or Connect
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Mom › Parenting › Multicultural Families › speaking L2 with kids
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

speaking L2 with kids

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
I'm American, living in Germany, married to a German and now with a 3 month old baby. My DH and I have always spoken English to each other at home, and I speak English to my DS, and DH speaks mostly German to him but also some English as we're already using it with each other all the time.

My question is about when I'm around our German-speaking relatives and friends, or for example at our baby group, I sometimes feel like I should be speaking German to my baby, as everyone else is speaking it and I'm speaking it with them. This may sound stupid, but I almost feel like I'm being rude or exclusive of others by speaking English to the baby when other German-speakers are there, even though most Germans understand basic English. But it feels odd and more distant to speak German to him, and I've also heard that it's important that each parent stick as much to one language with their kid as possible (meaning DH should also try to speak only German with him). I know when DS is older and has friends here I'll have to speak German to them as most German kids do not know any English. But I'm already worried about DS not getting enough English input or not wanting to use his English when he's a bit older (several of my English coworkers here have told me this happened with their kids).

So, do you only speak English with your child or do you feel comfortable switching back and forth? And if so, does this then lead down the slippery slope of your child not wanting to speak English with you and eventually giving up English with your kid altogether (I know a few colleagues who've done this after tiring of the battle to get their kids to use English)?

I know I'm just excessively worrying but I thought I'd throw it out there. TIA.
post #2 of 21
I am American, dh is Italian and we live in France. I speak English with my kids, even in front of others. Sometimes with the older one I use Italian or a little bit of French. But usually my language. We have an elderly neighbor who has adopted my kids as her grandkids kinda. My dd1 will always speak to me in Enlgish and I speak English to them in front of her (my french isn't very good) and she will often ask me to translate. ANd I do and its not a big deal to any of us.

If it feel uncomfy to you, don't do it. Especially since your lo is so young. When they are older and have established more verbal skills, you can go back and forth if you like.
post #3 of 21
no hard and fast rule about that = all sort of people in all sort of situations do .... all sort of things !

(+ every child will have different level of comforts regarding being multi-lingual .... you can offer exposure/strongly suggest/facilitate learning ... you cannot really force someone else to speak whatever language you decidefor them)

do what feels right for you now

your language needs will change with time anyway; you will have different goals in the future as your child goes through different phases in his learning of languages ...

what will also help in the future will be short trips to the country of the minority language if you can afford it
it's all part of "exposure,exposure, exposure"
just find the balance that will suit your family !
post #4 of 21
American in Spain here... Primarily, I speak English to DC (4 and 2), DH speaks Catalan to them and we speak Spanish to each other. The kids speak mostly English to each other but also shift into Catalan when they are with Catalan speakers. Spanish is the weakest language at the moment but they understand and I think the environment will take care of that. I used to be MUCH more worried about this and was VERY careful to try and follow the OPOL approach, but I've really mellowed out because I can see that my kids are doing just great and English is SUCH an easy language to get input from other sources.

At this point in our family life and with close friends, we follow the above dynamic and I'm not worried about being rude because all these people understand that it is important to me that my kids be able to communicate well with my family. In addition, being fluent in English is generally seen as an extremely positive thing and I find that the community at large gets this really well... the old man down the street and the dried fruit and nut lady at the market proudly boast to anyone around how my kids are fluent in 3 languages! When I'm talking directly to someone whose L1 is not English, I use their language. When I'm talking directly to my kids about something that has little relevance to the actual social interaction at hand, I usually speak in English. However, if we are at the library or playground and I'm trying to help negotiate social situations or with older people or those who I feel may be offended, I shift into the language that is most comfortable for the situation.

If you're worried about the level of English input your child receives, I would recommend building up a solid collection of books, music and screen resources in English. My mom is totally on board with this and helps so much with the book part, my brothers and sisters gave us a multi region DVD player and regularly burn programs for us and we tend to use the web (PBS kids for games, some youtube) exclusively in English (not that I would use screen time with a 3 mo, but my 4 yo's vocabulary has grown by leaps and bounds over the last year with all sorts of expressions he's got from what he watches). So basically, out of the activities they have to choose from over the course of the day, a bunch are almost exclusively in English. That being said, at this point I read aloud in the language books are written in... my simultaneous translation skills don't extend to chapter books!).

We also have longish family visits and my kids are not in childcare. The families that I've noticed problems with LOs using English tend to have their kids in childcare long hours from an early age in L1. If you need to use a lot of external childcare, I think a multilingual or English only environment might be worth taking under consideration.
post #5 of 21
Consistency is the most important thing. You can have a rule that in the home, English, outside of home, German. You can have a rule that with Mommy, always English, everyone else always German. Just make the rule and follow it.

A word of advice from someone who is part of a bilingual household - don't get lazy about not speaking a language you want your child to know. My dh got lazy about speaking L2 with dd and she had a period of time (she's 8 now), that she refused to speak to him in L2. Now, she really TRIES, but for a while became very obstinate about it and she lost a lot of momentum those years.
post #6 of 21
I'm also American with a German husband but we live in the States. My husband's family doesn't speak English much at all, so we've really tried to foster the German at home. (My husband and I have always only spoken German with each other, and so with the kids too when we are both home. I almost always speak German with them when I'm alone, too.) Still, I find myself sometimes speaking English with my kids when we are around my family or friends, for some of the same reasons you stated.
My older daughter, who's almost 2 1/2, certainly prefers English and usually answers in English, but has a lot of German words. (She'll say, for instance, "I don't want Zaehne putzen".) I was more worried about it until we went to Germany this summer for a few weeks. It didn't take long at all for her to switch. I think, in the end, I want them to be able to speak both, and certainly they'll be able to, if we continue to visit Germany regularly.
I imagine it would be easier to find support for English in Germany than vice versa, too.
post #7 of 21
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the replies! I think I just need to speak English to him most of the time, even in the company of others.

Originally Posted by ekh View Post
She'll say, for instance, "I don't want Zaehne putzen".
Cute! I can't wait to see the Denglish phrases our DS comes up with!

Originally Posted by ekh View Post
I imagine it would be easier to find support for English in Germany than vice versa, too.
Oh definitely! We have considered moving back to the US and if we did, it would be a real effort to make sure Max actually learns and practices German (not to mention my own German which would rapidly fall away if I didn't practice).

I agree with PPs that immersion and exposure are key. The plan is to spend about a month per year in the US, starting this Christmas. And when he's quite a bit older I hope he'd be interested in maybe going to summer camp in the US.
post #8 of 21
My son is 10 weeks and I only speak to him in English (my French is poor anyways). I don't feel rude not speaking to him in French (in public), it is far too unnatural and forced for me. My DH and his parents always speak French to each other in public (when they are in an English area), even though they are all fluent/bilingual. It's just natural to them.

Some people feel offended when they are around a conversation that is not the primary language, but I have never been offended with my DH's French conversations with friends/family (even in an English setting). It's just not that personal - especially when conversing with a very young child.
post #9 of 21
We live in Quebec and speak English at home, so I always speak to DD in English. It feels terribly unnatural to speak to her in French, and right now I just think it would be confusing for her to suddenly hear me speaking to her in another language.

When we were kids, we only spoke English at home, yet my sister and I are fluently bilingual. We just picked it up, and it's taught in school. I'm sure DD will do just the same, and when she starts mastering English I'll probably help her learn French, too.

On a related note, I'm officially p*ssed off by people asking me, in French, why I speak to DD in English. Um... because it's my mother tongue? Because we live in a democracy and I can speak to her whatever I like? Because you've got a bee in your dang bonnet? ARGH!!!
post #10 of 21
I'm an American living in Italy. My husband is Italian. I speak to my daughter exclusively in English because 1) she has so little exposure to it otherwise and 2) because it feels most natural to me to speak to her in my mother tongue.

When she was younger (she is 2.5 now) I often felt self-conscious about speaking English with her while we were out, and I worried that I was being rude to non-English speakers (basically everyone in our town.) But honestly, I just got used to it and it became so natural that I'm not even aware of it being different anymore.

If adults ask me to translate what I've said, I will, otherwise I don't worry about it. When I speak to dd while she plays with other children I often repeat what I've said to her in Italian so that the other children can understand too. I'm not sure why I started doing that, but it just feels right to me.
post #11 of 21
I should also say that my children are with English speaking caregivers 3 days a week during the school year, which is why English is so strong. Like I said before, it used to worry me, but we just got back from Germany and my daughters will certainly be able to speak both, if we keep speaking German at home and visiting Germany during the summers.
Particularly if you are home with your son, speaking English most of the time with occasional German, he will def. speak both, even if he more often chooses one over the other.
And, it doesn't confuse my children at all when I switch languages, I don't believe. They know I speak both.
post #12 of 21
I highly recommend that you keep speaking German. I am in the opposite boat, kind of. I am a Swiss living in Canada, and my dh does not speak German. Our common language has always been English, and being immersed in it and very fluent myself, I have not been able to keep up speaking German to our kids. So unfortunately they do not speak it or understand it.

We have put them in a French Immersion school, so they are at least learning French, but I do wish they would at least understand German...
post #13 of 21
Swede living in Sweden with a Mexican wife. Our young kids are tri-lingual and it works great. Someone above mentioned consistency and I agree this is very important.

I speak Swedish, English, German and SPanish. Wife know Swedish, Spanish and English.

- Me and wife always speak English to each other. We met in US ages ago and we feel very comfortable with English

- I speak only Swedish to our kids (age 4 and 6.5)

- Wife speak only Spanish to the kids

- Kids go to a Swedish/English kindergarten/school. Half of teachers speak English and half Swedish

Oldest speak all three languages with ease. Our 4-year old daughter love to speak English but know a bit less than her brother.

We stay consistent with the languages. We spent two months in Mexico in MArch-April and I speak Swedish to the kids and Spanish to all others. When we go to Germany I speak German but Swedish to the kids, etc.
post #14 of 21
I can definitely relate to your situation. We were actually in Germany over the summer and I definitely felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb when I was speaking to DD in English in front of a bunch of German speakers.

However, I just choose to ignore it. DD HATES it when I speak to her in German and will specifically tell me no. Sometimes I can read a book to her in it and we'll watch DVD's in German on occasion but that's about it. She got German from her daycare and while she seemed to understand just fine she definitely gravitated much more to the two workers there that spoke English well (most likely because they could actually understand what she was saying. ).

I'd say the biggest problem I've had, though, is that German speakers than assume I don't speak German and then try and struggle through English to talk to me. But sometimes that can be pretty entertaining too.

We've had some Denglish already but her German vocabulary is pretty small compared to English and Portuguese (DH's language) so we have much more mixing of those two than with German. But she does enjoy talking about U-Bahn's and went through a "Nein" phase for awhile.
post #15 of 21
Others have already given you great advice, but I wanted to share my experience as well.

I'm German and married to an American.
When we expected our first child, we agreed that we each would speak in our mothertongue with the baby and continue to speak English with eachother like we used to. (DH understands a few words in German but that's about it.)
That plan went well while we're actually living in Portugal (where DD was born) as my parents lived there as well, hence I was more used to speaking German, had access to German tv channels etc.
DD had no problems understanding me in German, DH in English and started speaking both, often Denglish.

When she was 2.5 yrs old, we came to the US and over the month I unfortunately slipped more and more into English with her and by the time our 2nd child was born, I was speaking only English!

I've lived most of my life abroad and am very used to speaking/reading (even dreaming) in English ever since my teenage years, so it was an easy thing to happen. Besides, I had absolutely no contact to other Germans or any other German influence (sadly the contact with my parents broke off due to other reasons).. I've tried 1-2x to pick it up in German again, but I didn't follow through, having no encouragement and feeling almost 'lost'.. Honestly, I was torn what to do and to this day I regret it!

My husband didn't really see the 'need' to continue with German as English would always be the primary language and we plan on settling down in the US and I started feeling that it would be 'unfair' to DH if I were to talk in German to the kids in front of him.. so I stayed with English..

At the same time did I personally remember how it felt to stick out like a sore thumb as a kid when my mom would try to talk in Portuguese with me (both of my parents are German but we've lived in Brazil for close to 6 yrs. shortly after I was born) when we're back in Germany and I hated it! I wanted to blend in, not stick out! So I guess subconsciously I've chosen that path [strictly English] for my kids in order for them not feeling the same way I did as a kid?.. I don't know!..

All I can tell you that now my kids are 8.5 and 5 and though I'm currently trying (again!) to talk to them in German (having to immediately translate my said sentence into English for them) I honestly don't know how long I can keep it up or if it's even 'worth' all the hassle anymore and I should just 'surrender' to the fact that my kids don't speak German and maybe never will..

But like I said, that's my experience which in itself is quite complex (being a 'TCK' Third Culture Kid and having no true 'roots' to Germany myself and actually often wondering what I am, where I belong..).

I would suggest you sticking to speaking your mothertongue with your child and your DH talking in his and maybe agreeing to the language at home with all of you together being English if that's what you and your DH are used to? If you'll stay in Germany, your child will naturally be more and more fluent in German and it'll benefit him learning English fluently from the get-go from home with you.
Good luck!
post #16 of 21
Originally Posted by swisscanmom View Post
I highly recommend that you keep speaking German. I am in the opposite boat, kind of. I am a Swiss living in Canada, and my dh does not speak German. Our common language has always been English, and being immersed in it and very fluent myself, I have not been able to keep up speaking German to our kids. So unfortunately they do not speak it or understand it.
We have put them in a French Immersion school, so they are at least learning French, but I do wish they would at least understand German...
Even though it doesn't change anything, but it's good to read that others are in the very same boat as I am!
post #17 of 21
i'm asian american (filipino to b exact but i don't carry much of the culture with me, so i consider myself as american as it gets!), and my husband is from japan. we moved from japan to america to have our LO here, but we keep the home environment japanese-speaking only. Songs and books all in japanese, too. I used to feel rude speaking it in front of non-speakers, but when i think back to my experience teaching at an international preschool, i had never felt offended by the mothers who chose to speak their mother tongues to their children. so i think, 'they didn't make me feel strange, why should i make others feel strange?'

i did have many family, however, who were very into their filipino heritage, and made fun of me and my husband every time we spoke japanese. actually.. i think they still do make snide comments here and there. but we learned to ignore it.

i think it's best to think of it all in a linguistic perspective. it's completely normal for european countries to switch languages depending on the situation or who they are talking to. i think people who are not used to the language switching, or who have certain language attitudes about how some languages 'sound,' will generally feel weird but you need to keep your child's future in mind (for me, i cringe when i imagine taking my DD to meet my in laws for the first time, and neither of them being able to communicate).

my family's attitudes towards japanese makes them feel like we're crazy, but i just keep reminding myself that it's only them who think that way, hehe!

all DD's play dates speak english, and she responds normally to them. we're not so worried about her english, hehe.

btw i love reading all these replies, so interesting!!
post #18 of 21
I'm American in France, near the German border.

I speak English and only English to my kids. They always respond to me in English.

Yes, I do this in front of my non-English speaking dh. It was easier for me though because he's trilingual and often we're in company who speak German or his native language, Alsatian, which is the German dialect spoken here. Now I understand some of the above but I still can't speak it.

So not only does he do this to me but he's used to a multilingual environment. I proposed his speaking Alsatian to the children, I would use English and then they could learn French at school. He wasn't keen because he's actually stronger in French than Alsatian.

My kids are in a bilingual French-German program so the older two speak German and the youngest understands a lot. Perhaps because the school has about 40 nationalities and many of the parents (we have a lot of refugee families) don't even speak French, our speaking English together doesn't distract. No one really pays attention.

The culture too, plays a role. French people really keep to themselves and will even hold private conversations, leaving others out, with other people present, all in only French. So having a private conversation is nothing unusual.

Yes, sometimes if we're in a touristy area, people will speak to us in broken English. This is a scene of endless amusement for my kids. Once, as a toddler, my son came up to a woman and said in French "My mom speaks French! You don't have to speak to her in English!" The game now is that since my kids speak to each other in French, they will start to chatter and see how long it lasts until the saleslady or whomever notices. We have the added issue that my children don't look at all like I do (they're quite dark while I'm pale with blond hair and blue eyes) so we've had some funny incidents with people not knowing they're mine, since I have an obvious accent and they don't.

I do find myself "cueing in" anyone around me and I also notice that I make an effort to include others when appropriate.
dd-"Mommy, can I have something to drink please?"
me (in French)-"Who else is thirsty? Does anyone else want something to drink?"

Or, for example, I'll gesture. I'll hold the coat up while saying to put it on.

I'll also add comments like "She always forgets to..." or "He really don't like..." and throw in the subject of our last exchange. It's translating in a more natural way.

Very little of what we say is a mystery. If one of my kids starts having a "real" conversation, I tell them to wait.

Meanwhile, at home, dh now understands almost everything I say. He still speaks like crap but after a few years, I started hearing "...and how many times does your mother have to tell you to pick up...??" I sometimes go to translate and he'll snap back at me that he understood.

I found that at the point the conversations were at the point of being rude in front of others, they were well able to learn how to use their bilingual skills without being impolite.

I do admit I slip. "When is that waiter coming with the menus??" I have also can't resist saying to my kids "Watch that crying baby. She's going to wiggle the stroller and plug him with a pacifier instead of picking him up".

Not speaking the minority language outside the home can be a pitfall.
1. Your child might get the message that the minority language is something to hide or be embarrassed about.
2. Your child can miss out on important vocabulary you don't find in the home.
3. Your child can get into the habit of answering in the community language, and might decide to keep doing it at home.
4. You child needs to learn to not be rude with his bilingual skills, which is difficult to teach if it's limited only to the home. Try to avoid the naughty examples above

You have the big advantage of speaking a "status" language in Germany. You can send your child to whatever school and know he'll get GOOD English instruction (definitely not the case here in France!) Most Germans know a big of English so will recognize it. Also, Germans are very encouraging of multilingualism as a rule. It's something valued in their society. Speaking more than one language is considered a admirable skill in Germany.

Sometimes we go over the border to Germany and I've actually had Germans come up to me. They hear me in English and the children in French. "Das ist schoen!"

The only real pitfall is that when I somewhere people speak English, I forget that others can understand what I say to them. I'm in the bad habit of saying things like "Honey, please take your finger out of your nose and tell me again" or "Could you two please stop dismembering each other and join us in line?" I'll hear snickering and realize I'm not in the little linguistic bubble I'm used to!
post #19 of 21
I'm of Portuguese descent, my husband is American and we live in the States. When I'm alone with my daughter or doing something with only her, whether at home or out, I'll speak to her in Portuguese. If we are interacting with my husband or other English speakers, then we speak in English. My parents watch her 3 days a week and they speak to her exclusively in Portuguese. At large, extended family gatherings like Thanksgiving, then she switches around depending on who's she talking to at the moment. It's important to us that she's fluent in Portuguese (and she'll also be spending part of the summer there when she is older) so we try to support that as much as possible. In addition to speaking the language, we also have Portuguese books, DVDs, etc.
post #20 of 21
I'm a U.S. born expat living in Mexico. DH is bicultural (U.S./MX).

Our standard has been "English at home, Spanish outside of the home". But this is certainly not a hard-and-fast rule.

As DD has grown and in her 3rd year of kindergarten (95% Spanish-speaking env.), she's thinking in both languages and some thoughts or words (as is common with those that are truly billingual) are better expressed in either Spanish or English. So, we use probably a little more Spanish at home now and especially since she has an increasing number of friends that spend time in our home.

It really is so situational and intuitive for us. My goal, however, is that DD and DS speak/write/read English and Spanish well. So I read to them almost exclusively in English and our primary L. at home is English.

DH seems to speak in English almost exclusively to DD and DS.

I really can relate to that feeling of not wanting to exclude others (i.e. if I am at a party and say something to DD in English in front of the monolingual moms, is that rude? It's in these cases that intuition and "feel" in so important).

Interesting topic! Being an expat with third-culture DH, DD & DS and working with the language aspect of this dynamic has been very challenging and yet so rewarding.
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Multicultural Families
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Mom › Parenting › Multicultural Families › speaking L2 with kids