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#1 of 11 Old 08-20-2009, 09:47 AM - Thread Starter
 
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We're expecting our first baby any time. My husband is multilingual, but his home language is Lebanese Arabic. I am not at all fluent in Arabic, but I speak some (enough to get around in a very basic way) and am eager to learn more. We live in the US and are not in any way connected with a Lebanese or Arabic-speaking community in the US, but are both still very "into" my DH's home culture. Both of us are strongly committed to our child being bilingual. However, I will be the primary caregiver for the first few years at least, and while my husband is around all the time, I'm worried that our child will end up understanding Arabic but not speaking it, a common situation, it seems.

These are our strategies:
  • One Parent, One Language Approach from birth (I keep reminding my husband he has to greet the baby in Arabic as soon as s/he emerges!), though at times I'll speak Arabic, too. (That's already how we communicate with each other, English with bits of Arabic mixed in.) Maybe I should speak it as much as possible, since our child will pick up on English in social situations anyway?
  • Frequent visits (at least once a year) to and from my husband's relatives when the child is young, and summers spent in my husband's home country when the child is a bit older. (We may also live in the Arab world for a while, depending on job opportunities.)
  • Lots of Arabic songs and Lebanese culture integrated into daily life (it's already like that in our house)
  • Positive attitude toward Lebanese Arabic and my husband's culture (I notice a lot of American wives of Lebanese people kind of shun the Lebanese language in some ways, I think because it can be so hard to learn!)
  • We were also thinking of trying to go as a family to the Concordia Language Villages to give our child a sense of community with other Americans speaking Arabic. (And to help me with my Arabic when we aren't able to travel to Lebanon.)

There is also a challenge in that the commonly spoken language is quite different from the written language. It would be great if our child reads and writes standard Arabic, but maybe that's asking for too much.

Anyone else facing a similar situation? How is it working out for you?


Mama to a bilingual (Arabic/English) and cuddly 3 year old, and planning another peaceful homebirth in June.
 

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#2 of 11 Old 08-20-2009, 10:10 AM
 
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That's almost exactly our situation. Except substitute Arabic with Portuguese. Plus I'm pretty good at it, although not entirely fluent.

It sounds like you have a good plan there. Just really make sure your husband sticks to Arabic. We've made sure relatives send us books, CDs etc in Portuguese. Between ourselves we speak both English and Portuguese, although when his family is staying with us or we're visiting them we speak very little English. DD primarily hears Portuguese from both of us. I've learned a number of songs in Portuguese too and will sing them to her during the day.

She's just started talking recently and most of her words have been in English (I *think* because they are easier) but she does say dad and grandma in Portuguese.

Good luck! We don't really have any other Portuguese speakers around. I've tried looking for playgroups but just haven't found any yet, maybe you'll have more success!
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#3 of 11 Old 08-20-2009, 11:45 AM
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Frequent visits (at least once a year) to and from my husband's relatives when the child is young, and summers spent in my husband's home country when the child is a bit older. (We may also live in the Arab world for a while, depending on job opportunities.)
This is AWESOME and I think it will make a HUGE difference.

We are in the situation of dd understanding the minority language, but not speaking it very well

Several of her friends are also from bilingual homes. They have had many of the same issues that we have struggled with in getting their children to speak the minority language.

Our kids are in the 3.5 - 4 year old range.

We have not had the opportunity for travel, but two of dd's friend's (from OPOL homes) did and here are the results:

One went to Germany for this first time this summer, spent two weeks there, and came back essentially fluent.

Another spent the summer in Czech Republic and her mother said within about 3 days she was speaking almost natively--by the end of her stay there, she was actually speaking Czech BETTER than some Czech children of the same age.

So I am very much convinced that travel to a country speaking the target language can really be key.

PhDin' mama to dd (Oct. 2005)
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#4 of 11 Old 08-20-2009, 12:28 PM
 
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Our own experience with OPOL has not been overwhelmingly positive.

If we had to do it again, we would have made English our "home" language and we all would have spoken English at home. Then Dutch would have been the language outside the home (I'm American, DH is Dutch, and we live in Holland). It's been a struggle to keep the minority language (English) strong.

I have lots of friends with bilingual kids -- and they all naturally speak Dutch together! I'm very active in an international community, and it didn't really make a difference in DS' English. Lots of books and DVDs in English -- ditto. DS' English was very passive. The influence of so much Dutch via daycare, school, tv, friends, etc. meant that the English he got from me, despite the fact that I was his primary caretaker, he only went to daycare PT, he heard English a lot since DH and I speak English together, English-speaking friends came over, etc., etc, simply wasn't enough.

Eventually, we switched to an English-only policy when we were all together. If DH and DS are alone, they obviously speak Dutch together. However, if we're all together, we all speak English. Even with that "policy" in place, we really have to work on keeping DS' English strong. One very positive thing was DS going to American kindergarten for a semester this Spring while I was in the US for my work. His English improved dramatically.

I don't want to discourage you, but if the only person from whom your child is going to hear Lebanese Arabic is your DH, I wouldn't expect her Arabic to be much more than passive until/unless you spend a lot of time there.

Would it be possible for you to work on improving your Arabic and having dinner, for example, only in Arabic? Or Saturday outings in Arabic? It's fun for kids to have a "secret" language. I think if you could eventually get your Leb. Arabic good enough to have at least a part of your household interactions in that language it would, based on my experience, make a huge difference.
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#5 of 11 Old 08-20-2009, 12:52 PM
 
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Originally Posted by DariusMom View Post
If we had to do it again, we would have made English our "home" language and we all would have spoken English at home. Then Dutch would have been the language outside the home (I'm American, DH is Dutch, and we live in Holland).
Anecdotally since my own kids are still so young, in my social circle this has been the far more successful approach.
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#6 of 11 Old 08-20-2009, 01:05 PM
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If we had to do it again, we would have made English our "home" language and we all would have spoken English at home. Then Dutch would have been the language outside the home
Well, if it's any consolation, we did home language-outside language and it hasn't been all that successful thus far. I mean, it was in the very beginning, but once dd started pre-school that was pretty much the end of her speaking the minority language. Sometimes I will speak to her in the minority language and she will get angry and yell "Don't talk like that!" She is very resistent. I think part of the problem is that all of her friends speak English--she doesn't know any other children who speak the minority language, and she never hears it outside of our home, so perhaps she just thinks that it is some pretend language that dh and I just made up to annoy her

So no approach is "fool proof" and I think it *almost* always requires more langauge exposure than just the parents--so either friends, or regular travel, or things that. Which can be very difficult--if not near impossible--for some families to arrange.

But you know what? Maybe passive knowledge isn't really a failure. If the child understands the language, that means that it's in there somewhere and I think when the opportunity arises, it will not be difficult to activate. So whatever happens, just do the best you can. Keep plugging away at it and try not to get discouraged. Every bit helps, and should be seen as a success

PhDin' mama to dd (Oct. 2005)
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#7 of 11 Old 08-20-2009, 01:13 PM
 
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Just a note for the OP, since the baby is still in utero...

Babies can hear after about the first 15 weeks. I wouldn't wait until birth to start speaking Lebanese Arabic, I would start now.

We started reading to my son before he was born. My husband usually read Dr. Seuss's ABC's, I read One Fish, Two Fish. For my son's one day old picture, he started getting upset in the photo bassinet, DH started reciting "Big A, Little A", and DS calmed down immediately.

We want to teach DS Spanish in the home, but he's nearly two and we don't have a consistent plan yet.

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#8 of 11 Old 08-20-2009, 04:37 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by physmom View Post
That's almost exactly our situation.
. . .
It sounds like you have a good plan there. Just really make sure your husband sticks to Arabic. . . . I've learned a number of songs in Portuguese too and will sing them to her during the day.

She's just started talking recently and most of her words have been in English (I *think* because they are easier) but she does say dad and grandma in Portuguese.
Thank you for sharing your experience! I've been singing Lebanese songs while pregnant and generally we listen to a lot of Lebanese music. We also ONLY have Arabic TV. I was actually planning on not exposing our child to TV until s/he is older, but I wonder if watching Arabic TV programming for kids would help him or her...

Congrats on your daughter's first words! It's interesting they were in English.

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Originally Posted by EVC View Post
This is AWESOME and I think it will make a HUGE difference.
. . .
So I am very much convinced that travel to a country speaking the target language can really be key.
Thank you so much for your encouraging anecdotes, and practical realities. It's encouraging to know that cultural immersion even for a few weeks at a time can make a big difference.

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Originally Posted by DariusMom View Post
Our own experience with OPOL has not been overwhelmingly positive.

If we had to do it again, we would have made English our "home" language and we all would have spoken English at home.
. . .

Would it be possible for you to work on improving your Arabic and having dinner, for example, only in Arabic? Or Saturday outings in Arabic? It's fun for kids to have a "secret" language. I think if you could eventually get your Leb. Arabic good enough to have at least a part of your household interactions in that language it would, based on my experience, make a huge difference.
I'm sorry you've had some challenges getting your son to speak English, though it's good the daycare experience helped so much. The idea of having "Arabic outings" and "Arabic dinner" and such is great. We actually already try to do this sometimes already so I can improve my language. But I really need to study more because inevitably our impromptu Arabic outings devolves into my husband having to translate too much to me. Hmm... maybe I can bone up on related vocab just before the outing, decreasing the likelihood of me having to ask too many language questions.

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Originally Posted by Liquesce View Post
Anecdotally since my own kids are still so young, in my social circle this has been the far more successful approach.
Thanks for this feedback. It sounds like we might want to expand the Arabic use in our house!

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Well, if it's any consolation, we did home language-outside language and it hasn't been all that successful thus far. I mean, it was in the very beginning, but once dd started pre-school that was pretty much the end of her speaking the minority language.
This is what I'm concerned about for our child. In our social circle, even the children of immigrants where both parents natively speak a minority language at home barely speak their home language. So I know your experience is not uncommon.

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Originally Posted by EVC View Post
So no approach is "fool proof" and I think it *almost* always requires more langauge exposure than just the parents--so either friends, or regular travel, or things that.
. . .
But you know what? Maybe passive knowledge isn't really a failure. If the child understands the language, that means that it's in there somewhere and I think when the opportunity arises, it will not be difficult to activate.
Thank you so much for your positive attitude towards our situation! I think you have a really great point about passive knowledge. Even for me, who only had exposure to Arabic long after I reached maturity, when I took a course in Arabic, I was light years ahead of the other students who had no exposure. If a child grows up hearing the language every single day, it still gives him or her leg up.

Also, I guess we really need to make the extra effort to give our child cultural immersion experiences (which we were planning, but this solidifies its importance.)

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Originally Posted by kcstar View Post
Just a note for the OP, since the baby is still in utero...

Babies can hear after about the first 15 weeks. I wouldn't wait until birth to start speaking Lebanese Arabic, I would start now.

We started reading to my son before he was born. . . .
I have been singing a few Lebanese songs (folk songs and children's songs) and saying verses in Arabic several times a day almost all along. (I learn a lot of Arabic through music.) And my husband speaks Arabic to me and my belly often. (I'm like many children with their minority language--I understand more than I speak it.)

That's a really cool story about your son and Dr. Seuss!


Mama to a bilingual (Arabic/English) and cuddly 3 year old, and planning another peaceful homebirth in June.
 

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#9 of 11 Old 08-21-2009, 01:02 AM
 
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Originally Posted by sky_and_lavender View Post
Thank you for sharing your experience! I've been singing Lebanese songs while pregnant and generally we listen to a lot of Lebanese music. We also ONLY have Arabic TV. I was actually planning on not exposing our child to TV until s/he is older, but I wonder if watching Arabic TV programming for kids would help him or her...
Just wanted to say hi from another American married to a Lebanese guy :

Although between us we speak four different languages, the only one we have in common is English, so I'm the poster child for what not to do . We moved to Miami with the intention of making sure the kids were exposed to both Spanish and Arabic (since DH's family all lives here and we moved around the corner from them.)

Though DH *didn't* speak Arabic to our kids from the beginning (and I really wish he had, but I can't really complain since I didn't speak to them in Spanish, either), our social circles have always included several Arabic speakers, so they've definitely had continuous exposure. Now, even though they still don't speak it, they do respond to MIL and FIL (who *only* speak to them in Arabic) so I know they're understanding a lot. At this point, the only thing that I know will really get them speaking it is to either move to or at least take an extended vacation in Lebanon.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that--as someone who grew up with English in the home and Spanish in the outside world--that your plan is a good one. Make Arabic your home language and, even if your child eventually refuses to speak it, he will always have the ability to understand and speak when necessary.

Truth be told, though I studied French for years and years, I never really was able to speak it until I needed it. And the same goes for Arabic--I'm far from fluent now, but I wasn't able to speak it at all until I lived in Egypt and *had* to use it. Sadly, I'm now having to re-learn it with the Lebanese dialect this time, which is practically like learning a whole new language! Which is why I'm not so worried about my kids. I know that eventually they'll have to use it in order to play with other kids (though we're part of a huge Lebanese community here, the kids all default to English when they're playing together) and having been exposed to it now will serve them well then.

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#10 of 11 Old 08-24-2009, 04:14 AM
 
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Hey mama,

I'm in your situation, with a twist. American, married to a Lebanese man, living in France. We do OPOL.

I speak to DS exclusively in English, DH exclusively in Lebanese. Sometimes DH speaks to me in Lebanese and I answer in English (!!!). And guess what-- our child's first word was in French. Go figure.

But today, at age 3, his English is absolutely wonderful, on par with any American kid. His Arabic is great, too, though it is less developed than his English. And his French is pretty weak, though that will change quickly since he starts school next week.

What has worked for us: having the ILs stay with us a lot (not necessarily because of the language thing, it just worked out that way) and DH being really, really motivated and organized about speaking only Lebanese. No exceptions, ever. If DS speaks to him in English, DH reframes the sentence in Arabic, then responds in Arabic. We have lots of books, some kid's music (boy, is it tough to find good music that has good kid's lyrics!) a couple of DVDs. Frankly, it's difficult to find media in Lebanese that is specifically for kids (and that is total cr@p).

Funnily enough, when we took DS to Lebanon for the first time this summer, his French improved way more visibly than his Arabic. Everyone was either speaking to him in English or in French, and most of the kids his age were being taught either English or French, but NOT Lebanese. It's very weird. I'm sure it's the same thing in the Lebanese immigrant communities in the US-- they don't speak to their kids in Lebanese (that's how it is in France!). But I think if you are determined you can make sure your child speaks, reads and writes Arabic/Lebanese.

Good luck!
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#11 of 11 Old 08-24-2009, 05:40 PM
 
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If you're in a home language/outside language situation, it will be more successful if your home language is one with some prestige in the outside culture. On our case speaking English at home and Slovenian everywhere else has worked beautifully; all Slovenians learn English at school from 4th grade until high school graduation and speaking English well is considered an important aspect of getting an education. So our kids are the envy of the other kids with their native command of English. Of course their Slovene is great, too, because they go to Slovenian school, have Slovenian friends, etc.

I agree with the pps about passive language in whatever form. Keep up your exposure even if it seems your child isn't actively "getting" it. The passive knowledge will go a long way when they decide to speak. Every child is different; I know one family with 4 kids who did OPOL. Their oldest was fully bilingual and chatty from an early age. The second would only speak the majority language (the "outside" language) until he was about 8 or 9. The funny thing is, they moved from one culture to the other when he was 5 or so and he switched from one language to the other! He refused to freely switch between both, though. (Now he's fine, of course.) We can't force them to speak, but they will learn to understand if we keep using the language with them. The speaking can come later.

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