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Raising a bilingual child

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patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
Joined 3129 days ago

1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 1 of 37
06 January 2015 at 4:10pm | IP Logged 
So the very good news is that I am expecting to become a proud first-time father in April.

My wife is native-German and C2+-English, and I'm native-English and B2-German.

What I've read is that each parent should consistently speak one language at home, so my wife would presumably speak German and I English. However, I would still like to keep my German conversation going at home if possible - so should I only speak German with my wife when we are alone? Or should we agree on a spoken language at home (English?) and another outside the house (German)?

We are looking at Kita's (childcare) places now - as you need to book more than a year ahead, and we want to find somewhere vegetarian, which are not so common in Berlin. We've found one Kita that looks potentially good, but that is coincidentally German-Spanish. We both love Spain as a country and would be delighted for our daughter to make Spanish friends, but perhaps it would be too much to be raised semi-trilingually from the start (it's not clear how much language she'll get at the Kita) or perhaps its a great blessing. Or perhaps if children don't actively have the language at home it is too difficult to pick up just at the Kita anyway (we'd also be interested in learning Spanish to an intermediate level).

I would be very interested in hearing from about their own experiences being raised bilingually, and what they think works and doesn't.
5 persons have voted this message useful



eyðimörk
Triglot
Senior Member
France
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Speaks: Swedish*, English, French
Studies: Breton, Italian

 
 Message 2 of 37
06 January 2015 at 4:51pm | IP Logged 
I don't know how much Spanish they speak at this bilingual Kita, but I've watched documentaries and read about a large amount of children who speak Breton only at skol-vamm (30 months to 6 years). There was even a documentary almost entirely devoted to bilingual (non-Brittophone) homes where the children went to Breton school. The documentaries have all shown very positive parents, who don't speak a word of Breton themselves and children who have no trouble whatsoever once they get over the initial hump of being in an environment with a new language. There are even Diwan (Brittophone) schools that introduce English through immersion at age 9, so that the school has three languages of instruction by the time the children get to choose a "foreign" language (Spanish, German, etc) at 13.

On the other hand, I just finished a book based on a teacher's experiences teaching the very youngest in a Breton programme at an otherwise French school... and there were definitely certain children who did not exactly excel at the school language. That is to say, they seem to have made little progress due to reluctance, but the environment itself was hostile towards Brittophones, and they might not have felt supported by their environment (e.g. one family had two daughters in the Breton programme, but punished the girls for speaking Breton at home because they assumed the girls switched to use "bad" language).

I know that telling a parent/parent-to-be not to worry is kind of useless, but seriously, I'd say not to worry too much. Will three languages be too much? Probably not. Is there a "better" and a "worse" way to raise a bilingual child? Statistically, probably, but I went to school, and taught at a school, where the language of instruction wasn't the national language, and met a lot of people who were raised bilingually, and the results varied a lot within seemingly the same technique. Seriously, I've known people with similar life stories, same "technique", similar schooling, and one of them ended up perfectly trilingual (now raising a trilingual child with three home languages), the other with two not quite whole languages and a third half-language. The results will probably depend much more on other factors (including stability of parents' relationship, etc) than on which theory of bilingualism is applied.

Edited by eyðimörk on 06 January 2015 at 4:58pm

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Arekkusu
Hexaglot
Senior Member
Canada
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Speaks: English, French*, GermanC1, Spanish, Japanese, Esperanto
Studies: Italian, Norwegian, Mandarin, Romanian, Estonian

 
 Message 3 of 37
06 January 2015 at 5:23pm | IP Logged 
patrickwilken wrote:
I would be very interested in hearing from about their own experiences being raised bilingually, and what they think works and doesn't.

I would suggest you and your wife continue to speak to each other the way you always did. I'm not sure it's reasonable to expect that you'll be able to change that anyway. It's certainly feasible, but it requires a lot of effort, which is even harder to achieve when in the hustle and bustle of caring for a child. Switching languages depending on the setting is not very realistic either in my opinion, but if you had to make any change at all, I would say to systematically speak your own languages in the home and in a family setting. This would allow your children to hear more of your English.

My children are 14 and 16 and we live in an English-speaking community. The kids go to school in French, but the level is poor as the French community here is heavily anglicised and fairly closed, and has very few connections with French-speaking communities elsewhere. I always spoke French with them, but English with my wife (who spoke English to the kids and can also speak and understand French). The unsurprising result is that their English is better than their French, but it would have been unreasonable for me to expect otherwise given that they are, in effect, growing up in an English-speaking environment. On occasion, because I'm virtually as comfortable in English as in French, some parts of our conversations are now in English depending on what makes sense (but French is still the language I use most often with them). The older child uses French with me all the time, but the younger one uses more English, although he does make an effort.

I often hear and read about bilingual families where the child refuses to speak the second language. For some reason, I've never had that problem. Maybe it's because French was used at school. Or maybe it's because I've always insisted on the importance of both languages and that I've never shied away from hard language work, or maybe it has nothing to do with me at all, I don't know.

It took me a little while to understand this, but you need to have expectations that match your situation. It would have been unreasonable for me to think that my children would speak French as I do, as they didn't grow up in the same setting. In your case, though, English is more readily accessible, so it may not be an issue.

Lastly -- and this point may not affect you as much either -- but you may have to withstand some degree of social criticism. For instance, speaking to my children in French in front of the in-laws who understood nothing was not always obvious. Same thing in public, to some degree.

Let's not forget that there are people raised in bilingual settings with poor language skills and that many people learn languages later in life to very proficient levels. This is not a magical solution -- it should be seen as a practical solution to a practical problem, namely communicating your life experience efficiently to your children and allowing them access to your extended family.

Edited by Arekkusu on 06 January 2015 at 5:33pm

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Via Diva
Diglot
Senior Member
Russian Federation
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Speaks: Russian*, English
Studies: German, Italian, French, Swedish, Esperanto, Czech, Greek

 
 Message 4 of 37
06 January 2015 at 5:31pm | IP Logged 
This talk might help a bit.
I am personally more interested in raising a trilingual kid, but my interest is purely theoretical :)
1 person has voted this message useful



Jeffers
Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 3505 days ago

2151 posts - 3960 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Hindi, Ancient Greek, French, Sanskrit, German

 
 Message 5 of 37
06 January 2015 at 6:22pm | IP Logged 
First of all, congratulations!

I've known a few people who raised bilingual children. The risk is that the child understands both but can only speak one. Those I know who've been most successful were those who set boundaries for each language. My sister and her husband in Belgium spoke only English in the house and only Dutch when out of the house (and at school). Koreans I have known did the same thing, only Korean while at home and only English while out of the house. In both cases it was the foreign language at home, and the local language out.

I've known others who have spoken mixes, and the children either pick up on what was clearly the preferred language, or just spoke the local language. So I think speaking boundaries are essential for truly bilingual children.

Edited by Jeffers on 06 January 2015 at 6:22pm

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victorhart
Bilingual Tetraglot
Groupie
United States
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Studies: Mandarin

 
 Message 6 of 37
15 February 2015 at 2:58pm | IP Logged 
Congratulations, patrickwilken, and best of luck!

My daughter is now 7 years old. She has never lived or spent more than a couple of
weeks at a time outside of Brazil, but she is fully bilingual. I think her English is
fairly indistinguishable from an American of her age, though I'm sure someone who was
looking out for it would notice some pronunciation and other small issues. She also
reads at her grade level or better in English.

Now, at home it's always been like this. She and I speak exclusively in English. She
speaks exclusively in Portuguese to her mom and everyone else throughout the day. My
wife and I speak only in Portuguese. I should note that is the natural arrangement,
regardless of language goals. Since I was brought up in English, it's just natural and
spontaneous for me to speak to her in English. My Portuguese is now native level and
my wife's English is not, so we speak in Portuguese.

Because of my various commitments, she probably only gets an average of 1-2 hours of
English interaction with me per day. So there's no way her English would be "native"
if it weren't for: movies, shows, and books.

Most of her content is in English. It hasn't been too tricky to make that happen, but
it does take a bit of planning and enforcement. A key factor is that I have always
frowned upon her watching regular TV. Fortunately, it is actually easier to meet my
goal of her watching high-quality, commercial-free, enriching content in English than
in Portuguese. So, basically, 90% of her viewing is of DVD series and nowadays movies
and shows she downloads from Amazon. She even knows that if it's something I've never
watched, first we check commonsensemedia.org for level appropriateness and
rottentomatoes and other sources for quality.

A very funny and cool thing is that she happened to discover closed-captioning on our
Kindle Fire and for some reason she likes to watch everything with that on. Also, in
our Mandarin experiment, when we're watching Disney or Chinese movies, she always
(naturally) prefers to have the subtitles on. So she gets a lot of reading in English
through subtitles and closed captions.

Since I was much more into promoting early literacy than her mom, and again there's
much more great stuff available in English, most of her books at home have always been
in English.

She is not trilingual by any stretch. However, she takes Spanish classes twice a week,
though she has a few months off each year, and can totally get by in "portuñol", which
is what we call the infamous mixture of the two languages here in South America. She
has dabbled in American Sign Language through a great DVD series, and now Mandarin
because of my experiment. I would like to put her a year in French school (enough to
become trilingual), but I haven't heard good things about the French school in
Brasilia and her mom is not keen on the idea anyway.

So that is my personal experience.

I'm not really sure if trilingualism is a good aim for little kids or not. I was
trilingual at age 5, but forgot every single word of my French by age 6, and remained
bilingual at best, but with broken Portuguese, until age 11.

I think the Spanish daycare will not hurt your kid. My humble suggestions are:

- I think your home arrangement will be similar to mine, naturally, and I wouldn't
even try to force anything different. What you and your wife speak won't matter so
much to your daughter. But you will naturally always speak to her in English, and she
will respond only in English. That is good.
- Fill her life with awesome content in English from the very beginning. For example,
I loved the series Signing Time, which teaches some ASL vocabulary but also English
and incredible life lessons, for my daughter.
- Choose the best daycare option for her, irrespective of language. If there are
really native Spanish speakers at the daycare and they speak to her only in Spanish, I
would probably get excited about that and go for it, all other things being equal. But
for her to be trilingual, you will have then have to stick with the Spanish until she
becomes a teenager, basically, because one thing a lot of people don't know is that
little kids forget languages as quickly and thoroughly as they learn them. Spanish is
an awesome language for your kid to learn and know.
4 persons have voted this message useful



luke
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5801 days ago

3133 posts - 4350 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: Esperanto, French

 
 Message 7 of 37
15 February 2015 at 7:30pm | IP Logged 
Arekkusu wrote:
patrickwilken wrote:
I would be very interested in hearing from about their own experiences being raised bilingually, and what they think works and doesn't.


This is not a magical solution -- it should be seen as a practical solution to a practical problem, namely communicating your life experience efficiently to your children and allowing them access to your extended family.


Congratulations to patickwilken and his wife.

Arekkusu's conclusion makes perfect sense to me.

Me, I'd be inclinded to think that this child comes from exceptionally bright parents and won't have any difficulty with two or three languages if it is in a loving environment.
4 persons have voted this message useful



Serpent
Octoglot
Senior Member
Russian Federation
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 Message 8 of 37
15 February 2015 at 11:22pm | IP Logged 
Congratulations!
It's true that many kids respond in the easier language. Ideally you shouldn't accept that, but this can be tough. Now, I don't know if it's an actual problem for a parent, but as a multilingual person I know that sometimes I understand the content without being aware of the language it was in. So that's something you can work on. And perhaps more importantly, you need to be able to provide equivalents when your kid honestly can't say something in English, but only in German. Work on your translation skills too.

Although personally I can't imagine someone reading a lot in a language and being able to understand a movie but lacking speaking skills. My impression is that the main cause for passive-only acquisition is a shortage of reading materials (in adults, a lack of listening is possibly a more common problem).


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