achieving bilingualism in an unusual situation--some questions! - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 04-10-2010, 08:43 AM - Thread Starter
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My situation is a little unusual but I really want to make this work! Any advice or tips would be greatly appreciated:

*Dd is almost 3. I have spoken to her in English, Chinese and Spanish since birth--but by and large in English since it is my native language. She understands some of each of the other two, perhaps more Spanish at this point. But she has almost no active use either Chinese or Spanish (except to refer to my breasts/nursing with the Chinese word or to count in either language, or lately when I ask her a question in Spanish she will respond with "Sí" instead of yes.)

*I have a new(ish) partner with whom I am expecting my second child. DP is Spanish and in fact his English really isn't that great. We speak together in a combination of Spanish and English (although as my Spanish improves, and we consider a move to Spain, I imagine that we will end up speaking mostly in Spanish). Of course I want our child to be bilingual and he plans to speak in Spanish to him.

The question is dd: DP has started speaking Spanish to her but it's really hard. She will often say, "Mommy, what did J say?" when he talks to her, and sometimes she even says that when he says something to her in English! He will often translate for her what he just said because he feels bad when she gets frustrated and doesn't understand him, although we have both acknowledged that he probably shouldn't do this.

It's really important to me not just that my dd, too, has the opportunity to be bilingual, but also that she shares the same language with DP that her baby brother is going to, because I DON'T want her to feel left out of their relationship because of, on top of the issue of blood-relation, she doesn't speak their shared language.

So how can we get her speaking Spanish? Should he really just stick with speaking to her only in Spanish? How long will it take?

PS-I should note that at the moment, we don't live together with DP although in a month we will all be living together. So I suppose it's not really surprising that she hasn't made much progress yet. So what should be our goals or expectations when we *are* all living together?


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#2 of 6 Old 04-10-2010, 10:03 PM
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I would just keep at it. Your DD is very young and if your DP is consistent with the Spanish she will have a very good understanding of the language.

I think getting children to actually *speak* fluently can be a bit trickier. I know many people whose parents exclusively spoke a minority language at home, and yet whose own command of the language is poor.

I think one of the keys to creating a speaker is to require that the child answer back in the same language. As in, if the child uses the majority language, pretend you didn't understand.

It's early for your DP to do this with your DD because she cannot speak well yet. But if he is very consistent with speaking to her only in Spanish then at some point, maybe a year or two from now, when it's clear she understands everything he says, it would make sense to gently encourage her to speak to him in Spanish as well.

If it's been a couple of years and she's five and he's been speaking only Spanish to her for two years and she still requires frequent translations (I'd be surprised if this happened, but still), I'd actually send her to class to pick up the basics and then go from there.

As you said, if your DP is consistent enough with your DS to teach him well, then your DD will probably want to participate in their conversations and that will be a big motivator for her.

Good luck!!

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#3 of 6 Old 04-15-2010, 02:28 AM
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My DD is 3 also and we're teaching her two languages, as well. She seems to understand everything DH says to her now, but we watch movies in the second language and she can almost never tell me what a character just said, or even what is going on (minus what is visually obvious). Were not sure if she just isnt paying attention to US, or she really has no clue whats being said.

Its WAY harder than we imagined it would be. I try to reinforce DH's lessons, but I just dont know a lot. So, I can only ask her to translate back and forth. Which she does with some reluctance. However, if he says something to her, she will yell to me, "Daddy says..." So, we know shes understanding. Speaking is like pulling teeth.

I keep reminding him to refuse to respond to enlgish. Or to immediately translate her response and ask her to repeat it. Sometimes she rolls her eyes, but if she is asking for something, she MUST say it in DH's language or she wont get it. It seems harsh, but I believe its the only way. He forgets a lot though and even though he remembers to only speak in his language, he forgets to force her response in his language.

We have another baby due at the end of the year too. So, now I'm just telling her, you have to make sure you practice, how else will your baby brother or sister learn if you can teach them? And that is definitely a good motivator.

Best of luck! Bilingual is a fabulous gift to give your kids! But its a ton of work on your part!!!

Oh, we are also considering putting her into classes with other children whose main language is her second. Where the whole class is taught in it. If she see's lots of other children speak that way, she will follow! It is such a sweet thing though to see DH and her going back and forth in their own secret conversation (its taken 3 years though and she pretty much answers in yes, okay or no). Its a very sweet bond and helps make him feel even more at home to hear his native language in the house. I think it will be great for your DD's bond with DP!

Lauren , DH , DD 02/2007 and expecting #2 (12/7/10)! We
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#4 of 6 Old 05-10-2010, 12:58 PM
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You have a situation where she is getting both Spanish and English from multiple sources. This can be a bit confusing for a child because she can't really sort out her linguistic world right now.

What you do is up to you. What you speak to your partner has little, if any, impact on what both of you speak to her. Don't mess with your relationship if you don't have to. This is a very personal choice. I remember as a kid, growing up only with English, I didn't listen to "adult talk" anyway...

If you opt to speak only English to her, you can still support the Spanish with playing DVD's and music in it, perhaps reading to her or playing games. Learning the vocabulary is the toughest task. She simply wont speak or understand him if he doesn't know the words.

My German is horrible but I still point to things and ask my kids what they are. Days of the week, months of the year and so on. I also played German DVD's.

You may want to look into bilingual schooling or similar. For Chinese, I would look into a Saturday class. My kids also take Hebrew, their fourth language, one a week. It isn't much but they're at least still learning it. They attend a bilingual German-French school and then speak to me in English.

I speak English and only English to the kids. We do "cheat" sometimes but only if it's something very specific, like horse riding and gymnastic terms. Judo gives me a break since they're in Japanese lol! But my kids speak and respond in accentless American English, even though they've never lived in the U.S.

Only my oldest ever tried to speak to me in French but I would just respond really slowly or pretend not to hear him. I would also ask him to repeat it, not necessarily in English but just repeat it (often he would switch to English). The point is that requests in French had to be repeated and those made in English only needed to be said once. I soon stopped hearing any French meant for me. I never required my children to translate. I also never scolded or forced English on them.

The baby will be a good motivator but please don't heap the guilt on her. Also, let it happen naturally. For the record, my children actually speak French together. It's more natural for them since they're born and raised here in France. I do know parents who require the children to use the minority language but only in cases where the children go to school in that language, or have a grandparent speaker in the house/nearby or some story like that.

It's been much easier than I thought it would be! It's not work for us, just our lifestyle and communication. I thought we'd be at a disadvantage since my dh can't speak English but that turned out to be a non-factor. He was supportive and that was all that was needed!

Also, be realistic. My kids' English is much further behind than their French. They are primarily French speakers and I accept that. The fact that they use their weaker language with me has not hurt our relationship or impeded us from speaking English together. Their German is behind their English. They're trilingual (okay, the youngest doesn't really speak German yet...) but at three distinct levels.

Whatever you do, keep the Spanish fun and positive. Encourage it and praise her lavishly when she uses it.

Sit down with your partner and discuss this. Decide what and how you're going to do this and stick with it. Spitting out various languages at various times will not help this project. Once her Spanish is well-established, you can "play around" with the languages a bit but it has to be done in a way that doesn't "eat into" the other language (i.e. using a word from the other language because it's better in the context-not because they don't know what it is in the language being spoken!)

It's better for your adult brains to keep this all organized in your heads too. Fewer headaches (experience speaking!)

Good luck!
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#5 of 6 Old 05-11-2010, 02:48 PM
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also introduce her to spanish nursery rhymes esp if they are translations.

and yes let him keep at it in little bits. not too much. have spanish more active around you like song, tv, etc.

the transition is sudden. suddenly a lot of spanish. give her some time and she will make the connections.

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#6 of 6 Old 05-11-2010, 06:52 PM
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Originally Posted by mambera View Post
I think one of the keys to creating a speaker is to require that the child answer back in the same language. As in, if the child uses the majority language, pretend you didn't understand.

I could have been on fire, and had I told my dad in English, he wouldn't even look up. To this day, he and I speak exclusively (and fluently) Dutch to one another. He speaks 7 languages, I speak 6.

My younger brothers, who grew up in a more lax linguistic environment, still manage 3 languages each, but neither is anywhere near as fluent in our mother tongue as I am (I realise that I'm partly to blame for this, as the English-speaking eldest).

Dad to toddler, dad-to-be to another.

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