Surreal conversations with bilingual children - tell me I'm not alone!
Thread poster: Buzzy

Local time: 12:21
French to English
Jun 25, 2004

Hi all fellow multicultural parents.

Just feeling a bit "linguistically challenged" in the home environment at the moment... It's bad enough having a stroppy three year old around as it is, plus a 6 year old and 11 year old for him to argue with. I know you can't always reason with them at that age, but conversations can be twice as long and surreal when they're bilingual (French-English in my case)!

For instance:

Me, admiring child's latest homemade plane-type creation: "That's clever, how does it stay on, has it got sellotape on it?"
Child, with pitying look: "Mais noooon, il y a du scotch!"

Of course, just like monolingual kids I suppose, you can turn their lack of knowledge of certain words to your advantage, at least when they're very young.

Child: "Non, non! Je n'aime pas cette chemise!!!) (accompanied by lots of struggling)
Me: "OK then, let's put this shirt on" (same shirt - I can be sneaky)
Child: "D'accord".

Well, it serves them right for not speaking much English to me at the moment (it'll come back to them after a short holiday). Have a good weekend "en famille", everyone!


Kit Cree  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:21
Member (2003)
French to English
+ ...
tricks... Jun 25, 2004

i'm so glad somone else tricks their children with the double language shuffle. i find it particularly useful for extracting information. a sudden switch in language on my part distracts them enough to spill the beans.
obviously they want to talk about school in the language they study in and home things (like Thomas the Tank Engine) in the home language.


Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:51
English to Tamil
+ ...
I am reminded of Dennis the Menace Jun 29, 2004

If Dennis is persistent and wants to know as to why he is not supposed to do a thing, Alice replies in a firm tone: "It is so, 'BECAUSE'" and Dennis meekly accepts it as an irrefutable argument. Another time he tells his friend Joey: "If the grownups start spelling the words, be sure they are talking something naughty".

Talking of Dennis:

Of course I am referring to the cartoon character created by Hank Ketcham in 1950. He was supposed to be modelled on his 4 year old son. That means Dennis was born in 1946, the year yours truly too was born. While I have become old, Dennis is eternally four years old.



Michael Roberts  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:21
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Dennis is 4? Jul 3, 2004

I thought he was five. Because my son is five, and he's definitely Dennis the Menace, right to the blond hair.

I wish language switches caught my kids off guard. They don't seem to care which language we're in. They just keep right on going.


Marta Argat  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:21
Chinese to Ukrainian
+ ...
no manipulation Jul 8, 2004

Buzzy wrote:

Child: \"Non, non! Je n\'aime pas cette chemise!!!) (accompanied by lots of struggling)
Me: \"OK then, let\'s put this shirt on\" (same shirt - I can be sneaky)

Once I have been tempted to say something like that ( Italian or French instead of Russian ), however the very thought of consequences stopped me. IMHO, this may influence a developing logical thinking or cultivate a disgust towards the language an adult uses to manipulate a child.


Local time: 12:21
French to English
Interesting point, Marta Jul 10, 2004

The dangers of manipulation, or of one language being particularly associated with, for instance, being told off, hadn't occurred to me: I had no intention of systematically using a language switch to "win" a battle with a 3 year old, although I confess to having used the tactic (either way) occasionally ... but only occasionally. Just another attempt by a tired parent to avoid aggro!
Switching languages in this way is surely usually just another distraction technique, albeit one that most parents can't use. But then in our household we don't have a third language between us that the children can't understand - a disadvantage at times!icon_smile.gif


Marta Argat  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:21
Chinese to Ukrainian
+ ...
fingerprints on a jar Jul 12, 2004

Dear Buzzy,
I intended no labeling "a manipulator" or so!icon_biggrin.gif
However I do believe that this tactics may be harmful, at least in our family. I am dealing with a 3 years old who allows strangers to tickle her tummy, but struggles with her dad when he tries to give her a hug. Involving this kind of language tricks may only bring more mess into her picture of the world and will not teach her to understand her real needs. You may know that joke about a thief telling his child: "I am punishing you not for eating up all our jam, but for leaving your fingerprints on jars". I would rather tease my daughter asking: "If I call it "la chemise", will you put it on?"icon_wink.gif


Sophieanne  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:21
English to French
+ ...
toddler language manipulation Jul 15, 2004

I have a lot to learn from my 22 months old, who has found a new way of getting his way.
My toddler loves to go outside, as early as possible, as long as possible, usually before I even had a chance to sip my coffee.
Usually, he asks to have his shoes. This is only the first step to a long negociation. After the shoes, he'll try to get me to open the stroller, or will attempt to open the front door with the mail keys...
If I don't agree to go outside right away, he strolls like mad in the living room, or simply throws a huge tantrum, depending on his mood. OK, all is normal, we're nearing the TTwos...
The other day, it was 7h30 AM, he'd just had his milk and babana, and I was trying to pour coffee in my mug.
He pointed at his shoes and said, "this?"
(he doesn't say shoes, or chaussures yet. But he runs for them if we ask him where they are in either language).
I replid in French (I speak French to him, and my husband, English).
"Non, on ne va pas mettre les chaussures".
After a few "this" on his part, and a few "no" on mine, followed by a few "attends un peu"... my son came back to me, holding his shoes in his hands and said "ça?"
He had the most triumphant smile. We both had a good laugh... I still waited a few minutes (just to show him I'm aware of his trick) and we did go for a walk.

[Edited at 2004-07-15 01:43]


Clare Barnes  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:21
Swedish to English
+ ...
Imps Aug 3, 2004

This is interesting! My son developed an alter-ego for a while, mainly to see if he could persuade us to speak Swedish to him (I suspect this was a power game to see if the 6-year old could pull one over on the grown-ups).

English is our home language, though my partner is Swedish and I'm fluent. We never speak Swedish to each other, or reply to my son in Swedish, though he knows perfectly well we understand... one day he came home from school with a very high-pitched voice and insisted (in Swedish) that he was "Tomte Nisse" (a Swedish imp). Tomte Nisse didn't understand English - so Tomte Nisse's parents forgot their Swedish...

Fortunately for us a bit of stubborness went a long way and he had to say goodbye to Tomte Nisse when he realised he had less than no chance of getting anything he wanted if we couldn't understand him. Tomte Nisse came back to visit on and off for a month though... all the more amusing for the squeaky voice and the disconcerting habit of hopping around with his hands on his head.


Local time: 12:21
French to English
It's great to hear ... Aug 4, 2004

about other families and children's experiences, even a month after posting the thread. Made me smile as I pack our holiday suitcases! (both "shirts" and "chemises" are going in thereicon_smile.gif )
Every family has their own way of operating... and children the world over seem to have the same creative ideas for attempting to get round their parents!
We are soon off on holiday to the Netherlands where none of us will understand the language. Should be interesting!

[Edited at 2004-08-04 08:42]


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