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I want to teach my 4 1/2-year-old two more languages...please help!
Thread poster: Jessica Klingberg

Jessica Klingberg  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:30
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Apr 18, 2005

I have two sons, ages 4.5 and 1.5. I speak fluent Spanish and my husband is German, but until now we have mostly spoken to our children in English, this is the language that my husband and I converse in. I am now realizing how important it would be to have our children speak three languages. How can I effectively start teaching my 4-year-old? I have recently tried just speaking to him in Spanish, but then he asks me "what is that?" or "what does that mean?" So then I have to revert back to English and explain to him what I just said. Is this an appropriate way of teaching him? Or should I persist with the Spanish and let him figure out on his own what I'm trying to say? He really does not know any Spanish except for a few words here and there.

The situation is the same with his dad and speaking German, my son understands just a few words (less than 10) in German, but does not understand full sentences.

I would really appreciate any and all insight which you could give me. How would you go about teaching a 4-year-old if you were in my shoes? He actually seems receptive to learning new languages.


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Berni Armstrong  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:30
Member
English
+ ...
Bolting the barn door after the horse left... Apr 18, 2005

Sorry if this introductory paragraph sounds a bit like my title, but what a pity you did not start off speaking your own languages to your children and let them learn English from contact in the community or from hearing you two speak to each other in that tongue. Your four year old would now be speaking three languages with relative ease.

However, that is not going to help you now, is it, sorry.

I think you will have to play this one by ear and see how much resistance you face - if any. The main thing I feel is that having left it till now you will need to introduce learning these tongues as a FUN game. Kids must enjoy learning things at home, it must never be a chore or an obligation.

It would also help if your kids realised that there are family members who cannot converse in anything else (Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, etc). That will often motivate kids. During a visit from said relatives you then get situations like this: "I want to speak to Uncle Willy and Cousin Greta, but they don't speak my language!" "Oh, but Daddy does, and he can teach you!" etc.

Once you have drawn on the wonderful resources of us here at ProZ, I would also recommend you join the bilingual families mailing list (see this thread: http://www.proz.com/topic/22085 )

Sorry if I have not been much inspiration here, I wish you all the best and all I can add is that on the above LIST there were families in your situation that had success stories to report a year or so later. So don't give up! The effort will pay off!

Good luck,

Berni

PS - I suspect that your younger one will probably respond well if you switch to OPOL as soon as possible.


[Edited at 2005-04-18 22:29]


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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:30
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Comprehensible input Apr 18, 2005

Speaking to your children in the languages you want them to learn is the right approach, but the language has to be comprehensible to be acquired. This means using context to make the meaning clear. I suggest starting with TPR (Total Physical Response) activities, especially with the older child.

I have successfully taught languages to learners of all ages by keeping the emphasis on comprehensible input. If you need to familiarize yourself with the the concept of comprehensible input in the context of language learning, or the techniques of TPR, you can find information about them on the internet.


Michele Fauble


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xxxsarahl
Local time: 04:30
English to French
+ ...
Children's world Apr 18, 2005

Hi Jessica,

I don't think it's too late for your children to learn your other 2 languages. I suggest you introduce them to German and Spanish through their own world, eg playing with Spanish-speaking kids -probably easier than German in this country- or watching children's programs in those languages.

Suerte

Sarah


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Pierre Louis Dorval
Canada
Local time: 07:30
French to Haitian-Creole
+ ...
Getting radio stations from Internet in Spanich and German Apr 19, 2005

Hello Jessica,

I would suggest you, adding to any other suggestions you might find helpful, to get radio stations in both languages, that have a variety of program from music to talk. You can get them from the net, especially if you have a high speed system.

Here are some links where login to type of the radio station you want in different languages and from the country you want. www.comfm.com; live-radio.net.

Having radion stations in Spanich or in German playing regularly will create the kind of input you want in the subconcience of your children, which will come up when you don't even expect it.

I hope you're successful in your effort to help your children knowing more than one language in their life.

Pierre Louis.


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Benno Groeneveld  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:30
English to Dutch
+ ...
Kids can be tough Apr 19, 2005

I was born and raised in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, moved to New York when I was 29, 29 years ago. My wife is American and never learned Dutch. I didn't teach her, it was much easier to speak English.

I spoke Dutch to our son until he was about seven years old and he said "You can stop now, dad." Now that he's 21, he says: You never listened to me when I was growing up, except that one time when I told you to stop speaking Dutch. And that time you shouldn't have listened to me."

However, he catches a lot of what people say when we are in the Old Country, because the sounds are still in his subconscious somewhere. So if he ever needs to, he should be able to pick up Dutch fairly quickly.

If your four-year-old doesn't speak another language, don't despair. I started my first English (and French and German) lessons when I was 12. I am now bilingual in Dutch and English, work as an interpreter and, as a journalist, passed the English test to work for the Associated Press and have won two journalism awards (including one for a radio piece) working in English.

It IS possible to master a language after childhood. Although I probably will never completely lose my Dutch accent in English. Which is not too bad, I'm told there is enough European in my English to make it sound suave and sophisticated.

Benno


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Leticia Klemetz, CT  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 13:30
Swedish to Spanish
+ ...
I grew up bilingual Apr 19, 2005

Hello!

My experience was a little different. My father is a linguist and back in 1980 his theory was that if I learned two languages at the same time (Swedish and Spanish in this case) I would mix them up. Therefore he refused to talk to me in anything but Spanish until I was 3 years old - that is, when I would have established the Spanish language. I grew up in Spain, and at age 3 I started going to a Swedish school, where I was taught Swedish at first (vocabulary, and so on) and soon started having class in Swedish. From 1st grade (7 years of age) I took all classes in Swedish. They Swedish system is actually great, I think, since we start with English at age 9, then German or French at age 13, and continuing with that language or switching to the other at age 16. At least you get 3 languages by the time you graduate from highschool, in my case four since I also had Spanish. I took full six years of German at school, and later on studied Italian, French and Biblical Hebrew, so now I'm up at 7 languages (and here I stop! enough).

In phonetics class in college I was told that current theories say although children may take a bit longer until they speak fluently and without mistakes if you speak two them in two languages from the very beginning, it's actually good to start as early as possible: age 7 seems to be sort of a barrier. The sounds you haven't heard by then, it's really hard for you to learn to differentiate them afterwards. This is especially true in the case for example of Spanish and English, since the first has only 5 vowels and the latter 15-20 or more depending on the dialect. Native Spanish speakers who learn English later in life may find it hard to differentiate the vowel sounds.

So I'd say, get some book on bilingualism in children, if you want. If not, just start teaching them the language. In my case the treat was to communicate with my Swedish grandma, and other family members. Get story books in the other language, teach them songs and games in the other language, how to count, etc. Introduce to them the other culture and experiences, and as soon as you can take them to the country on visit. My mom found it funny when I, age 8, told her really surprised "Mommy! Here even the smallest children speak Swedish!" When you go there you can actually see the point of speaking it.

I fully agree with those who said, further up, that you must have fun with the language. Never make it frustrating or imposing! Make it fun to do! Get a cookbook and teach them to bake German cookies... Languages are fun, and the way you learn them is what will make you love it or hate it. So never force them! Just play and share!

Hope that helped. Feel free to email me if you have any specific question. I'm exploring possibilities myself, because this is an issue that concerns me, as a multilingual future mother (although I'm still single, but planning for the future).
Best wishes!

Tisha


[Edited at 2005-04-19 02:24]

[Edited at 2005-04-19 02:26]

[Edited at 2005-04-19 02:45]


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Robin Jackson  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:30
German to English
+ ...
Use music & song in "teaching" children languages Apr 19, 2005

Singing songs is a great way for children to learn second languages. Some studies seem to have linked listening to music and language learning in the brain. Anyway, I find it is astonishing what children, especially up as far as age 13, can learn when what they are learning has a rhythm and melody to it. Be sure to sing the songs yourself for fun and pleasure, and it should catch on at some point. Telling or reading stories in another language, on the other hand, really doesn't seem to work. Learning numbers in other languages seems to be fun and easy. If it is play, as everyone else has been saying, it should work.

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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 17:00
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Children have intuitive capacity to pick up languages Apr 19, 2005

My daughter is about 3 and she speaks three languages, quite fluently, viz., Hindi, Gujarati and Tamil. She is learning English at school. We live in India, the land where language proverbially changes with every mile! We are basically Tamils who live in a Gujarati-speaking area but mostly use Hindi for home communication. The child has picked up all these languages.

To make your child multi-lingual, all that you have to do is to expose them to those languages as much as possible. Let them hear people speak those language, let them hear TV/radio programmes in those languages. If you yourself speak those languages, then converse with them in those languages.

Discourage mixing of languages while speaking. Always speak one language at a time. This way they will grasp the grammar rules of the languages quickly and will not be confused by conflicting grammar rules of two different languages.

Read to them stories in the languages you want them to learn and when they grow older, encourage them to read on their own.

Upto the age of five, children have an instinctive receptiveness for languages and if exposed to frequent use of languages during those ages, children pick up languages fast.

Later you can send them to grammar schools or keep native speakers of the languages as tutors to help them perfect their diction and grammar.

Regards,
Balasubramaniam


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Larissa Dinsley  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:30
Member (2003)
English to Russian
+ ...
More difficult for you than for him Apr 19, 2005

Hi Jessica,

It is possible, but may be more difficult for you than for him. I have a three year old daughter and I am the only one who speaks Russian to her; my husband and everybody else (as we live in the UK) speak English. I find that it requires a lot of my time and dedication to keep up her Russian.

It would be better if you could enroll him into a Spanish class and attend Spanish play groups. And getting a fun vido course will help.

And, of course, it would help a lot if you start speaking ONLY Spanish to your younger kid. It will be beneficial for the older one as well to hear you two talking Spanish. He will pick up a lot from just hearing it.

Perservere and it will work for all of you.


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sylvie malich
Germany
Local time: 13:30
German to English
Don't forget... Apr 19, 2005

that time-honored solution of Spanish or German caregiver. That way the little rug-biters will get Spanish or German immersion at its best. And then Spanish bilingual pre-school when they're at that age (your oldest for example). And if you're really serious send them later to a bilingual school.

sylvie


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Alison Schwitzgebel
France
Local time: 13:30
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Perseverance Apr 19, 2005

Hi!

It's never too late to start teaching a child a foreign language - all you need is perseverance. Just keep speaking to your kids in Spanish/German, and if they don't understand then tell them in English what you have just said.

The others have said it before me, but I'll say it again coz it's really important: keep it fun. If it's no fun then the chances are they (at least the older one) won't cooperate.

We have an "experiment" going in our village: we have 3 daughters aged 6, 2 and 1 year, and my husband and I talk to them in English only. But whenever any of them have friends round to visit we say everything twice - once in English and once in German. Now the German kids have even started talking English to our two youngest kids!!! Not much, but things like "Lucy come here" and "I'd like a drink". Heaven help them all when they get to school

If the village kids can pick up that much English from just being around us and our kids, then I'm sure your kids can pick up Spanish and German from you and your husband!

HTH

Alison


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Jessica Klingberg  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:30
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Today is the first day of the rest of our lives... Apr 19, 2005

...and I hope it goes well! I had a long talk with my husband last night and we agreed it was time for a big change. Starting today we will talk only in German whenever we are together as a family. I will speak exclusively in Spanish to the kids when I am alone with them. The kids will pick up more English at pre-school and with friends.

I want to thank you all very much for your insight and for your encouragement. I have gathered some very good ideas which I plan to implement or look into - particularly the possibility of some online language courses for my 4-year-old.

I know it sounds strange that we did not consider speaking anything else but English to our oldest son from birth, but the reality is that he was a very challenging child for the first three years of his life. As a first-time mom I was in "survival mode" for most of this time and speaking in three different languages was not even a consideration at the time. My beautiful son has become much more gentle and docile in the past year, and is a real joy to have around. We are ready to persevere with introducing these new languages and yes, we will try to make it lots of fun!


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Jeff Allen  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 13:30
Multiplelanguages
+ ...
also read the other Multilingual family threads Apr 20, 2005

I also suggest that you read through the other threads in this Multilingual family forum area. Lots of additional examples are covered with regard to a variety of contexts. And people coming from different perspectives with regard to types and numbers of languages spoken in the home, the language of the country of residence, etc.

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


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Jeff Allen  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 13:30
Multiplelanguages
+ ...
formative year threshold for pronunciation patterns Apr 20, 2005

Leticia Klemetz wrote:
In phonetics class in college I was told that current theories say although children may take a bit longer until they speak fluently and without mistakes if you speak two them in two languages from the very beginning, it's actually good to start as early as possible: age 7 seems to be sort of a barrier. The sounds you haven't heard by then, it's really hard for you to learn to differentiate them afterwards. This is especially true in the case for example of Spanish and English, since the first has only 5 vowels and the latter 15-20 or more depending on the dialect. Native Spanish speakers who learn English later in life may find it hard to differentiate the vowel sounds.


As for the phonetic and phonemic aspects of language learning, nothing is impossible to learn to reproduce like a native speaker, even in adult years.

The issue is of being able to identify and pronounce the sounds that have been pronounced regularly through the position and use of the mouth, throat and nasal organs. Over time, the pronunciation becomes a pattern type activity and is simply a reflex of the various muscles and organs. The earlier in life you can adjust the articulatory patterns of the organs and muscles to take into account sounds from various languages, the easier it is to make them more native-sounding.

Yet lots of examples of people who can become native-sounding even when starting after the formative year threshold. There are many factors (socio, cultural, linguistic, psychological) that contribute in positive and negative ways on this issue.

Motivation is the key point. If you are truly motivated (either by positive or negative reinforcement), then it is possible to overcome various language pronunciation issues, (even if means spending an hour per day in front of a mirror working on pronunciation patterns). However, this does not guarantee that they will be native-sounding.

Jeff
former professor of linguistics (including phonetics/phonology)
http://www.geocities.com/jeffallenpubs/

Jeff


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