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Success stories raising active bilingual children?

post #1 of 35
Thread Starter 

Hi all!

 

I am new to the site and so excited to be here!

 

I am Arab (Palestinian) and my husband is American. My husband is SAHD. We have a 26 month old daughter whom we are raising bilingually. I speak to her exclusively in Arabic and DH speaks to her in as much Arabic as he knows, which is considerable though not fluent. We read lots of Arabic books, listen to lots of Arabic music, watch Arabic DVDs and do Arabic language games on the IPAD. We don't have much of an Arab community, so there is very little chance for Arabic classes etc. as she grows up. I am trying to get together a playgroup, so if you live in the Greensboro, High Point, Winston, NC area and would like to start an Arabic playgroup, please let me know.

 

Anyway, as a result of our efforts my DD is doing great with both Arabic and English though her Arabic, understandably, is stronger.

 

She will be starting pre-school in a month: 3 hour a day program.

 

Here's my dilemma. Everything I've read and heard so far about bilingualism in our situation seems pretty depressing. Children seem to become passive bilinguals, preferring to speak the dominant language and while understanding the minority language, sometimes flat out refuse to speak it.

 

I am trying to think of ways to keep my DD interested in speaking Arabic: Skyping with family members, hiring an Arab speaking babysitter so she has others around her who speak Arabic on a regular basis besides me, visiting as many Arabs as I can in our area, visiting Jordan as often as the budget (small indeed :) allows etc.

 

Now here's my question: Have others had success raising active bilingual children who have continued to speak the minority language even after they've entered school?  I'd love to hear those stories because they will give me much hope, but also because I'd love to hear about how you were able to achieve this success. I would love to get as many tips as I can that can help us achieve our goal of active bilingualism.

 

Thanks so much!

 

 

 

 

post #2 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Diyabolo View Post


Now here's my question: Have others had success raising active bilingual children who have continued to speak the minority language even after they've entered school?  I'd love to hear those stories because they will give me much hope, but also because I'd love to hear about how you were able to achieve this success. I would love to get as many tips as I can that can help us achieve our goal of active bilingualism.

 

Thanks so much!

 

 

 

 


Welcome! Glad you found the site.

 

My DS (8.5) is a success story and I know tons of other success stories in my wider circle of friends and acquaintances (as well as some less than successful stories, too)

 

Anyway, I'm American and live in a W. European country. My husband is from here and DS has been born and raised here. English is his minority language and he's a very active (!) speaker and listener. The only thing is that he doesn't really read it well, but we've held off on teaching him to read in English for the time being because he's possibly dyslexic and is having enough trouble reading in the majority language. There's no real need for him to read in English any time soon and I still enjoy reading aloud to him in English!

 

What has worked for my friends' families and for my own is:

 

Consistency  . . . Keep speaking to your DD in Arabic! Don't switch to English (except maybe at the playground or on playdates if the other children don't speak or understand Arabic). If children think there's an "out" (Mom or Dad won't really make me speak in minority language .. . .) they'll use it.

 

If your DD answers you in English, say, "How do you say that in Arabic?" and have her repeat it, helping her if necessary.

 

Books, DVDs, etc. in the minority language. This has been really big for us.

 

Having people around who only understand the minority language . . . For instance, my family in America obviously doesn't understand the majority language here, so DS *has* to speak English with them.

 

Try to make Arabic your home language as much as possible! (We used to do purely OPOL but DS' English was far too passive. He went to daycare in the majority language and my DH spoke to him in the majority language and he only heard English from me. We switched to English as our "home" language and DS' English improved considerably. That meant that DH spoke to DS in English when we were all together.)

 

The success stories I know of have all been from families where both couples spoke each others language and, therefore, could speak it to the children. The failures were were one of the partners did speak or understand the others language and they either communicated together in the majority language or in a third language.

 

Don't be shocked if, despite your best efforts, your DD has an accent in Arabic. My DS does in English. Also, your DD may well use English sentence structure in Arabic for quite a while. DS is only now getting English sentence structure down.

 

Hope this helps and good luck!

 

post #3 of 35

Hey, I would consider myself a bilingual success story. :)  Raised in the US with one European-born and one American-born parent (who learned the minority language but only used it when necessary to function, never with us).  I'm fluently bilingual (and literate) although English is my dominant (I have a lot of graduate education in English but my minority language literacy is more like a high school or early uni level).

 

Honestly I think the biggest factor for us was regular, prolonged visits to the home country.  We were there for 4-6 weeks most summers of my childhood, also moved there for a period when I was in high school and then I lived and worked there independently for a time in my early 20s.

 

Secondary things that I think are really helpful:

 

- The more exposure, the better.  I think it's really helpful if the nonfluent parent at least understands so that conversations don't have to be translated.  It sounds like your husband is actually speaking Arabic with your LO so that is even better.

 

- Some kind of community exposure is really important.  Visits to the home country are best; other possibilities would be a bilingual school or after-school program.  The problem is when the kid gets a little older, if they don't see a community of speakers they don't have any motivation to learn or use the language.  It just turns into something that is not-cool since it isn't present in the peer group.

 

- I think it really helps if you maintain an expectation that the child will speak to you in the minority language.  My family did not do this (and there were definitely periods where we just answered in English) but I do think it is really helpful.  I think the passive-understanding situation can easily develop if you fall into the habit of speaking Arabic while your child answers in English.  I think we spent so much time in the home country that we were able to get by without this method, but (based on my observations of other multilingual families) I do think it is really helpful in general.

 

- Books and videos in the minority language are great because they create motivation to understand, and the books promote literacy.  I'm not sure what your plans are about that, eg how you feel about the verbally-fluent-but-illiterate outcome which is also common in bilingual speakers whose minority languages, like Arabic, use a different alphabet from the one they learn in school.  It's worth thinking about that because, if you decide you care, literacy really does have to be actively taught in a way that verbal communication does not.  If you wait too long (after the child is already comfortable reading in English) it gets more frustrating for the child to have to go back to A-B-C level and they will be more likely to resist learning the minority script.  My anecdotal experience is that I and one of my siblings were taught to read in formalized weekly lessons at home.  The other sibling went to an after-school program.  I think the home lessons worked a lot better but they required a *lot* of discipline and effort on the part of the parent.

 

 

post #4 of 35
Thread Starter 

Thanks to you both! This helps a great deal.  My husband and I do speak to each other in English because his Arabic, while good enough for a 26 month old, is not really good for adult conversations. I speak to him more and more in Arabic and whatever he knows in Arabic he always uses. I'm hoping this doesn't mean that we'll end up being one of the failures given that we do speak to each other in the majority language :(

 

The other problem I think is that Arabic is not a "prestigious" language. I grew up in Jordan. No one spoke English at home, so I learned it in school and from T.V.  Because it was (still very much is) considered cool to speak English, I was motivated to speak it.  I have to make Arabic cool I guess :)

 

Also, I am very interested in teaching DD to write and read.  We try to make this fun, but it makes it hard that dialect is so different from standard Arabic (used in books and TV programs). The alphabet is the same, by the way, but much of the vocabulary and the pronunciation are not.

 

Again, many thanks and keep those success stories coming. They've made me much more optimistic.

 

post #5 of 35

Thanks for starting this threat, and to everyone who has responded so positively so far. I'm in a similar situation: DS is 27 months and we're speaking German to him at home. So far, he's doing very well even though he has been in daycare since he was 4 mos old. He has recently begun to differentiate between languages depending on whom he speaks to which is pretty cool. However, we live an area that is so thinly populated that it will be very difficult to find other kids who speak German with whom he could practice. 

post #6 of 35

so far it is going well... we live close to my in laws and their english is very limited (getting better! esp, the younger generation). my kids know they have to speak spanish to MIL to get anything they need/want. but with dh they know he speaks english so they don't speak spanish to him often. we do spanish books, visit mexico (the immersion helps the most!), hang out with family a lot etc.

post #7 of 35
Thread Starter 

Thanks for sharing your stories.

 

Lookatreestar, does your DH speak with the kids exclusively in Spanish and they respond in English or does he mix Spanish and English with them?

post #8 of 35

No, of course not! I think it is important, though, that your DH keeps working on his arabic and that your DD continues to hear you all speaking arabic at home as much as possible. Speaking from my own experiences here . . . the biggest single thing that helped DS' proficiency was making English our home language. Just hearing English from me wasn't enough for DS' use of the language to be much more than passive. However, different children acquire language differently. While working on making Arabic as much of a "home" language as possible, I'd also really try to to make as much contact as possible with other Arabic speaking families (saw on another thread that you were looking for a local playgroup. Great way to start!) + keep contact with your family as much as possible and really really don't let your DD speak with you in English!


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Diyabolo View Post

Thanks to you both! This helps a great deal.  My husband and I do speak to each other in English because his Arabic, while good enough for a 26 month old, is not really good for adult conversations. I speak to him more and more in Arabic and whatever he knows in Arabic he always uses. I'm hoping this doesn't mean that we'll end up being one of the failures given that we do speak to each other in the majority language :(

 

post #9 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Diyabolo View Post

Thanks for sharing your stories.

 

Lookatreestar, does your DH speak with the kids exclusively in Spanish and they respond in English or does he mix Spanish and English with them?



he was really bad about speaking spanish in our home period (he was still learning english so i understand).. he now speaks both languages to them and they respond in english and spanish or spanglish lol.gif

post #10 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DariusMom View Post

 and really really don't let your DD speak with you in English!


 


I completely agree! So let me change the direction of the thread for a second and ask everyone's advice on how to implement this. There is the one extreme: not answer when she addresses me in English and insist that she speak to me in Arabic. I have read that this, while effective, can be damaging to the child who might feel frustrated and stifled. On the other end is translating what she says into Arabic and asking her if that's what she means. And of course there are other ways. 

 

What do you all think is the best way to get DD to speak in Arabic to me? What has worked for you or others you know?

 

Thanks so much!

 

post #11 of 35


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Diyabolo View Post


I completely agree! So let me change the direction of the thread for a second and ask everyone's advice on how to implement this. There is the one extreme: not answer when she addresses me in English and insist that she speak to me in Arabic. I have read that this, while effective, can be damaging to the child who might feel frustrated and stifled. On the other end is translating what she says into Arabic and asking her if that's what she means. And of course there are other ways. 

 

What do you all think is the best way to get DD to speak in Arabic to me? What has worked for you or others you know?

 

Thanks so much!

 


Mm, I haven't any real-life experience to share (my DD is the same age as yours and I respond to any language she cares to use right now, although if she uses her other two I translate back to her before I answer) but I'm guessing this may depend on your kid.  Some kids very easily accept the need to use a particular language with a particular person, others may be really wedded to the majority language and need a clear message that it won't be 'understood' when used at home.

 

Btw I do not think it is harmful in any way to 'pretend' you don't understand English.  It's a house rule, use Arabic with Mama, just like any other house rule you choose to implement.  Would it be 'damaging' if you really didn't understand English?

 

post #12 of 35
Thread Starter 

That's what I do now.  This will be hard to pull off once she finally figures out what it really means that I speak English to everyone else. I guess I am really asking for those instances when she's stubborn and when those instances become more of a sustained pattern. The very rare times that she says something in English to me (she understand that she needs to speak to me in Arabic), I'll just say that I don't understand her and that she needs to say it in Arabic. She always does...until yesterday when a funny thing happened. DD always says "go home" in Arabic..always, always always. Yesterday, we were out and she said it in English. So I said, in Arabic of course, "Huh? I don't understand? What does that mean?" So, she said it again in English and raising her voice every time until she was virtually screaming: "Go home, go home, go home, GO HOME." Now, it's not like I've ever forced her so this kind of frustration is not a result of build up. I imagine that this insistence on speaking English will only increase once English becomes more of a dominant language for her.  How do you advise me to respond on those occasions? It's a toughie, so I am really thankful for any advice.

 

 

post #13 of 35

If she gets what she wants by speaking English, she will continue to speak English to you. 

 

I live in France. My husband can't speak English. I lived and worked in France before meeting him. Our kids all are fluent in English. My son didn't speak till his was 2 1/2 so it was soooooo tempting to speak to him or hear him saying ANYTHING in ANY language! 

 

My son tried answering in French to my English. Here are some of the ways I stopped it.

 

-All requests made in French were not ignored but very slow, or "forgotten" ;)

-All requests made in English were responded to right away. 

-All requests made in French had to be repeated, not in English but said twice. English requests were granted after one try. 

-I didn't ignore but I made no attempt to clarify or hear anything I missed, in another room, over the T.V. etc. 

 

I remember a German woman asking me how I got my kids to respond to me in English. She went on about how her kids "just wouldn't". Before I could answer, her dd interrupted us and asked her for an orange juice. The woman jumped up to meet her dd's request. 

 

"Well, for starters, I don't do that" I quipped...

 

My two daughters followed their brother's lead and never used French with me. I wasn't even sure one of them spoke French yet. 

 

The children speak French with each other and I speak French with my dh (and of course, they do with their dad). Their only English is from and to me. My dh can now understand about 80% of what we say (and he can usually guess what we're saying anyway). Only my son has had English in school and it was for French kids, so he learned numbers and colors... He did pass a test for native speakers for another program but we opted to keep him in the bilingual French-German class he's in now, since we don't speak German at home and it's useful where we live. 

post #14 of 35


I never pretended I didn't speak or understand Dutch. I just said to DS, "How do you say that in English?". It was always in a very firm but kind tone of voice. Every once in a while I'd say, "You speak English with me." if he began in Dutch.

 

Sometimes I'd have to help him if he stumbled over a word or didn't know how to say something, but that was fine. As I mentioned up thread, he "Dutchified" his English sentence structure for a long while, so I would sometimes repeat the sentence he'd just said in English to correct the grammar/structure. So, he'd say things like, "Mama, I want it not." And I'd repeat, "So you don't want it?" and so forth.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Diyabolo View Post

That's what I do now.  This will be hard to pull off once she finally figures out what it really means that I speak English to everyone else. I guess I am really asking for those instances when she's stubborn and when those instances become more of a sustained pattern. The very rare times that she says something in English to me (she understand that she needs to speak to me in Arabic), I'll just say that I don't understand her and that she needs to say it in Arabic. She always does...until yesterday when a funny thing happened. DD always says "go home" in Arabic..always, always always. Yesterday, we were out and she said it in English. So I said, in Arabic of course, "Huh? I don't understand? What does that mean?" So, she said it again in English and raising her voice every time until she was virtually screaming: "Go home, go home, go home, GO HOME." Now, it's not like I've ever forced her so this kind of frustration is not a result of build up. I imagine that this insistence on speaking English will only increase once English becomes more of a dominant language for her.  How do you advise me to respond on those occasions? It's a toughie, so I am really thankful for any advice.

 

 



 

post #15 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eclipsepearl View Post


I remember a German woman asking me how I got my kids to respond to me in English. She went on about how her kids "just wouldn't". Before I could answer, her dd interrupted us and asked her for an orange juice. The woman jumped up to meet her dd's request. 

 

"Well, for starters, I don't do that" I quipped...

 



Exactly! I have a French friend who is in exactly the same boat. She's also married to a Dutchman (who doesn't really speak French, which exacerbates the problem. They speak to each other in English). She speaks Dutch pretty well and her daughters go to the normal Dutch schools. Anyway, their French is completely passive and they don't speak it really at all. She feels horrible about it and it has caused tons of friction in her marriage. But it all really came down to responding to the children in Dutch. Had she ignored requests in Dutch and firmly and consistently required that her DDs talk to her in French from the time they were learning to speak, I believe (and she does too, btw) that they wouldn't be in this situation. Now the girls are 7 and 8 and have an active dislike for French.

post #16 of 35
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:

-All requests made in French were not ignored but very slow, or "forgotten" ;)

-All requests made in English were responded to right away. 

-All requests made in French had to be repeated, not in English but said twice. English requests were granted after one try. 

-I didn't ignore but I made no attempt to clarify or hear anything I missed, in another room, over the T.V. etc. 

 


Thanks Eclipsepearl! This is wonderful advice! I am so heartened by your success story :)

post #17 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:

Originally Posted by DariusMom View Post

 

"Mama, I want it not." And I'd repeat, "So you don't want it?" and so forth.

 



 



He sounds positively Shakespearean to me :) Actually, DD did something similar the other day: "Mango Ice cream" (correct in English) but incorrect in Arabic (should be Ice cream Mango).

 

 

post #18 of 35

that is how my kids learned that MIL doesn't understand english, they would request water and she would just look at them w/ a blank look. she really had no clue, so dh or i would say "you need to ask for agua" then she started picking it up. MIL understands a little bit of english now but the kids still know they are far more likely to get what they want/need if they say it in spanish. ds is just following dd so it works well.

post #19 of 35
Quote:
He sounds positively Shakespearean to me :) Actually, DD did something similar the other day: "Mango Ice cream" (correct in English) but incorrect in Arabic (should be Ice cream Mango).


smile.gif I used to think he sounded like Yoda!

 

Anyway, it sounds like you are so on top of things and really thinking this through and reaching out for an Arabic-speaking community that your DD is gonna' be fine (and kudos, btw, to your DH. It's great that he's working so hard on his Arabic and really willing to speak a language not his own to his child)

post #20 of 35

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eclipsepearl View Post

 

-All requests made in French were not ignored but very slow, or "forgotten" ;)

-All requests made in English were responded to right away. 

-All requests made in French had to be repeated, not in English but said twice. English requests were granted after one try. 

-I didn't ignore but I made no attempt to clarify or hear anything I missed, in another room, over the T.V. etc. . 


So after reading this thread, I've been experimenting with this kind of strategy for my 26 m/o in the past few days, and I realize I have some questions for anyone who cares to answer. :)

 

1) What do you do about communication that is not a request?  Most of the things DD says are statements about the world, like "It's a big cup!" or "Teddy is sleeping," or "Mama and (DD) are here, Papa is at work," or whatever.  Normally, I instinctively reflect that stuff back to her, always in my language regardless of the language she used to say it.  Am I supposed to be ignoring these statements if she doesn't say them in my language?  I notice this strategy decreases her overall exposure to my language because I don't talk to her as much when I stop reflecting half of the things she says (and also she doesn't get to hear how those things are said in my language).

 

2) What about code-switching?  Do I ignore the whole sentence if a couple of the words are in the 'wrong' language?  What if half of them are?  Etc.

 

3) What should I do when she uses DH's language?  We want to reinforce that one also, my grasp of  it isn't enough for me to feel comfortable speaking it back to her but I definitely understand everything she says in it.  Do you think I should insist that she speak only my language to me or is either non-community language OK?

 

TIA for your input!

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