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Baby growing up in multilingual home...

 Language Learning Forum : Polyglots Post Reply
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Masked Avenger
Senior Member
Joined 4402 days ago

145 posts - 151 votes 
Speaks: English, French*, Danish
Studies: Finnish, Latin

 Message 1 of 43
18 August 2008 at 1:25pm | IP Logged 
I've checked all the sub forums and did a quick search and no topic handles this subject and while not a perfect match, this seems to be the best sub forum to discuss the issue and possibly receive some pointers.

My GF seems to be ready to start trying to have a child and of course, in anticipation, one starts thinking ahead. :)

I am a native French speaker, but I live in Denmark, with a Danish-speaking girlfriend. Normally, one should learn Danish, but I see an opportunity to have at the very least a bilingual child, with French being another first language for the child.

I already know about the one-parent-one-language rule and that would be fairly easy to follow. There's one problem though, I tend to communicate in English with my girlfriend and I wonder if this would cause confusion with the child.

Moreover, I remember having some speech/writing difficulties as a toddler, and needing some professional help to fix it. A nephew of mine went through the same thing so this seems to run in the family. I wonder if this slight impairment would be an issue.

In any case, I'd be happy to hear how you polyglots deal with kids and languages.
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Senior Member
Joined 4353 days ago

2020 posts - 2295 votes 
1 sounds
Speaks: English*, German
Studies: French, Mandarin

 Message 2 of 43
18 August 2008 at 2:55pm | IP Logged 
I'm not a polyglot, but I have three kids growing up in a bilingual household.

One-parent-one-language rule is terribly hard for us to follow. We're both American ;) I've taken over the German and I try to speak it at home, but you can already imagine what it's like and well, sometimes it's easier to gripe in your mother-tongue!

Each one of my kids is different. The first one we lavished in attention, read stories in both languages and quizzed her on all sorts of words. She's in school now and is perfectly bilingual. Perhaps some of the German children's programs still run a bit too fast, and her German vocabulary is not as strong as her English. That will change at 5th grade. The school will take over the task of teaching her German and we'll switch over to complete English, in order to keep her speaking, reading, writing.

Second one, now 5, followed along, but is just now sorting her German from her English. We try to speak all German with her because she speaks only English with her sister -- unless she's in the company of other German kids. She had a lot of colds as a toddler and had some some hearing problems because her ears and nose were always clogged. She couldn't hear the sounds to produce them and slurred her speech. Sometime later (age 4) we took her to the ear, nose, throat doctor. Nasal polyps are harmless and quite common with children (especially in this damp climate) and can cause blockage of fluid in the ears. A small outpatient surgery cleared the way. She also did some speech therapy. She loved it! The doctors told me (and I've always known) that bilingual children take longer to develop speech. Our kindergarten has a program where all 4-5 year-olds of dual language families have to do special language training a few hours a week. This is solely for the purpose of making sure the children meet the communicative and speech requirements for school. The group is conducted by one of the teachers (who did some extra pedagogical training) and they play interactive games for an hour and then they go back to their normal activities. We see it as a very positive thing.

My 2-year-old is a marvel and picks up on all sorts of words. We have no idea where she gets them. I ask my other half: "did you teach her that? Hmm, must be the videos!" She mixes it up, but that's normal at two. (By the time your child is two the doctors will be asking if it can string 2 and three words together. If it can't don't worry! children of two languages take longer to sort it out!)

About introducing a third language: Ideally, it would be best if you had a separate person speaking English in the house. If your child hears both French and English from you, that would probably be too much, --- but... I'm not an expert. At any rate, you could hold off on the English until the child is at least 3 or 4. I know a lot of eager parents try to get their child speaking English around this age. They pick it up so effortlessly! I'm not an authority, but I'm sure there's literature on the subject of when to start schooling in English. My pediatrician is always telling me that we underestimate children's abilities! They can absorb and learn things so much easier than we can.

Ask a pediatrician or try to find a chart that tells at what month a baby picks up the different sounds. I saw a chart at an audiology clinic and I've been trying to find one since. It's somewhere between 1-4 months. They learn sounds quite early but don't produce them until much later. I never stopped talking to my kids. Now they never stop talking to me ;)

Edited by Sunja on 18 August 2008 at 2:59pm

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Masked Avenger
Senior Member
Joined 4402 days ago

145 posts - 151 votes 
Speaks: English, French*, Danish
Studies: Finnish, Latin

 Message 3 of 43
18 August 2008 at 3:30pm | IP Logged 
Actually, I don't want to teach English as a third language. Being a native French speaker, my rough plan was to consistently interact and speak in French with the child. That would require no effort on my part.

I was only worried about me using English while the child is eavesdropping on conversations and thus breaking the one-parent-one-language rule indirectly. Then again, a lot of programs on TV are in English (with subtitles) so even if I stopped using English, it wouldn't eliminate the language from the house. It's actually how many Danes passively learn English and are pretty good at it later in life.

But I'l try to find that chart you are talking about.
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Korea, South
Joined 4704 days ago

1417 posts - 1499 votes 
Speaks: EnglishC2, Korean*, GermanC1
Studies: Hindi, Spanish
Personal Language Map

 Message 4 of 43
18 August 2008 at 10:54pm | IP Logged 
So let it eavesdrop. One of my Sri Lankan friends spent his whole life in England before he came to Sri Lanka. He never had any education in Sinhala, but because his parents spoke in Sinhala to each other, he developed passive understanding of the language, and thanks to this he could easily pick up the language when he came here.
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United States
Joined 4204 days ago

1 posts - 2 votes
Speaks: English*
Studies: French

 Message 5 of 43
25 August 2008 at 4:01am | IP Logged 
My wife and I are discussing this very topic, as we are trying to have children. With her being native in Japanese, and me being native in English, we have devised a plan to ensure that our child is native in both. However, both of us also want our children to learn a European language, and thus we are considereing moving to Quebec at some point to ensure that the child gets education in Englsh Japanese,and French between school and home. We also would like that the children attend school in Japan during the summers so that they can see the family there and get a chance to interact entirely in Japanese.

There is alot to work out still, but with the rate children are able to absorb information, I think it is possible for them to achieve native fluency in three languages if we provide them teh right environment.
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Joined 4417 days ago

15 posts - 17 votes
Speaks: German*, English
Studies: French, Mandarin

 Message 6 of 43
25 August 2008 at 3:56pm | IP Logged 
First of all, it's just natural that you speak in your native tongue to your child and probably much better and less confusing than you trying to speak Danish to the kid. So, I wouldn't worry about raising the child in a bilingual setting.
Considering English, the question is, how much time will you have to spend with the baby and give it an immersion in French? Definitely, your child should hear you speak French much more than English. For becoming bilingual, ideally she/he should hear and speak more French at home than Danish, as the environment outside, kindergarden, school etc. will be Danish-speaking. So, how is your girlfriend's French? Will it be possible for you to talk in French to each other while the kid is present?
Besides that, I definitely wouldn't overestimate the capacity of a child to "absorb information". It just looks effortless to us adults as we don't see the baby sitting in front of books and studying grammar rules. But actually it's much harder work for the baby than for us to learn (a) language. The baby has to make sense of the world, everything is new, words must be connected to objects and later to abstract concepts etc. Of course, the sound of different languages is picked up more easily by children than by most adults, or more accurately, when exposed enough, the distinctions between different phonemes present in one language but not in another will not be unlearned (e.g., Japanese babies are able to distinguish between 'l' and 'r' until the age of about 6 months, if my memory is correct, after that they lose that ability, because no distinction is made in the language they are exposed to). But in my opinion this doesn't justify to expose your child to as many different languages as possible and finally cause more confusion than benefit. From my own experience (my niece and nephew are growing up bilingually in German and Thai), bilinguality clearly slows down language development, but the benefit of finally being native in two languages usually outweigh this cost for a normally gifted child. Also, for ensuring the child will be truely bilingual, a bilingual environment at home must be maintained with a haevy weight on the language not spoken outside. Otherwise the kids will tend to speak only the language they usually use when talking to their friends. Adding a third language only makes sense if the kid already is fluent in both native tongues on a level adequate for the age and shows a great interest in learning an additional language.
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Joined 4180 days ago

25 posts - 25 votes
Speaks: Spanish*, English
Studies: Italian

 Message 8 of 43
20 September 2008 at 3:15am | IP Logged 
Recently, I read a research about this specific topic, in which the authors pointed out certain disadvantages about teaching two languages to a child (5 years old or less). The main disadvantage found in this research was that children tend to mix both languages, since they don't have any pre-established language. Therefore, using Spanish and English, a phrase like "Hola, how are tú?" will be somehow "normal" to these children. The recommendation made by the researchers was to try to avoid teaching a second language before children can build up sentences in their first language, which is about 4 or 5 years old.

I wouldn't wait that long to teach my son/daughter another language, but certainly I will wait until s/he can understand his/her native language.

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