Language Development in Bilingual Kids - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 10 Old 06-22-2010, 10:26 AM - Thread Starter
 
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For the most part we do one parent one language. Although DH and I both speak each other's language so there's a certain amount of language mixing too (especially when we talk to each other). Also, if we're visiting relatives (non of which speak the other language) we'll speak entirely in their respective language. That being said, we live in the US so in general she probably gets more exposure to English from the playground, TV, books, etc. Although we do have DVDs, books and are currently looking for friends for her that speak DH's language. We also sign ASL with DD and she knows about 2-3 times more words in ASL than spoken words combined in all languages.

Anyways, I have two questions.

1. Did your kids ever have significantly better pronunciation in one language? When DD speaks Dh's language the words are MUCH, MUCH clearer than in English. In English it's hard to understand anything she says. She also speaks more quietly in English. Could I be doing something wrong that has caused her to do that? I really can't think of anything off the top of my head.

2. After how many words did your kids start using sentences? DD already uses sentences in ASL but never when she speaks. She has about 100 spoken words total. I always thought 50 words was the magic number to start speaking in sentences? But then again, she probably has something closer to 50 words in each language so maybe that's it? Thoughts?
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#2 of 10 Old 06-22-2010, 11:16 AM
 
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We do OPOL very strictly in our family because my dh and I only have one language in common, Italian. My dd gets almost all of her exposure to English from me.

1) Her pronunciation of Italian has always been much stronger. She was pronouncing four syllable words perfectly in Italian while she still struggled to master some final consonants in English. I worried that it was my fault and I even posted a question on the Toddlers forum about typical toddler pronunciation. The mamas who responded pointed out that English can be hard to pronounce for beginning speakers. So I think that with my dd, it was a combination of two things: she hears so much more Italian than English, and she found certain aspects of pronouncing English more difficult. Looking back, I wonder if what I perceived as bad pronunciation was just typical. I mean, I understood her almost all the time, but the contrast with the Italian was just really striking. Now her pronunciation is really quite good in English, but it's excellent in Italian. (She has even started correcting me when I speak it. )

2) I was expecting sentences around 50 words too, but dd didn't really start stringing words together until 100 words or so, and even then, they tended to be just short phrases. I can't remember when she started making real sentences, but I think it wasn't until she had 500 words or so. I should add that phrases came first in English, then Italian, which makes sense to me because most of her speech was directed at me. Anyway, for the longest time, I kept wondering why she didn't make sentences given that she had so many words. But now I wonder if sentence construction is really related to vocabulary size in that way. Obviously, they need a certain number of words to be able to string them together but I feel like the faculty that collects words and the faculty that orders them in a particular language might just develop somewhat independently of one another.
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#3 of 10 Old 06-22-2010, 11:45 AM
 
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My daughter's English is much clearer than her Japanese. I think this is partially because as I am her main caregiver she has had more exposure to English and only to "adult English" as I don't use baby/child talk and she rarely watches cartoons or speaks with other English speaking children. She is surrounded by a wider variety of Japanese speakers on the other hand (elderly, kids, moms who insist on calling a car a "buu buu" instead of using the Japanese word for car, etc.) I think that this has affected the way she pronounces some words (especially when hearing and trying to imitate what other kids are saying). DD is also much more soft spoken in Japanese than English, but I think that is partially her level of confidence and partially due to the fact that my husband is soft spoken.

I never really thought about the size of the vocabulary in regards to using complete sentences, because DD started using full sentences pretty early on. It's almost as if she learned phrases instead of words from the get go.
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#4 of 10 Old 06-23-2010, 01:01 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for both of your responses!

I'm glad to hear the pronunciation this is normal. The weird part is, is that English is certainly her dominant language in the sense that I'm at home with her all day and we live in the US but I wonder if it's also because we sign so much? As in she knows with me I understand her signing perfectly whereas DH doesn't know all the signs and forgets some so with him and other family member she's forced to speak more clearly? I'm sure it'll work itself out eventually...


Huh, well, she's at about 100 words and no sentences yet. She seems to be taking her sweet time. It's just weird because she'll sign sometimes up to 5 word sentences. But maybe that's because she doesn't have to worry about the grammar in two different languages?
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#5 of 10 Old 06-23-2010, 06:35 AM
 
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Relax. Two of mine didn't even speak at that age. My oldest didn't speak until age 2 1/2 and then it exploded like a damn breaking. The youngest did not have the magic 6 words at 18 months, the criteria in the U.S. for ST. She quickly learned

We didn't do that because ST is not available here in France. A child can only get it if they have a diagnosed condition (anything; premature, Downs, etc. but they need a reason for it). Very different philosophies!

My middle child started sentences at 20 months. I can't remember when she started speaking but she immediately separated the languages and never mixed.

I think personality played a big role. She was much more demanding than the other two. Can't tell others what you want if you can't say what it is lol!

Expect an inequality in the languages all their childhood. Sometimes it shifts, obviously if you move or even go on vacation. Their vocabulary will be better in one language over another just because of circumstances. I know horse riding vocab better in French lol! Never did it in my own country but it's big here where we live in France...

The pronunciation issue can continue through the school years. I know bi and trilingual children who quite frankly, funny sounding. My son had it too a bit in English. They're all fluent but it doesn't seem to set, almost as if uncooked... Hard to explain but these problems are not really problems. They're small issues which iron out over time and go away quickly with a bit more contact in that language.

I agree that some languages are easier than others for wee ones to say. I know French pronunciation is just easier than that in English. Same for Italian. I don't speak Russian but I understand that language is really hard for children to master. I only know a little Chinese but I know that those words are super-easy for babies to pick up and be understood.

So for instance, if there is a French-English bilingual in the U.S., they might pick up the languages faster than a French-English bilingual in France who has the same exposure. The one in the U.S. is getting more exposure to the harder-to-pronounce language. Make sense? Eventually, both should catch on with good contact in both languages.

May I point out that easier to pronounce may not necessarily mean that the language, overall, is easier to learn! Reading, writing and true mastery at an adult form might be harder. Chinese would be a good example. The writing is tough although the child learned to speak it well and early.

Exposure is key and one of the reasons this is hard to measure. If they child hears more Russian, they will speak that better than French, if they simply get less interaction in French overall.

Which brings me to sentences. Some languages can be expressed quite effectively without having to string the words together, like in English. In Chinese, they almost have to start putting words together immediately to speak at all. Many of their words are actually combinations. Meanwhile, French phrases are very easy and children use them almost immediately. "It is" "C'est" (said kind of like "say") is easy to learn. It took ages for my kids to say "It is like..." but in French, C'est... popped out almost immediately.

The grammar, is easier.

I think she's going great. I wouldn't sweat it!
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#6 of 10 Old 06-23-2010, 07:39 AM
 
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thank you all of you for posting ... It is SO reassuring to read about the experience of mothers who've been there& done that .....
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#7 of 10 Old 06-23-2010, 10:23 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by physmom View Post
Thanks for both of your responses!

I'm glad to hear the pronunciation this is normal. The weird part is, is that English is certainly her dominant language in the sense that I'm at home with her all day and we live in the US but I wonder if it's also because we sign so much? As in she knows with me I understand her signing perfectly whereas DH doesn't know all the signs and forgets some so with him and other family member she's forced to speak more clearly? I'm sure it'll work itself out eventually...
I actually think that pronunciation is usually clearer with the language that has less outside influences. Like my daughter only hears English spoken by me or the rare movies/cartoons that I choose for her and occasional chats with my family. The Japanese she hears on the other hand is unfiltered--she hears all the local dialects, slang from people around and other children mispronouncing words as well as distorted anime character voices, etc. Whereas if we were living somewhere with more English speakers, I suspect that her pronunciation would be worse/more childlike. My sister's (monolingual) kids on the other hand had awful pronunciation when they were small, but eventually more-or-less outgrew it.
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#8 of 10 Old 06-23-2010, 10:28 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Eclipsepearl - Thanks for sharing your experience! I wasn't too worried but I thought maybe I was doing something wrong that was affecting her pronunciation. We've had some experience working with bilingual kids (granted, they were much older) and they almost never had an accent in either language (there were a few exceptions but mostly in families that had a distinct prejudice against one language). But that makes sense that it could go back and forth for awhile.

That's really interesting that your daughter never mixed languages! I know many adults that still do that. DD speaks whatever language she feels like to whoever will listen. That's also an interesting thought about what language is easier to pronounce and ditto for grammar. That could very well be why her pronunciation in DH's language is so good now. We were just visiting the relatives and I think it gave her a huge boost. It can be a bit frustrating, though, because people are constantly asking me if she's talking yet because her pronunciations is so poor in English they don't understand when she says anything (honestly, I have problems sometimes too). But in DH's language everyone can understand her, it's crazy!

The grammar is pretty similar in both languages (although it's WAY easier to spell in Dh's language). So it'll be interesting to see how that goes.


Isafrench- totally agree! I'm glad i found this forum to ask all my infinite amount of questions from BTDT mothers.
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#9 of 10 Old 06-23-2010, 10:31 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by Rhannie View Post
I actually think that pronunciation is usually clearer with the language that has less outside influences. Like my daughter only hears English spoken by me or the rare movies/cartoons that I choose for her and occasional chats with my family. The Japanese she hears on the other hand is unfiltered--she hears all the local dialects, slang from people around and other children mispronouncing words as well as distorted anime character voices, etc. Whereas if we were living somewhere with more English speakers, I suspect that her pronunciation would be worse/more childlike. My sister's (monolingual) kids on the other hand had awful pronunciation when they were small, but eventually more-or-less outgrew it.
Huh, interesting... because she certainly hears more English speakers than Portuguese speakers. And the Portuguese speakers she does hear all sound like DH (his immediate family).

ETA Now that I think about it. The VAST majority of our friends are non-American and I wonder if that affects it too? Especially since she's constantly hearing different accents (and her former babysitter was a native Italian speaker too).
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#10 of 10 Old 06-23-2010, 12:43 PM
 
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Great thread. Thanks for starting it, physmom!

I don't have anything to report, but I wanted to say that we're doing ASL, Arabic and English, and I was worried that the ASL might mess things up. But I don't think so. She's picking up signs, and I think sometimes they help her learn the word. Yesterday I taught her the sign for "light" and said "light" in English and Arabic, and she said "light" in Arabic. (Her first Arabic word!) But it will be interesting to see how her accents are.

The thing I worry about a little is that while my Arabic is okay, and I've gotten better since I've been studying it harder, it's still kind of limited. So when I talk to her in Arabic, I'm not putting in a lot of flowery detail the way I would with English. I try to say the stuff in English that I can't in Arabic. (We don't do OPOL--we do one parent 100% Arabic and the other parent [me] as much Arabic as I can manage.) But I wonder how this will affect her. I trust that she'll adapt to whatever challenges it creates. But still. Wish I didn't have to be experimenting on my own kid (even though it's kind of fun)!


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

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