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Raising a bilingual child

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shk00design
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 3040 days ago

747 posts - 1122 votes 
Speaks: Cantonese*, English, Mandarin
Studies: French

 
 Message 9 of 37
16 February 2015 at 4:58am | IP Logged 
Raising children at home to speak several languages is partly the effort of the parents and partly due to the
exposure of the kids outside the home. In many European families in Canada, I've seen people speak the
mother-tongue at home (Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, Romanian, etc.) and the official language English in school.
Some get sent to language classes on weekends for additional instructions in their mother-tongues.

In the local Chinese community I've seen some who are very fluent in Chinese because the parents or
grandparents are not fluent in English and would talk to the kids only in Chinese. Others tend to be more
comfortable talking in English even when the parents would watch foreign videos on TV and can understand
the dialogue.

Even when the parents came from another country, some would choose to raise kids to speak only English
(the official language in this part of Canada). When it comes to mixed families, it is more common here for the
parents to speak to their kids in English instead of having them learn the language of 1 or both parents if it is
not English.

Personally I was raised in a monolingual family that started with Cantonese. Due to relocation the family
ended up in Canada with English as the official language. At the time of the move, my Chinese was at a Gr. 4
level. Sometimes I still consider my Chinese to be at a primary school although I can read up to 90% of the
Chinese characters in a newspaper or news online without a dictionary. Once our family had subscriptions of
the Reader's Digest (Chinese edition). Unlike European languages which are based on an alphabet, Chinese
has the challenge of remembering many characters. At this point my older siblings can still communicate
fluently in Chinese but they have lost the ability to read. When eating at local Chinese restaurants, they would
order common items or ask the waiter for recommendations to avoid reading the menu.

In order to maintain a high fluency in any language, a lot of effort is needed. A number of years ago I was in
Taiwan for a summer exchange program. Although I was assigned to an advanced language class and did
most of the shopping on my own, my level was still not where I wanted. For 8 months I reworked my schedule
so that I would only access Chinese programs on TV & the radio. I would set all my portable devices for
Chinese input so I can enter reminder notes to keep up with the characters. My older sister also spent the
summer in Taiwan but the trip didn't seem to help her improve her Chinese.

Edited by shk00design on 16 February 2015 at 5:16am

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Γρηγόρη
Tetraglot
Groupie
United States
Joined 3051 days ago

55 posts - 154 votes 
Speaks: English*, Greek, Latin, Ancient Greek
Studies: German, French, Russian

 
 Message 10 of 37
16 February 2015 at 11:05pm | IP Logged 
I don't think that you have much to worry about. Most educated Germans nowadays speak English at a very high
level. The state/culture will almost be doing the job for you. Your advantage is to speak natively accented English to
the child from a young age so that s/he can avoid having a German accent in English. Also, his/her English will
probably be more idiomatic than those who learn it in school. As the father of several bilingual children, I can assure
you that the real challenge would be to raise them fluent in German in an Anglophone environment. The pressure of
English is so great that the plans of many parents fall to naught if they are not especially vigilant. But in Germany,
your child will encounter so much English on television, on billboards, etc., that s/he will have no question as to why
it is worth learning. There is little danger that your child would refuse to speak English, as so many bilingual
children in the Anglosphere refuse to speak their heritage languages.
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geoffw
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 3284 days ago

1134 posts - 1865 votes 
Speaks: English*, German, Yiddish
Studies: Modern Hebrew, French, Dutch, Italian, Russian

 
 Message 11 of 37
17 February 2015 at 12:47am | IP Logged 
Agreed. I had two experiences that reinforce that idea. First, my all native-English-speaking family moved to
Germany when I was 8. Within a year or two, my German was pretty much like that of my German peers. But my
parents' German was shaky, and we only spoke English at home. Also, while my friends from school spoke German,
we were part of the American community over there, and we had friends and social activities with Americans. Had
we stayed, I no doubt would have been fully bilingual (but perhaps with slightly less solid command of high-level
academic English and maybe a smaller vocabulary).

We returned to the US, and my parents tried to get me to keep up my German by talking to me in German, but I
always insisted on answering in English, because we were Americans in the US. My German began to decay rapidly.
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Elexi
Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 4161 days ago

938 posts - 1837 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: French, German, Latin

 
 Message 12 of 37
18 February 2015 at 9:14pm | IP Logged 
I feel the best way for me to give input on this is just to give a narrative of what we have done. I have a 6
year old. We live in London. My wife has only ever spoken to him in German and I have only ever spoken to
him in English. My wife and I generally converse in English, although I speak B1 German, sometimes with
my wife :-). My son is fluent in both languages and can switch between them without any effort or mixing. He
has watched children's programmes and listened to age appropriate audiobook in both languages since he
was born. In my view the critical factor is that each parent speaks to the child in their language without fail,
not what the parents speak to each other.

Edited by Elexi on 18 February 2015 at 9:16pm

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Rniks
Newbie
United States
Joined 2300 days ago

36 posts - 47 votes
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish, Romanian

 
 Message 13 of 37
19 February 2015 at 4:33am | IP Logged 
Although I personally wasn't raised multilingually, my maternal grandmother was. She was raised in the U.S. by a
Polish mother and a Lithuanian father. She and her brother were sent to a Polish/English elementary school. My
grandmother aside from obviously learning English, learned Polish well and spoke that with her mother. Neither
parent had ever made an effort to pass on Lithuanian to her, but it was the language they used between the two
of them, and she claims that one day as a child she picked up one of her father's prayer books in Lithuanian and
just started reading it out loud and realized she could communicate in Lithuanian. According to her, she just
started speaking it with her parents one day and they stood there dumbfounded. The interesting part of the
story and why I mention it, though, is her brother never spoke fluidly in Polish or even communicated in
Lithuanian at all, having grown up in just about the same basic circumstances. I don't really know much about
how my great uncle was as a young student, but I do know my grandmother has always been a voracious reader
and that could have something to do with the difference in their language skills.    

I think in your particular circumstances, acquiring both German and English shouldn't really pose a problem for
your daughter as others have stated. As for Spanish if you opt for the bilingual Kita, I think it is very possible she
could develop strong skills. If you'd like to nurture this it might be a good idea to get her reading and
consuming media in the language, as I suspect a big part of why my grandmother grew up trilingual had to do
with her poring over the lithuanian books kept in the house on her own in combination with exposure. And last
but not least, congratulations to you and your family!
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patrickwilken
Senior Member
Germany
radiant-flux.net
Joined 3129 days ago

1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 14 of 37
19 February 2015 at 11:06am | IP Logged 
Thank you everyone. It's really amazing to have such kind thoughtful responses. I hope some of you will be at the polyglot conference in Berlin so I have a chance to thank you personally.

I feel a lot more reassured now about the correct approach.

So the plan at the moment is that I'll talk only English with my daughter, and my wife German. Together we'll probably continue to speak a mix of English and German, with the long term aim to speak more and more German. My wife will probably also sometimes speak English with her, since her strength in both languages makes it hard for her not to switch sometimes.

One of my concerns was that if we only spoke English at home my daughter might be a bit delayed for German, which is obviously the critical language for her (English is really just a bonus). From what I've read and heard here this doesn't seem to be a real issue though - and probably wouldn't be a problem even if she only heard English at home.

I'll definitely take the advice to expose her to lots of English language movies and books in the house, and it seems like a really nice natural activity for me to do with her.

In other news, my wife was recently offered a new job in Leipzig, which is very exciting, and so we'll probably move there sometime in late summer or autumn.

Edited by patrickwilken on 19 February 2015 at 5:30pm

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beano
Diglot
Senior Member
United KingdomRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 3218 days ago

1049 posts - 2152 votes 
Speaks: English*, German
Studies: Russian, Serbian, Hungarian

 
 Message 15 of 37
19 February 2015 at 5:13pm | IP Logged 
Γρηγόρη� wrote:
I don't think that you have much to worry about. Most educated Germans nowadays speak English at a very high
level. The state/culture will almost be doing the job for you. Your advantage is to speak natively accented English to
the child from a young age so that s/he can avoid having a German accent in English. Also, his/her English will
probably be more idiomatic than those who learn it in school. As the father of several bilingual children, I can assure
you that the real challenge would be to raise them fluent in German in an Anglophone environment. The pressure of
English is so great that the plans of many parents fall to naught if they are not especially vigilant. But in Germany,
your child will encounter so much English on television, on billboards, etc., that s/he will have no question as to why
it is worth learning. There is little danger that your child would refuse to speak English, as so many bilingual
children in the Anglosphere refuse to speak their heritage languages.


I don't think it's as simple as that. Hardly any TV in Germany is in English and the odd advertising slogan is hardly an example of widespread usage of a language. Also, all movies are dubbed and German bookshops are overwhelmingly stuffed with German books. Yes, many Germans do speak a good standard of English but the general level across the board is way behind what you would find in Scandanavia, for the simple reason that Germany is a huge economically powerful country and you could quite easily have a comfortable life there without achieving major fluency in English.


3 persons have voted this message useful



Volte
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Switzerland
Joined 5035 days ago

4474 posts - 6725 votes 
Speaks: English*, Esperanto, German, Italian
Studies: French, Finnish, Mandarin, Japanese

 
 Message 16 of 37
19 February 2015 at 8:13pm | IP Logged 
Her German is likely to be a little delayed; bilingual speech tends to be. It's easy to worry about that too much, though. Being a little behind of where you'd otherwise be at 2 or 5 doesn't matter at all in the end, while bilingualism helps throughout life.

The occasional week or summer in an anglophone country, in a situation where your child will interact with native speakers around her age, is likely to be a very good idea. It drives home the necessity and reality of the language like nothing else does.


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