German in Vietnam on raising multilingual child
Thread poster: Marco-Danilo

Marco-Danilo
Local time: 19:10
Apr 1, 2011

Hello everybody,
I will be a first-time dad soon and have some questions about multilingual children. Here is my situation:
- I'm German living in Vietnam (speaking German, English, French and basic Vietnamese)
- My wife is Vietnamese (speaking Vietnamese and English)
- Our child will grow up in Vietnam and later on go to an international school in Vietnam (English)

Ideally, I would like our child to be trilingual: English, Vietnamese and German

Our plan is to start off with two languages in 'one-parent one-language' style:
- English with myself (father)
- Vietnamese with my wife
- Start with German when the child is 4 or 5 years old

You may ask: Why do you do English with the child if you are German? It's because I find English is more important than German. The child will go to an international school (English), we don't have many German-speaking friends. It will be too difficult for my child to speak German with anyone besides myself.

I trust it's ok to speak English with my child although it's only my second language. I've been speaking English from a very early age on and I consider myself fluent.

Visits to Germany will be limited (once a year maximum).

So, our plan is to start off with two languages and then kick in the third at a later stage. Ultimately, German will also be important because my child will have a German passport and may choose to go and study in Germany one day.

What do you think about my plan? Does it make sense?

Thank you very much for taking your time reading my post.

By the way, we will have a baby girl

Regards,
Marco-Danilo











[Edited at 2011-04-01 10:41 GMT]


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opolt  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:10
English to German
+ ...
I wouldn't do it Apr 1, 2011

Hi Marco,

Congrats on becoming a daddy!

Short answer: Hugely risky, I would go for German (or maybe English) and Vietnamese, and wait for the rest to develop.

Long answer:

I'm the father of a five-year old whose mother is also a "practising linguist" (Span. native FL teacher), and in that situation, i.e. where both parents are language professionals, I wouldn't see any obstacles to teach your child three languages at a time -- provided the three are used in live situations from the earliest age. The latter doesn't seem to be your case, however. In your situation, it would be much better to wait till age 7, 8, or 9 and introduce her to the third language through a teacher, or any other adult who is not her parent.

Please bear in mind that once you have decided in favour of one father's language for your child, it will (should) basically become set in stone, and nearly impossible to change after some time without causing you both a lot of grief. Because the established doctrine is that you as a father (or mother) have to talk to your child in one language only, and consistently so over several years, in order to achieve good results and avoid confusion. And my own experience confirms that view. Already with a second language, things are not that easy for the child.

Now, I'm not a specialist, but if you switch to German at the age of 4 or 5 for her to reach native G fluency (and that would imply using German strictly and exclusively henceforth -- not just on a casual level), it would probably at least do two things:

- It would impose a second father's language on her at an early, tender age, leading to a lot of anguish, confusion, angry scenes, misunderstandings, and so on, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if this developed into a very bad relationship later on, and even psychological problems during adulthood. To her, as a four-year old, it would seem that you have turned into a different, strange personality overnight, someone who has chosen to remain unintelligible and extraterrestrial for no perceivable reason whatsoever, out of nowhere. Expect massive problems! If even you were able to enforce this for more than three days in a row (which is highly doubtful), it would be bordering on cruelty!

- It would be damaging for school preparation, given that you would force her to learn German as a native language from zero just at the age of getting ready for reading/writing in English. That would be hugely counterproductive (if your plan was to send her to that English school because it's better than the rest). There's a reason that schooling starts at age 6 (not 4 or 5), i.e. oral expression isn't fully developed before that age (roughly/on average).

(Also, are you really sure you speak English natively when it comes to the emotional envolvement required for a baby/toddler/child, where it would be important to be 110% native wrt to plays, songs, lullabies and all the rest?)

At any rate, people tend to overestimate the importance of English, given that it has started to decline, slowly but certainly -- relatively speaking. Most of this has gone unnoticed so far, but if you watch closely enough (as you should, given that you are a translator ) the trend is clearly visible, and is set to continue (IMHO). But that is for another thread.

Lastly, German is the most important language in Europe (well, barring Russian) when it comes to the number of native speakers -- only that most people aren't aware of it



[Edited at 2011-04-01 22:00 GMT]


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 20:10
Chinese to English
Do three languages Apr 2, 2011

We are a three language family, and it works fine. But I agree with the poster above, you should be consistent from early on. In your situation if you do mother-child Vietnamese; father-child German; mother-father English, then your child will pick up all three languages at a good level (particularly if you read to him/her in all languages). It's also a fun way for the parents to learn more Vietnamese/German, getting it from baby talk.

Some children experience slightly late language development in bilingual or trilingual situations, and that can cause worry. It can also cause well-meaning but ill-informed family & friends to put pressure on you. Don't worry about it if your child speaks a bit later than others. He/she will catch up, and will be a more rounded and interesting person for having access to the world in three languages.

Congratulations, and enjoy being a dad. Much more important that any advice we can give you on language is to say: have fun and do what feels right and comfortable for you. If you are happy, your child will be happy, too.


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Marco-Danilo
Local time: 19:10
TOPIC STARTER
Two or Three - that's the question... Apr 2, 2011

Hello Phil and opolt,

thanks for your feed back. I will take some time over the week-end reviewing your replies. I'm sure i'll be back with some follow up questions early next week.

Great source of information this forum!

MD


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Derek Gill Franßen  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:10
German to English
+ ...
Seconded Apr 2, 2011

Phil Hand wrote:

We are a three language family, and it works fine. But I agree with the poster above, you should be consistent from early on. In your situation if you do mother-child Vietnamese; father-child German; mother-father English, then your child will pick up all three languages at a good level (particularly if you read to him/her in all languages). It's also a fun way for the parents to learn more Vietnamese/German, getting it from baby talk.

Some children experience slightly late language development in bilingual or trilingual situations, and that can cause worry. It can also cause well-meaning but ill-informed family & friends to put pressure on you. Don't worry about it if your child speaks a bit later than others. He/she will catch up, and will be a more rounded and interesting person for having access to the world in three languages.

Congratulations, and enjoy being a dad. Much more important that any advice we can give you on language is to say: have fun and do what feels right and comfortable for you. If you are happy, your child will be happy, too.


I agree completely, especially with this part: "In your situation if you do mother-child Vietnamese; father-child German; mother-father English, then your child will pick up all three languages at a good level (particularly if you read to him/her in all languages)."

I think parents should stick to their native tongue when they talk to their kids.



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opolt  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:10
English to German
+ ...
Clarification Apr 2, 2011

Just to clarify, Marco, my remark wrt the importance of English was intended to express my personal view that it's not really a "must", especially if you look into the future. In many cases, even today, knowing some English is more like a status symbol for the majority of people (Germany, China come to mind).

This doesn't have to influence you at all, of course. If you hold English so dear to your heart that you want to pass it on to your daughter, by all means do so! Only that you need some common sense, i.e. don't enforce it if your real-life situation doesn't support the use of 3 concurrent languages. Starting with English (or German) from grade 3, for instance, is still sufficient to reach a near-native level of proficiency, and there are so many other things to learn for a child, such as playing an instrument (for instance).

At any rate, you might have you hands full with just the normal parenting tasks


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Marco-Danilo
Local time: 19:10
TOPIC STARTER
3 languages: some questions... Apr 4, 2011

Thanks for all the replies.

The issue is of great importance to us and we better make sure we exactly know what we get ourselves into. Also, I understand we have to set fixed rules like OPOL and then stick with them.

I was 100% sure that we would start with 2 languages until I had received all the feed back above. I now feel encouraged to start off with 3 languages straight away.

I understand that I should talk to my daughter in German, my native language.

So, this makes it mum-child in Vietnamese, dad-child in German and mum-dad in English.

The Vietnamese (from mum) should be easiest since we live in Vietnam and everything around us is in Vietnamese.

German from me. I'll get myself books, cd's, read in German, etc. Seems ok.

For the English: she picks it up from mum and dad.

At age 3 or so she will go to int'l kindergarten which will be in English.

My question:

How about conversations that the three of us will have together? I mean a conversation in which all three participate. This can only be done in one language! We will have to break OPOL rule. How does this work?

Any by time she is in (English) Kindergarten, will she not get confused?

Thank you so much for taking the time reading my posts.

MD


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German in Vietnam on raising multilingual child

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