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A multilingual kid, indeed!
Thread poster: Seadeta Osmani

Seadeta Osmani  Identity Verified
Croatia
Local time: 23:54
English to Croatian
+ ...
Jul 4, 2004

Dear Colleagues,

I just came back from Lindau, Germany, where I have met an interesting couple: a Hindi native wife and a German native husband, living in Germany for the moment. They both speak mostly English to each other, since the wife knows just the basics of German. They have a 2,5 year old son (hi, Dennis!) to whom they speak in German, English and Hindi and the kid does not appear to be confused at all, but understands them very well and responds (as much as his vocabulary allows him to) according to the language. I found this to be amazing! And what a lucky child, IMHO. A chance to grow up with windows open to the world...

Just wanted to share this with you. Any comments?

Seadeta


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Stefanie Sendelbach  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:54
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
Too much? Jul 4, 2004

Hi Seadeta, hi Dennis,

I am not sure whether Dennis is a lucky or an unlucky kid. I expect (though I don't hope it, of course) that he might get confused at a later stage of his language development.

I noticed that people who grew up bilingually already get confused over sentences that seem perfectly normal to somebody who grew up monolingually.

In my own experience I can say that, the more English I speak, the more I am involved in an English-speaking environment, the poorer my German gets (I grew up with German only).

Good luck to Dennis and the family! May Dennis turn out to be a linguistic genius!

Stefanie


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sylvie malich
Germany
Local time: 23:54
German to English
Critical stage Jul 4, 2004

Seadeta Osmani wrote:

...They have a 2,5 year old son to whom they speak in German, English and Hindi and the kid does not appear to be confused at all, but understands them very well and responds (as much as his vocabulary allows him to) according to the language...


The child is only 2 and a half. He is at the passive multi-lingual stage, which will remain for a few years while the brain is categorizing the different languages. And this is where it gets critical. If the parents are willing to work at building onto this foundation of understanding then they have some years of hard work coming to them. The child may just remain at this passive understanding level and end up with one native language and a passive understanding of the other(s), which in my experience of the multilingual families around me is the easiest way out.

Too often families do not realize that languages are not learned by osmosis.


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Seadeta Osmani  Identity Verified
Croatia
Local time: 23:54
English to Croatian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you, ladies! Jul 4, 2004

Thank you very much for your comments, Stefanie and Sylvie!

I was mostly looking at this like a great oportunity for Dennis to grow up first respecting and then celebrating differences. It's not a linguistic issue for me, because not everyone is a linguist or has to know a language to the perfection. Of course he will mix words, sentences, etc., but he, if lucky enough, will also grow up knowing that we can all sit together and talk, even if we do not speak one language (the other night we were having dinner, 10 of us, and there were vibrations of German, English, Hindi, Spanish and Croatian in the air!) Who knows, he might grow up to be an artist one day (like his parents)and find a new way of connecting different cultures... Anyway, isn't that a part of our job, too?

Seadeta


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sylvie malich
Germany
Local time: 23:54
German to English
Seadeta Jul 4, 2004

Seadeta Osmani wrote:

Who knows, he might grow up to be an artist one day (like his parents)and find a new way of connecting different cultures... Anyway, isn\'t that a part of our job, too?

Seadeta



Yes, of course Seadeta! Being exposed to different cultures and languages is enriching and mind-expanding. I wish that every child would be raised that way!

Sunday greetings,
sylvie


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Sol  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:54
Spanish to English
+ ...
osmosis Jul 4, 2004

sylvie malich wrote:
Too often families do not realize that languages are not learned by osmosis.


But, it just might be...
I was coincidentally reading an article that compares the two methods of learning languages, the "natural" and the "deliberate". The article concludes that language aquisition is much better the "natural" way. The author of the article encourages us adults to recapture our child-like minds and learn language as we did when we didn't care about grammar and perfection, or about sounding funny, when we only cared about getting our message across. It seems that it is in the state of mind where the difference between those who learn second and third languages easily and those who can't at all resides.

Children will learn the language spoken around them, whether we set out to teach it to them, or not. That sounds like osmosis to me


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:54
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
'Unlucky' is just one way of looking at it Jul 5, 2004

My mother was an educator in a bilingual environment trying to raise me as trilingual, and went as far as to admit a fourth language before I turned twelve. (She wrote two books on the subject, so people were rather shy of questioning her word on the matter).

What seems fairly established is that a bilingual child may have difficulties in expression concerning the attempt to separate the characteristics proper to two languages before the age of 10, which may occasion "problems" in an environment that lives a monolingual standard. He may seem retarded or shy, when he is actually living 2 conceptual realities that take him more time to process than other children, and he may even be smarter than what he's given credit for, but tend to underachieve in order to gain acceptance from his peers. Over the long term, I wouldn't say this was unfortunate, but short-sightedness on the part of educators and -- yes, even parents -- may interfere in what is actually a very rich existence with many (sometimes too many) options.

Up to us who are around him to understand, I guess.

P.S.: The expected apparent "progress" comes once he has decided to choose his dominant channel of expression. Usually, this is the language he is being educated in. This may result in a person with two (or even more) native languages, but one dominant language earmarked for functional (living and real-life) purposes.


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sylvie malich
Germany
Local time: 23:54
German to English
Hi Sol Jul 5, 2004

Sol wrote:

sylvie malich wrote:
Too often families do not realize that languages are not learned by osmosis.


But, it just might be...
I was coincidentally reading an article that compares the two methods of learning languages, the "natural" and the "deliberate". The article concludes that language aquisition is much better the "natural" way. The author of the article encourages us adults to recapture our child-like minds and learn language as we did when we didn't care about grammar and perfection, or about sounding funny, when we only cared about getting our message across. It seems that it is in the state of mind where the difference between those who learn second and third languages easily and those who can't at all resides.

Children will learn the language spoken around them, whether we set out to teach it to them, or not. That sounds like osmosis to me


I feel compelled to answer your post!
Yes, children will learn the language spoken around them but to what degree relies on how much influence parents take or have. Many bilingual families around me have children who can follow the conversation perfectly but answer in the language preferred by them, which is more than likely the language they're confronted with every day at school. If a child is to learn a language to the point of fluency, then that's where consistency reigns. I've seen too many well-intentioned parents give up after the child "refuses" or can't speak the language spoken at home after he/she has entered school. The language level remains at the passive understanding level. Or worse a mix-up-of-two-languages grammatical mess of the second language.

sylvie


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xxxSaifa
Local time: 23:54
German to French
+ ...
Multilingual - on ice Jul 6, 2004

Hi,

I grew up in a multicultural environment too, and I have been living in different countries.

On balance I would say (this is valid for me, it may be very different for others!): I feel comfortable in different languages, but I do not have that cultural background I would like to...
I feel like an ice-skater, whom everybody is admiring, but who is thinking all the time: "Hoping I won't fall down or break into the ice! Hoping they won't notice I am not a real pro..."

A concrete example: I do often not understand jokes or cultural allusions. Everybody is laughing and I feel bad. I cannot laugh, not because my knowledge of the language is poor, but because I do not know about the cultural references: I never learnt some nursery rhymes, I never watched at some t.v. programmes, I never read some books, I never heard some names of movie stars etc.

Perhaps this is the reason why I like practising a budo sport: You don't have to talk...

The positive side of this situation: I feel home very soon, also in a new language or culture, even in Asia or Africa. The negative side: I have no real "home". Although this may be turned into positive: whole Europe is my home...
But one day, I would like to move to some place where I feel particularly good, stay there and feel: I am accepted there like I am, even if I am different. Perhaps one day I will then understand the jokes of the people there in the bar?


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sylvie malich
Germany
Local time: 23:54
German to English
Chademu Jul 6, 2004

chademu wrote:
Hi,

... I feel comfortable in different languages, but I do not have that cultural background I would like to...
I feel like an ice-skater, whom everybody is admiring, but who is thinking all the time: "Hoping I won't fall down or break into the ice! Hoping they won't notice I am not a real pro..."

A concrete example: I do often not understand jokes or cultural allusions. Everybody is laughing and I feel bad. I cannot laugh, not because my knowledge of the language is poor, but because I do not know about the cultural references: I never learnt some nursery rhymes, I never watched at some t.v. programmes, I never read some books, I never heard some names of movie stars etc.

Perhaps this is the reason why I like practising a budo sport: You don't have to talk...


Please note, you parents out there: This is a wonderful argument against those parents who are consequently speaking a language that is not their native to their babies thinking this will give them some kind of an advantage. I don't know if this is still the case, but when my child was a baby it was fashion for some German mothers to speak English to their babies.

sylvie




[Edited at 2004-07-06 09:50]


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Seadeta Osmani  Identity Verified
Croatia
Local time: 23:54
English to Croatian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
This, I believe, depends on our personalities! Jul 6, 2004

chademu wrote:

On balance I would say (this is valid for me, it may be very different for others!): I feel comfortable in different languages, but I do not have that cultural background I would like to...

The positive side of this situation: I feel home very soon, also in a new language or culture, even in Asia or Africa. The negative side: I have no real "home". Although this may be turned into positive: whole Europe is my home...


I grew up in a bilingual family and I know that, in order to understand all those cultural jokes and to know names of movie stars you have to be interested in that YOURSELF, no one is going to show you these like monuments during sightseeing, you catch them actively, during conversations, you follow what's going on in that particular country, etc. I would say that those cultural jokes or names of movie stars constantly change in the country we actually live in, as the country develops, changes its course, people come and go... right? You just have to stay informed. Exhausting? Yes! But that's life.

As for the feeling beeing on ice-- this is, I guess, something we all experience when we meet people of different religions or races or from countries we have prejudice about, etc. We worry not to say something that might offend them or seem inappropriate or reveal that we do not know much about them. It's a bigger problem for mono- than bi- or multilingual people, believe me.

As for feeling at home--- ahem... my half-sister is all Croatian to the bone, I'm Croatian-Albanian-Turkish.... Recently, feeling so unhappy with her life and resenting some things to all of us, she told me: "You are lucky, wherever you go, you can feel at home, you have some of 'your' people, and I am all alone, have no feeling of belonging..." Note: My half-sister is a Croatian native, with a very passive knowledge of English, and that's it!

So I guess, chademu, that those moments you have described do not depend on multilinguality, but on our personalities.
Do we, as individuals, have the NEED to be identified according to "us-not them, ours- not yours, we- not you, here-not there..."?

Seadeta


[Edited at 2004-07-06 10:39]

[Edited at 2004-07-06 10:40]

[Edited at 2004-07-06 10:42]


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Claudia Iglesias  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 19:54
Member (2002)
Spanish to French
+ ...
Cultural background can be acquired Jul 6, 2004

Hi chademu

I suppose that every case is particular and that many factors play a role, particularly the age you are when you're exposed to the new culture.
I learnt French at 11-12 in a hard way; otherwise school would have been in Arabic, I had no choice and nobody whom to speak Spanish. I studied in the French school until the Baccalauréat and then went to the University in France. After 5-6 years fluently speaking French I didn't know the non-school/literary language. In my colloquial way of speaking I was very correct and didn't know any slang, because I could hear it only outside school and outside home with some few people.
Cultural references were almost those brought by what we were studying and they were usually unknown for the other pupils too, so I didn't miss them as the teacher had to explain.
When I arrived to France I had to learn these cultural details that, not being a native, I missed.
What are the cultural details? It can be advertisements from TV, music from a movie, lyrics from a song, an old joke...
Of course I couldn't laugh at first when I heard a joke that I didn't get, but I asked for explanations and at least (even if it wasn't funny) I was sure that I had understood. I can say that in four years I had acquired that "bagage culturel" that for native speakers isn't really one.

Another example: my friends are often older than me and their cultural references are often from older people. I know of singers and artists that many people of my age don't, and some years ago they were very surprised when they noticed that I knew that. Now, it looks very natural, as I’m considered native.
I don’t know if it is because of the way I acquired those details, but I don’t often laugh at jokes, but I do get them. In any case people think that it’s because I have no humor more that anything else (it might be true).

I think that I really understand your posting, and I’d like to say that staying longer in a place that you like could be the solution, but as the longest that I’ve ever been in a place is six years (except when I was a child), I’m not in a very good position to advice others. Anyway, I don’t feel like an ice-skater any more and I know why.
My problem was similar to yours, feeling well everywhere but being from nowhere. I missed roots, and I wanted to raise my children in a bilingual environment, with cosmopolitan background, but I knew that I didn’t want them without roots. Two things helped me to find my roots: a house that we bought in France and where we lived only for three years, but that is “our” house. And coming back to “my” country, that I didn’t really know (I had left at ten years old). After one year here I had the feeling that I had found my roots, that I had recovered that lost part of cultural background that I was the only one to know and notice that I didn’t have. For many people the need to come back to a country that I had left so young was a mystery.
Our children, who were 7, 9 and 12 when we arrived here (and who do feel at ease anywhere) asked to stop moving. And, because we could do that, we listened to them (for a while, I don’t know how long).

Sylvie, you said
Please note, you parents out there: This is a wonderful argument against those parents who are consequently speaking a language that is not their native to their babies thinking this will give them some kind of an advantage.

Chademu was talking of culture, not language
Chademu wrote
I feel comfortable in different languages, but I do not have that cultural background I would like to...


Claudia


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sylvie malich
Germany
Local time: 23:54
German to English
Claudia Jul 6, 2004

Claudia Iglesias wrote:

Sylvie, you said
Please note, you parents out there: This is a wonderful argument against those parents who are consequently speaking a language that is not their native to their babies thinking this will give them some kind of an advantage.

Chademu was talking of culture, not language
Chademu wrote
I feel comfortable in different languages, but I do not have that cultural background I would like to...


Claudia


You missed my point,
I was also speaking of culture. My point being how can a native German speaker transmit the culture of a language to a child when they themselves do not master it. Humour, which was mentioned by both of you, is just a part of the argument.

sylvie


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Claudia Iglesias  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 19:54
Member (2002)
Spanish to French
+ ...
I see Jul 6, 2004

sylvie malich wrote:
You missed my point,
I was also speaking of culture. My point being how can a native German speaker transmit the culture of a language to a child when they themselves do not master it. Humour, which was mentioned by both of you, is just a part of the argument.

You're right, I missed part of it, but I think that as language is part of the culture, it's the first step, culture can be "learnt".
Of course it's my viewpoint and you can think otherwise.
As I understand you, you're not talking about people who don't speak well a language and communicate in that language with their children, are you? Because I've seen that and I really didn't appreciate. Spanish speaking mothers who had a sort of inferiority complex and prefered to speak French to their children (the father was French) while they lived in Spanish speaking countries. I've seen this twice and it was pathetic. And the worse was the mother who couldn't pronouce her son's name.

Claudia


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sylvie malich
Germany
Local time: 23:54
German to English
Claudia Jul 6, 2004

Claudia Iglesias wrote:

As I understand you, you're not talking about people who don't speak well a language and communicate in that language with their children, are you? Because I've seen that and I really didn't appreciate. Spanish speaking mothers who had a sort of inferiority complex and prefered to speak French to their children (the father was French) while they lived in Spanish speaking countries. I've seen this twice and it was pathetic. And the worse was the mother who couldn't pronouce her son's name.

Claudia


Yes, exactly. But what I mean is a strong *superiority* complex! Both parents overestimating the command of the language they choose as a "native language" for their child for the sake of getting ahead. In the one family I will take as an example, the child spoke the same heavily German-accented and grammatically incorrect English as her parents. I have since lost touch with this particular family and wonder if they've kept it up or lost interest.

sylvie

[Edited at 2004-07-06 17:17]


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