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How do you speak to your kids in many languages?

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 

Hello to everyone,

Initially I asked this question in "learning at home'" section, but I was advised to repost it here in multicultural families as more appropriate.

My DS is 25 months old, we live in France, my husband is French, I'm Russian so naturally we speak two languages to him... oops, three, as when he was born I started to speak English to him as well. Actually the first song I was singing to him in the maternity ward was Ba, ba black sheep... just because I like it.

Later I read  and I heard that there is a rule one parent-one language and I gave up when my baby was about 9 months old.

I have restarted to speak English again several months ago ( it's such a pity not to teach him what i know!) and I have a lot of fun, but again I have the doubts and i was reminded that it'sbetter to speak just my native l-ge.

As far as I can see there are a lot of parents here whose children speak 2,3,4 and may be more l-ges, so would you please share your experiance how you do it?

Thanks in advance. 

post #2 of 25

If you live in france, your child will eventually pick up the community language and it will be one of his strongest.  If you want a three-language baby, then I'd have your husband speak english and you speak russian.

 

This is sort of how we do it.  For the most part I speak only english and my husband speaks german or swiss german to our kids. They are in a german environment but are learning french quite well through the school (we are on the french border).  

 

If you arent interested in three language but more on the 2 language idea, then OPOL (one parent, one language) definitely works out well, Just make sure you spend a lot of time focusing on the non-community language in the house, which esp includes talking about emotions and abstract ideas, as opposed to 'tangibles'.

post #3 of 25
Thread Starter 

My husband speaks English, but his English isn't good enough and it's a kind of profssional l-ge. Anyway it would be strange even if he would like to do it. i like him talking and singing to our DS in French, there is a lot of tenderness, sure he won't be at ease with English.

I really want my son to speak three l-ges, that's why I started this thread.

The problem is that I speak two l-ges and one of them is not my native, though frankly speaking I know more English songs for children than Russian ones, i had an esperiance teaching English for kids. So for me it's not difficult and on the contrary I enjoy it. I just don't want to make s mess in my DS's head.

I wonder if there are some other mammas who find themselves in the similar situation and how their children react? 

post #4 of 25

Personally, I chose not to try to teach my child my third language (learned in school and improved on the job, but I'm fluent, and pass for native as long as the conversation doesn't go on too long or touch on any obscure topics).

 

I really want my kid to know the language she is going to need to speak to my relatives, and I already feel that the amount of exposure she gets is far too little - it's just me speaking it to her, and whatever books and internet videos I can manage to acquire.  I don't want to further dilute it by diverting time I could be speaking our family language into this other language that doesn't have any personal meaning for me.

 

I figure she can learn whatever language she wants when she gets old enough to have it in school.  It's hard enough to raise a child to speak one non-community language well, never mind two.

post #5 of 25

We're trilingual but have a more environmental help winky.gif as we are in a bilingual area and my language (English) is the third.

 

However, I think that what you are proposing sounds pretty reasonable.... I would continue to speak Russian as the "language of your heart" for regular day-to-day stuff, but would make sure to bring lots of fun English things into your house and lives... books, music, programmes, internet and films, etc. and then make sure you share in this with your child, so that they are fun activities to do with mama.  There are LOTS of options, so this shouldn't be too difficult.  Also amazon UK has free shipping for purchases over 25 euros

 

One family in our neighbourhood only allows screen time in their house in English and French, their minority languages.  They also often have English or French speaking au pairs and baby sitters.  Their kids are aces with all 4 languages!  Curiously, their dad is French-Canadian but doesn't speak to them in either French or English!

 

For what it's worth, I started out out being pretty rigid about OPAL, but now I read aloud in whatever language the book is written in and I switch into Spanish/Catalan when the social situation makes it easier.  When we are home or directly communicating with each other, I speak only English.  My kids seem to prefer to watch programmes and movies in English, but I don't control this and have no problem with them watching in local languages (except for the fact the the voices used for dubbing children's shows makes me want to tear out my hair sometimes.... )

post #6 of 25

It sounds like you're slipping into English. 

 

Which language do you want your relationship in? 

 

My children speak three languages and the problem is the vocabulary. It's just a lot of words to learn. Just doing one foreign language in France is enough. 

 

If you do two foreign languages at once, with French all around you, the "risk" is that your child will just slip into French. 

 

My dh was raised bilingually and I told him, speak one or the other language to our children. I kind of wanted him to use his dialect but since all his education had been in French and he did use French with some of his relatives, he opted for French. We later put our children in a bilingual French-German program because dh is fluent in German and his dialect is close. The kids picked it up quickly and are now trilingual. They can kind of understand the dialect and can even sing some songs in it. Dh said way back that he would rather his children speak standard German than the dialect and now that they're fluent in German, they could learn the dialect easily if they chose (useful in certain careers in our area of France). 

 

I had a friend who lives in France but was born in another country. Her mom lived with them so the mom spoke that and then she spoke English. Not sure how it worked out for them long-term. They were getting into the habit of just speaking French all the time. 

 

Since she'll eventually get English in school, it's kind of a shame to teach that but being bilingual in English and French is definitely not a bad thing! If you stick to the Russian, really getting her fluent in Russian, she'll actually have an easier time learning English later on. By contrast, if you flip from one language to another, your little girl wont be able to form a relationship with you in either and will probably try to resort back to French. Seen this happen too often! 

 

I've seen children who couldn't get a hold of their other languages and it just becomes easier to use just one language. 

post #7 of 25

You can absolutely speak two languages to your child.  I gew up in a trilingual home and my head is just fine--well maybe not, but its not the 3rd language's fault. 

 

There are different ways of doing this, it helps if everyone speaks all the languages.  You might do: monday is russian; tuesday english; wednesday french etc.  But if H doesn't speak russian it will be more of a challenge. The day thing works because it forces you to talk about all kinds of things in each language (and not start to only sing in english but only talk about your feelings in russian)--  you could modify the day plan and speak one day in russian and the next in english; while H talks always in french.  The real challenge will be countering the french dominance likely to occur as 1 parent is french, society is french, and schooling will likely be in french as well.  but it can be done and is well worth doing.

post #8 of 25
We are struggling with this too!! Great tips I never thought of switching languages based on days.

Juniper I'm in Barcelona too but moving back to the states this weekend. Do you know of any Spanish over the counter stuff for morning sickness? I'm just starting and have to fly that longhaul Sunday. Groan!! I think there is a pm option on this forum, if you have any tips I would be so grateful!!!!
post #9 of 25

If you want your child to speak Russian to you (and not just understand Russian but reply to you in French), then you should always speak to him exclusively in Russian.  This includes at home, when you are in the park, at friends, or at the creche/maternelle, even if others around you don't understand.  You can translate to others afterwards if you feel that it's impolite.

 

This rule would apply as long as you are not living in Russia.  If your family ever moves to Russia, you could consider speaking to your son in English, as he would speak Russian with others anyway.

 

By the way, I don't know where you live in France but if you are in Paris, there is a great organization for international families called Message.  It's open to families of all nationalities, who speak English.  It's a fantastic resource and you can meet a lot of other moms through it.

post #10 of 25

We live in the US, I'm German and only speak German with the kids. DS speaks way more German at this point but will start a 5 day preschool program in 3 weeks and he will pick up English quickly there. He understands it already as DH only speaks English....

post #11 of 25

If you flip between languages, how do you establish a relationship with a child? 

 

Sorry but I can't imagine forcing my child to change languages just based on what day of the week it is. Sounds very confusing for a young child. 

 

I can picture a family having "meals" in certain languages on certain days of the week, once the children are confident in whatever they speak. 

 

I've heard these stories of the "lightswitch" approach to language but I've never seen it really work in RL. 

post #12 of 25

It was recommended to me to have the language mom speaks directly to baby and the language dad speaks directly to baby... In our situation it is taking some getting used to - well our babe is only 1 month old but it's hard to only speak "my" language to him.

 

I'm supposed to only speak to him in English (which my DH doesn't understand) and my DH is supposed to only speak to him in his Mayan language (which I don't understand) and yet between me & DH we speak Spanish - and end up doing a lot of Spanish out of habit to our baby.

 

....I don't want my kid speaking my busted up Spanish! And we really want the kiddo to speak the Mayan language since it's my DH's family mother language.

 

We try to remind each other to only speak "our" language directly to the kiddo, but it's hard to do since Spanish is the shared language... *sigh* such an interesting thread, yet gives me a headache! :) dizzy.gif

post #13 of 25

No worries. I have an accent in French and my kids have NEVER picked ANY of it up. 

 

If you live in a Spanish speaking community, your child will learn the "real" version. This also applies if you are planning to send him to some sort of Spanish school, if you don't live where Spanish is spoken. 

 

It's just a habit. At first it's hard because the baby isn't yet speaking. When he does, and you start hearing the "results" of your efforts, you'll be on a roll. It's a lot like riding a bike... 

 

Right now, he's just a little blob and quite frankly, talking to a baby in ANY language seems a bit useless. It wont be. Just tell yourselves that lots of people run into this issue but a few weeks of awkwardness means years of fluency. Eye on the prize!!

post #14 of 25

This is similar to DH and my language dynamic.... Spanish is our common language that we speak to each other and then we each speak to our kids in our mother tongue.  5 years in, we've both learned a ton of each other's languages.  It all seems to be working out pretty well.  In your case, if it helps you could start singing songs and telling little stories to get more into the swing of communicating directly with your little one in English, instead of relying on the mundane "oops, you must be hungry" stuff which is really communicating to your partner too.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by guatemama1 View Post

It was recommended to me to have the language mom speaks directly to baby and the language dad speaks directly to baby... In our situation it is taking some getting used to - well our babe is only 1 month old but it's hard to only speak "my" language to him.

 

I'm supposed to only speak to him in English (which my DH doesn't understand) and my DH is supposed to only speak to him in his Mayan language (which I don't understand) and yet between me & DH we speak Spanish - and end up doing a lot of Spanish out of habit to our baby.

 

post #15 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eclipsepearl View Post

If you flip between languages, how do you establish a relationship with a child? 

 

Sorry but I can't imagine forcing my child to change languages just based on what day of the week it is. Sounds very confusing for a young child. 

 

I can picture a family having "meals" in certain languages on certain days of the week, once the children are confident in whatever they speak. 

 

I've heard these stories of the "lightswitch" approach to language but I've never seen it really work in RL. 


 

I grew up like this so I can vouch that it works.  When children are little every language is a bit confusing and they are learning everything so --while it seems and feels really weird to the parents  (and it does especially at first) - the children actually take it in stride for the most part.  I have to say it feels very strange to be the one consciously guiding the language choice and it does feel a bit artificial for the adult, but for the child it's all they know and its okay.  There is a lot of concern over confusing children and languages but children almost always figure these things out. 

 

If there are only two languages to work with or if there is a the third language but it is  the one spoken by the community and not the native tongue of either parents (the example of the family living in Guatemala above) then I agree the ideal is to have each parent speak in their native tongue.  But in a situation where the mother speaks two languages that the father doesn't I think the solution is choosing depending on the day and getting the father to learn one of the languages with his child if possible, in this case probably English since he seems to know some already. If it seems to daunting then I would probably lose the English and know that if the child already speaks two languages the third will be easier to pick up later.  However, English being such a useful language, and so accessible in the era of internet and satellite TV, I would probably make the effort to include it. 

 

Although a warning is in order that as the child gets older they will begin to use the lack of language skills of their parents to their advantage.  I had a neighbor who was disturbed when he heard his daughter as her mother in German if she could use a soap his daughter knew he did not like her to use; she was supposing her father might not understand her request and that her mom might give her permission, and she was only 3!   My h doesn't speak one of my languages, so if I decide to use it once our baby is born we will run into  a similar problem.

post #16 of 25

 

There is a lot of concern over confusing children and languages but children almost always figure these things out. 

 

That actually isn't what I've seen. What usually happens is that the child isn't sure what to speak, or the parent doesn't have a base language to conduct their relationship in, the child automatically reverts to the community language. Later on, sometimes the child understands but can't speak. More often, the family simply becomes monolingual. 

 

The only families I've known who can flip between languages either started doing it only when their children were older (and well established in whatever they were speaking) or when the child had a stable dose of the minority language from another source. For example, one friend had a rough time keeping to speaking English (a bilingual child herself) so she enrolled her children in a bilingual school. Today, her children are just as bilingual as mine are, even though they still mix. Other examples include nannies and grandparents who live with, or nearby, who speak the language consistently with the child. 

 

The other concern is when there just isn't enough exposure to the minority language. If one parent tries to teach two languages at once, with no other sources, it would simply be too difficult to expose them enough to where they can actually speak and use the language effectively. Soooo much easier when there's somewhere else the child can use the language. That gives the parents more flexibility but we don't have that luxury. France has a strong monolingual culture with T.V. dubbed and weak English instruction. 

post #17 of 25

Eh, I live the multi cultural life.  Theres nothing wrong with more than one language spoken in the home.  Two languages is the least confusing.  Then adding the other one later is doable.  I can't see how it's such an issue.  I'd be mad if my mom or dad knew a language and didn't share it with me.

post #18 of 25

There's nothing "wrong" with more than one language. It's just a practical thing. If a child doesn't get enough exposure to a language, they wont learn it. Often the children simply don't pick it up and just speak the community language. This isn't a judgement, it's just reality! 

 

Btw, we speak two languages at home. We have to switch to French with my dh since he can't speak English. Not in the least confusing for the kids, who are trilingual. If I had flipped between French and English with them, I truly doubt they'd speak English today. I barely got enough English into them using it all the time! There is just no English here where we live and their lives are just so French-dominated. 

post #19 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eclipsepearl View Post

There's nothing "wrong" with more than one language. It's just a practical thing. If a child doesn't get enough exposure to a language, they wont learn it. Often the children simply don't pick it up and just speak the community language. This isn't a judgement, it's just reality! 

 

Btw, we speak two languages at home. We have to switch to French with my dh since he can't speak English. Not in the least confusing for the kids, who are trilingual. If I had flipped between French and English with them, I truly doubt they'd speak English today. I barely got enough English into them using it all the time! There is just no English here where we live and their lives are just so French-dominated. 



I completely agree that if a child doesn't get enough exposure to a language they won't learn it.  That is why if you speak more than one language in the home you have to have some kind of formal schema of how to do it--and even if you just speak a language which is not the language being spoken in the community you are living in.  Whether you choose to have one parent speak one language and another speak the other, switch days of the week, or create any other structured plan.  Otherwise any language that is dominant will win out.  You certainly can't just expect to speak a language to your child and expect that this will be enough.  You have to teach it to them if they aren't learning it in school.  You also need to live in the language in an educated and integrated way; that is to say you structure activities that emphasize the target language.  For proof that this is necessary you only need to see the experience of many immigrant families in the US in which the parents never learned English and the children while they can communicate with their parents have  never really learned their parents' native tongue.  There has to be reinforcement-- whether that is classes after school,  homeschooling their language, or putting them in a school that operates in the language you want them to know (putting them in the lycee francais if you want them to learn French but you live in Germany for example) or in a bilingual school.

 

post #20 of 25

You certainly can't just expect to speak a language to your child and expect that this will be enough.

 

LoL! I actually did just this. I spoke only English and always English to them. They were in normal French schooling. I did have plenty of videos, English language toys, books and we made frequent trips to the U.S. and England to reinforce it. I also joined organizations and participated in events, even if it was just to show them I wasn't the only one who spoke English in the world!

 

I only speak English to them, in public, in front of my non-English speaking parent. We're not rude and it's usually obvious what we're saying We don't have big conversations in front of French speakers and often switch to include anyone when we do say something interesting/funny/important.  

 

I did put my kids in local schools. While it's a bilingual program, it's French and German. Only my son has had to take English and not until he was 10. He's kind of bored. Many think we're nuts but it worked. They're trilingual! Their English is not as good as their French but not far behind. None have accents. 

 

So OPOL with only one person speaking the minority language can work. I have three little proofs of my efforts. You just have to stick to it. 

 

 

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