sense for grammar through hearing (until the age of 10). I never spoke German, but when I had German in grammar school it all came very natural to me. I had the grammar in me.

The age of 4-5 is the age of defiance and stubbornness, therefore just be consistent and don't let yourself think you are doing this in vain. You are not, it's been proven to work many times.

When your child reaches the age of 6-7 you can bring home some nice English cartoons and magazines. Soon it will be interesting because other kids won't be able to enjoy the same thing, therefore your child will feel special and will keep the interest.

Nevertheless, TV is a great tool for learning languages.

Stay consistent and your child will thank you in about ... 20 yearsicon_smile.gif .


 

Catherine Chen  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 17:55
English to Chinese
+ ...
Stick with it Dec 22, 2010

I am Chinese and my husband is English and our boys go to British school in China. They used to only speak Chinese before they go to school (my husband is away a lot and i speak Chinese to them). However, after 6 months being in British school(where they spend most of their time everyday), they refuse to speak Chinese anymore cause they know I speak English, even though we live in China. Though my observation i found that it is because they find it easier to express themselves in English. They don't have enough vocabulary in Chinese to express themselves well so they chose whatever is easier.

What you need to do is to keep speaking the language you want your children to learn so that they are exposed to the language more and will learn from it gradually. Playing small games works well with children. I normally give them a prize for spending a day with mummy without speaking English, or let the boys "punish"(such as a light smack on the bum) each other whenever they spot the other one speaking English. They love the game!


 

Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:55
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
There is a dedicated forum - Multilingual families Dec 22, 2010

You may find many interesting and relevant discussions at the forum dedicated specifically for raising children in bilingual or multilingual environments:

http://www.proz.com/forum/multilingual_families-81.html

In fact, this thread should be there, too.

Katalin


 


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