Fasicnated by bilingual language development - Mothering Forums

Thread Tools
#1 of 9 Old 02-07-2011, 09:58 AM - Thread Starter
physmom's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 1,432
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 2 Post(s)

I've been around a number of people who grew up speaking multiple languages, however, they were already preteens-adults by the time I met them.  There were some obvious generalizations that could be made.  For instance, if the second language was spoken at home by both parents the kids spoke better (and if there was extended family nearby than there were even more apt to use their second language often).  Kids that had parents that spoke different languages   were sort of a mixed bag but it depended A LOT on how much the parent that was the speaker of the second (or third) language was tied to their culture (for instance, if they went to a church in that second language or talked often with family etc). It also made a big difference if the other parent was supportive or not (for instance, I knew one father who would get upset if the mom spoke to the children in her native language because he couldn't understand it). 


So taking that all in mind I was really interested in what DD's language development would be like.  Both DH and I are very much on board with her being bilingual and we both speak the other's language so when we speak to each other it's a mix of the two. DH used to speak to DD only in his native language and I would just speak to her in English. However, that's changed since we recently moved to Brazil (where DH is from) so now we both speak to her in English since she can easily learn Portuguese from relatives/school etc and she also hears us speaking it whenever we leave the house. We do, however, restrict TV to just English for now.


Ok, so that's the background of our family. What I've been so fascinated with is how she learns the two different languages. I knew there would be some words that she'd learn in English or Portuguese first (probably because they were easier to say in their respective language) but what I wasn't prepared for was for her grammar to be at completely different levels in the two languages. In English she has a much, much richer vocabulary. She can have long conversations with me and ask questions but her grammar is still very much toddler like. She pretty much never uses verbs and it's more like she smashes a bunch of nouns together to make a sentence. We also get what she's saying but it's not eloquent (very cute but you know what I mean). In Portuguese it's really different. She speaks very grammatically correct, she can conjugate the verbs and everything! But her vocabulary is pretty small and if she's speaking to friends sometimes she'll come over to myself or DH to translate stuff for her. I'm really confused by this difference with the grammar...


Has anyone else experience something similar? FWIW, I posted here before because DD was on the slower end of creating sentences in respect to her vocabulary itself so she's always had a bit of an odd language development. Mostly, I'm just curious because I find language development pretty fascinating. :) I also wonder if it will be similar in the next kid...


Oh, and one last thing and I'll stop bothering everyone here... has anybody had problems with relatives who were really confused by the bilingual thing? DH's relatives keep going on and on about DD having an accent in Portuguese but that's not the case at all! Instead, she's normally asking for whatever it is in English instead (many words are just pronounced different but the words are pretty much the same) so it has nothing to do with her accent! On top of that DH's grandpa actually yelled at DD (not as in he was upset at more but out of frustration from not understanding her) because of something like that. I get it's hard for them because they don't speak English but DD's 2 it's not like she knows all the words in both languages and can communicate everything effectively all the time either...

physmom is offline  
Sponsored Links
#2 of 9 Old 02-07-2011, 12:30 PM
mambera's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 1,320
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 10 Post(s)

I grew up bilingual, in a loose expat community with lots of other kids growing up various degrees of bilingual, and so have observed a lot of bilingual language development.


My main take-home conclusion is that (like most things in child development) there is a LOT that depends on the individual child.  Very commonly, one child in a family will end up with much greater fluency in the minority language than another child, even though they experienced exactly the same speaking environment. 


There are things that help - most notably spending periods of time in the minority country so that it effectivley becomes the majority language for a while - but there is just a huge degree of individual variation in the interest and talent for language acquisition.


So as to your question of whether it will be the same with the next kid... I can pretty much tell you for certain that it *won't* be, although the ways in which it will be different are anyone's guess. ;)



Regarding the differences between your DD's acquisition of English and Portuguese, I would point out that English grammar is actually quite rigid and rather difficult because it is mostly 'hidden.'  English is a Germanic tongue and initially had regular declensions, but those have mostly decomposed and are now 'hidden,' and evident in only a few cases which are treated as 'exceptions' (e.g. the distinction between nominative and accusative for the first person pronoun - I/me - but not for other nouns).  Similarly for verbs, formation of tenses is quite irregular.  The distinctions between subject and object are left to be made by word order (or by adding auxiliary words), which is simultaneously a more rigid and less transparent way to construct a sentence than adding an obvious suffix to indicate grammatical function within a sentence.


I don't speak Portuguese but I do speak Spanish, which I can say is incredibly regular and has beautifully clear, transparent, and easily comprehensible grammar.  (And I have been able to communicate effectively with Portuguese speakers as long as everyone speaks slowly, clearly, and simply.)  If Portuguese is at all similar I am not in the least surprised that she has got the grammar down far better than she has the English grammar.



Regarding your relatives, I don't think there's a solution unfortunately, except maybe to keep reminding them.  DH and I are in the situation where we don't speak each other's minority languages (well I have learned a little of his so far but have a long way to go) so DD says lots and lots of things that I don't understand.  She is pretty much the only person in the family who actually understands and speaks all of the languages commonly spoken here (4 when my ILs are here and 3 when they are not) and she is only 20 months old, lol.


She is actually an excellent little communicator but baby talk is baby talk and it's made harder when you have to 'assign' a language in order to make an educated guess about what the kid is actually saying.  Poor DD has developed the habit of repeating the same word in multiple languages to make sure everybody is on the same page.  It is actually incredibly cute. :)

Me, DH, DD1 (2009), DD2 (2011), and DS (2015).
I'm not crunchy. I'm evidence-based.
Vaccines save lives.
mambera is offline  
#3 of 9 Old 02-11-2011, 08:39 AM - Thread Starter
physmom's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 1,432
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 2 Post(s)

Thanks for sharing your experience! My head hasn't been screwed on lately and I thought I already responded to this thread redface.gif.   You're definitely right about personality affecting language development quite a bit.  That family that I mentioned in the OP where the mom didn't speak her native language with her kids because her DH got upset, well, there was one kid who really was interested in learning English and he put in so much effort it was really amazing!  However, he had a little brother who just showed no interest at all and prefered German, so I definitely get what you're saying. 


We definitely plan on traveling back to the states often.  DH and I both have to travel often for work so we'll have our tickets paid for and just have to pay for the kids, which makes trips back home much easier.  Obviously nobody can predict how it will be for number 2 but I'm still curious. winky.gif


It could be that it's the difference between English and Portuguese (and yes, it's fairly similar to Spanish, although I must admit I find German verbs easier than Portuguese but I think it has more to do with the time in my life when I learned German vs. Portuguese).  I was thinking about this some more too and I wonder if it could at all be related to baby signing since I was learning along with her and I had no clue how to conjugate the verbs in sign language so I didn't even bother.  However, DH never signed with her as much (just spoke Portuguese with the occasional signs) and maybe that influenced things too? Who knows?


One thing we have been doing is making her repeat after us with the verbs included and that seems to help.  She's started including some of the phrases we've had her repeat and started using them as her own.  But it's still so strange to me how well she's able to speak (grammatically) in Portuguese despite her vocabulary being significantly bigger in English. 


It's funny too, DD has actually had quite a bit of exposure to German (we've spent the last two summers and Decembers there and I had German speaking friends locally) but she's never shown much of an interest at all in speaking German (beyond screaming U-bahn for train lol.gif).  In general, she still shows a clear preference for English (for certain books/discussions DH will ask what languages she wants him to speak in and she always says English).


Ah, that's really cute about your DD being the little translator!  I think DD is in complete denial that other people don't speak English and she keeps trying to get her to understand her in English.  MIL takes her to a playgroup at her church once a week and they joke that she's the "English professor" because she keeps trying to teach the other kids English instead of talking with them in Portuguese. ROTFLMAO.gif

physmom is offline  
#4 of 9 Old 02-13-2011, 12:45 AM
shotmama's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2010
Posts: 78
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)

DH grew up in Sao Paolo and then moved to Japan when he was 11. He understood Japanese pretty well before moving but basically started using it as another dominant language from then on. He spoke Portuguese at home with his parents, but his brothers, unfortunately, having moved to Japan when they were 3 (they're twins), lost all their Portuguese.


DH's English, after meeting me and now living in America, is now stronger than his Portuguese. But I think that is because he doesn't get to use it much these days other than when we skype the family back in Japan.


I used to teach small children in American English (as young as 4 months, as old as 3) while I was in Japan and I noticed most of the children's English was on par with American English speaking toddlers, but not in endearment, naturally since they would be using words of endearment with their parents instead of us (although i do miss their 'i love you!'s).


We are now raising my daugher (who is now 15 months) in Japanese. But she does get playdates (English), and DH husband likes to use English with me cause he doesn't get to use it at work. She has learned all her English NOT from us, and she mostly produces Japanese words. I wouldn't know she knows an English one until she just says it out of the blue.


Meanings of words she can say in Japanese I can remember at the moment:


Pick me up!







None/Nothing/Not there

Ten (don't ask me why she only knows this number ahah i don't know!)




Me (the boy way to say it.. oy!)











Once more/One more time/Again

Onomatopoeia for rain falling (onomatopoeia can be used as verbs/nouns sometimes i think)

Onomatopoeia for cat

Onomatopoeia for the sounds of a horse trotting

Onomatopoeia for water splashing

Onomatopoeia for physical effort (such as walking up stairs)

Onomatopoeia for washing things.


Annnnnd English she can say that I can remember at the moment:



Stop it.


No more.






....gosh all her English ones sound rude!


Anyway, my parents HATE that she speaks mostly in Japanese with us, assuming it means her English comprehension is bad. But she busts out the English usually when she is around English speakers, naturally. I personally believe that for small children 'language' is more situational than it is conditional. Like if they know one person speaks 'this way' they will respond in that 'way,' without realizing they are two different languages at all. The students I taught before knew and saw me speaking with their parents in Japanese but NEVER used it with me. Simple as that. My parents complaints have lessened the more they realize she is able to understand them and communicate with them just fine. Most of their freak outs happened BEFORE she started speaking.

shotmama is offline  
#5 of 9 Old 02-13-2011, 03:14 PM - Thread Starter
physmom's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 1,432
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 2 Post(s)

Shotmama- that's interesting about the terms of endearment, I've never heard that before but it makes sense.


It seems like DD is the only kid that hasn't figured out the whole situational thing when it comes to language.  I wonder if it's because DD and I speak a mixture of both languages to each other so she's always known that we speak both language.  Add to that that in the states where we lived most people knew at least basic Spanish so if she was screaming at me for Agua or Leite people had a pretty good idea what she was asking for.  I think it's been a harder transition here because people in this neighborhood just don't speak any English at all and get offended when she speaks to them in English, which she does all the time.  I think what's frustrating to the family is that DD is speaking, a lot actually, and certainly can speak Portuguese fairly well but chooses not to.  I'm hoping once she starts school she'll try and pick it up more?  Her school does have some sort of English program so that should be intersting to see how that works out too. 


So is your DH speaking Portuguese with your DD at all too? I'm just curious because I also speak German and wish I could introduce it more to DD but she really shows no interest whatsoever. 

physmom is offline  
#6 of 9 Old 02-16-2011, 08:36 AM
Momo123's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: NY
Posts: 189
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)

Hope it's not too late to join the conversation! I'm also very interested in language developement and trying to raise DS (now 20 months) bilingual has been challenging!


Background: I was born/raised in Japan by two Japanese parents though I spent a year between the ages of 4 and 5 in the U.S. while my dad attended graduate school. Then I moved back to Japan then moved to the U.S. again when I was 9 and I have stayed to live here ever since. My sister and I ALWAYS had to speak to our parents in Japanese but we spoke English (with a little Japanese mixed in) to each other. None of our other family lives in the U.S. so that was our main exposure to Japanese. Today, I would consider myself bilingual but English is definitely my dominant and preferred language.


I am married to a Korean American (moved to the U.S. at age 5) and although his parents spoke (and still do) to him in Korean, his Korean is not very good (his comprehension is better than his expressive language). Since DS was born, I have tried to speak to him in Japanese most of the time but it takes a lot of discipline on my part! He also attends daycare (100% English) and my DH and I communicate in English so I would say Japanese only makes up about 5-10% of his daily language exposure (slightly up when my sister or mom visits). It's too early for me to tell grammar stuff with DS because he's only saying one word at a time, but he does say certain words in Japanese and others in English and I haven't been able to figure out why (it's not necessarily the easier pronunciation). I worry because I'm the only one who can reinforce Japanese, and sometimes my husband gets "competitive" and tries to teach DS Korean versions of certain words but he's not consistent at all. If my DH wanted to teach DS Korean and started speaking to him in Korean all the time, I'm not sure how DS would react! I feel like he has his hands full already :)

Mom to DS born 6/09 and DS2 born 6/12

Momo123 is offline  
#7 of 9 Old 02-18-2011, 09:14 PM
FelixMom's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Posts: 463
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)

Our kids are trilingual, speaking DH's language (French), my mother tongue (Cantonese) and English at school. With my oldest in particular, I would notice that he would try Chinese grammar structure with his english or french. That no longer happens, as he is now in 3rd grade and also managing weekly Saturday Chinese school.


Keep up the efforts! An excellent online resource I found was http://www.multilingualliving.com/. They are also on Facebook.


Good luck!

Sign hanging in Albert Einstein's office at Princeton: Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.
FelixMom is offline  
#8 of 9 Old 03-15-2011, 01:04 AM
Franci's Avatar
Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Monaco
Posts: 54
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)


Originally Posted by physmom View Post I think what's frustrating to the family is that DD is speaking, a lot actually, and certainly can speak Portuguese fairly well but chooses not to.  I'm hoping once she starts school she'll try and pick it up more? 

I really wouldn't worry about it. If your still going to live in Brazil, then portoguese is going to become her dominant language anyway.

In fact, with my children I'm trying to work as hard as I can so they are exposed to our minority languages as much as possible.

I'm Italian, born and raised in Italy, moved to the US at age 25. My DH is born and raised Chinese, Shanghainese, moved to the US at age 11. DH with his parents speaks Shanghainese but his Mandarin is still very good, he cannot write properly anymore but  when he travels to China, people still think he is local :-)


I have a 3.5 years old boy. He was born in the UK. I only spoke italian to him and DH Mandarin. I started baby signing at 11 months. He would just say one sillable per word at the beginning and up to 18 months. At that time we moved to Italy for about 7 months. By age 2.5 years  his Italian was really very good, huge vocabulary and could construct complex sentences. His Chinese though was almost not existent. Also, me and DH speak a mix of English/Italian between each other and DS would not speak any English.

Then we moved to Monaco, where local language is French but we live very close to the italian border. I hired a Mandarin speaking student to babysit. WOW, in 6 months time DS Mandarin is very impressive, as good as his Italian. He doesn't mix the two languages at all. Can switch back and forth no problem. He has started nursery in French in September and picking up French as well. And he understands very well English, so if we talk about him and he doesn't agree he clearly states it but he doesn't speak it. We don't worry about it. Eventually we know we'll move back to an English speaking country and English will become his dominant language so we're trying to keep it out as much as possible.

In our situationg hiring someone for Chinese has been the best decision ever. It was a huge investment because he gets amost 20 hours a week, my DH didn't have the time or patience to provide for the same language exposure. Now, after being married for 11 years, I'm finally picking up some Mandarin myself.

I also have a newborn baby girl. Hopefully she is going to take advantage of the situation. Maybe we won't be here long enough for her to learn French.


I found very useful the book http://www.amazon.com/Growing-Three-Languages-Parents-Teachers/dp/1847691064/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1300175664&sr=1-1

It especially made me think of the way we speak to children, how we help them to acquire a language, if we prompt an answer or we incourage the thinking process etc.


It's very interesting to read all your experiences



Franci is offline  
#9 of 9 Old 03-15-2011, 06:43 AM
Momo123's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: NY
Posts: 189
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)

Franci, thank you for the book recommendation! I had never heard of it before, but it sounds really interesting. Maybe it will encourage my DH to start speaking to DS in Korean so he can grow up with three different languages.

Mom to DS born 6/09 and DS2 born 6/12

Momo123 is offline  

Bilingual Talking Cube , Bilingual Talking Videophone , Language Processing Problems A Guide For Parents And Teachers , Baby Einstein Language Nursery Board Book , Childhood Speech Language And Listening Problems , Be Amazing Language Development Eye Spy Bag , The Parents Guide To Speech And Language Problems

User Tag List

Thread Tools
Show Printable Version Show Printable Version
Email this Page Email this Page

Posting Rules  
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are Off

Online Users: 8,411

14 members and 8,397 guests
alenamiy , anacrish , BirthFree , davilaolga766 , Dooby , hillymum , IsaFrench , katelove , moominmamma , rhutes , SPrada , Tara 1st Timer , transylvania_mom
Most users ever online was 449,755, 06-25-2014 at 12:21 PM.