This is a good example of the stuff that happens with more than one language under the same roof.
For awhile, my two older ones would speak to each other in French and switch to English with the baby. She was still stronger in English but as soon as she started daycare, big shift! She'd then get mad at her siblings for doing this, which they continued for awhile...
All my children are way more dominate in French than English. Their dad does not speak English and I spoke French and lived in France before meeting him. The very thought of speaking to me in French is completely amusing to them.
What's important is not which language is better, or what they prefer, or really anything. Once you have established a relationship with a child in one language, it's tough to switch. It'll be that language they use with you. We don't even think about it anymore. As toddlers, sometimes they try using the other language. Some parents throw up their hands and go on about "forcing" a child to speak something. I did no. such. thing. I simply was more responsive and encouraging of the English.
If you hesitate, or are slower in English than Arabic, she'll get the message, without having to force her to speak anything.
What you have to do is stand back and look at the Big Picture. Mine isn't very good. My kids lead a very French-dominated life. The vast majority of their English comes from me. Try to get all native Arabic speakers to use Arabic with her. Take advantage if you have a better, balanced language field.
Which language would your dh like to speak to your dd later on? It's a good habit to start now. Later on, it's tough to switch and you see the child conversing with the heavy-accented parent... That was my fear.
When can one truly say that they have a bilingual child? In other words, when can I stop fretting that DD is going to wake up one day and decide that she doesn't want to speak in Arabic any more? When is a child well and truly established in the linguistic relationship with the parent such that it is permanent? I ask because, while this has significantly decreased as DD continues to speak and progress in Arabic, I am still always worrying about the possibility of her becoming a passive bilingual. I suspect that the answer is somewhere in the teens, but I was wondering if you all had any different experiences. Really, I just want to relax . And please don't tell me to just relax :)
My son is almost 9, so we still have a ways to go (!), but I think he's pretty bilingual and will stay that way . . . We are looking into a bilingual secondary education for him to keep the English strong and improve it (especially with reading and writing) but he's still a good few years away from that decision.
At any rate, I won't tell you to just relax! In fact, I believe that it is constant vigilance that has helped keep my son doing as well in English (non-majority language) as he is.
What I do think you should be prepared for are times when one language is much stronger than the other. Vocabulary in one language may take off while the other language's vocabulary may stagnate. Children can forget words in the non-majority language. Your DD may even have an accent in the non-majority language (my DS does). The languages won't always be "equal." Your DD can speak fluently but not read or write yet (especially in a language like arabic!). In our case, we're not teaching DS to read and write in English. He's dyslexic and has to work hard enough in his other language on these skills. He can pick out lots of words in English on his own and we'll just let the rest come. This is obviously a special case due to special needs, but it may well be that your DD will not read or write in Arabic nearly as well as someone of her age who is growing up in an Arabic-speaking country.
What I have seen parents do (myself included) is completely freak out if one aspect of their child's non-majority language is lagging and then make it a power struggle and an issue of *their* identity. It's hard. I'm raising a child in a country not my own and, while his English is good, he has an accent, can't read in it very well, can't write in it very well. This, coupled with the fact that he's not really American (despite the passport!) in the way I am or a child growing up in America is, can upset me. When he makes a mistake in English or forgets a word in English, it can assume far more significance than it deserves. I've seen this with other foreign parents as well. Don't conflate your problems of identity, alienation, or ambivalence about being in a foreign country or raising a child in a foreign country with a linguistic issue.
Basically, all this to say that you can (and will!) raise a bilingual daughter, but it may not always go evenly. And when it's not going evenly (as in, her Arabic is not as good as her English), the main thing is to think if there's something you can adjust or change to help her, but also know when to pick your battles. Is it worth it to insist that your DD speak Arabic with you? IMHO, YES! Is it it worth it to make a 7 year old who has been in school all day sit down after school and learn to write in Arabic? Maybe, maybe not. . . Those are the cost/benefit evaluations that you have to make as a parent.
thanks for writing all that... about cost/benefice ...
i definitely need to take that into account these days ... my son is 10, and only 6 months away from sitting for an exam that could make him accepted on a 4 years program with 9 hours of schooling in english per week (instead of 3 at beginners level- learning the language)
it seems "natural" in my culture to make him swot for that exam ...
not easy for me to relax about it ...
especially since that program is not quite 100% what I would wish it would be (my 12 years old is on her second year within it)
but on the other hand, I would't have to homeschool in english on top of the local other language school
(when english is not my mother tongue but the other language is ... since DH works too long hours to be able to have much imput in english - besides not being at ease at all or in the same frame of mind about homework, schoolwork etc ....even when we lived in the US and the guidelines for homework were in english !)
eldest child was able to retain L1 when she really learned L2 at age 6 (same time as she learned to read, in L2 in fact, before learning to read in L1, at home, 6 months later, since we were not living in the country of L1 at that time)
second child (my 10 years old) took ages accepting to learn L2, but then only spoke L2 for 3 years, with an american accent (Dad is British, eldest daughter's accent was not so pronounced) and TOTALLY forgot L1, in the process.
It took him a good 6 months to start speaking L1 again (re-learling it litterally !) once back in the country, with speech therapy thrown in for some pronouciation issues too ...
since it was my mother tongue and I totally freaked out about its apparent loss, I didn't keep up much with homeschooling in L2 with that child (but with eldest child, yes, who easily passed the entrance exam for the special program ..)
so second child seemed to totally forget L2 (which he had spoken exclusively for 3 years = I was SO surprised about that)
and now speaks it definitely with a foreign accent and not so willingly
he's willing to be homeschooled for english (on top of "regular" school work), by me, it's not my mother tongue
and I'm not so wonderfully creative about learning as I saw some people be in the US
= not sure at all he'll be accepted in the special program next school year
(+ we don't really know what kind of crieterion they use for admitance, they are VERY not communicating about it !)
need to go,
it's good to put it all in writing and read about other parents dealing with similar issues ....
For the first two, just repeat it back correctly in your language. "Yes, that's a TEDDY BEAR" so she hears what it is supposed to be.
Do I ignore the whole sentence if a couple of the words are in the 'wrong' language?
No need to ignore. Again, repeat it back with the correct words in your language.
She may be "asking" you how to say it in your language. Once my dd kept repeating the French word for birds while looking at some pigeons. I was getting a little annoyed and finally said "Yes BIRDS" and she smiled, and started saying "Birds! Birds!"
Do you think I should insist that she speak only my language to me or is either non-community language OK?
Again, don't "insist" on anything. She's only 26 months and two of mine weren't talking at all at that age. She's already ahead of this game and dealing with three languages (not two, like mine). You are still establishing your relationship in your language. You're going to understand what you understand and repeat back to her correctly in your language. "Did you want orange juice?" If you don't understand, you don't understand. One of mine was a big babbler and I didn't understand a lot, even older than your dd. It's no sin to let her know that you didn't understand, no matter what language she was trying to use.
Don't get too much into getting her to say it clearly, correctly and in the right language. Sometimes it's better to back them up and get their story straight. "Did you want something to eat or drink?" I found that getting mine to gesture worked better. They could point, I understood and that gave me the opportunity to supply the English word for the object. Toddlers can get really frustrated when they're not being understood and backing up and encouraging gesturing kind of reboots them and gets them to find another track towards communicating.
You'll have people who are against this who will say that parents should force their children to say the word and not let them gesture. I was accused of this "You're helping him too much!" I really think this is unnecessary frustration for the child. Also, it might be better for a monolingual child who is just being "lazy" or whatever but our children have more to figure out at an earlier age. I was happy to "help out"! Perhaps they would have spoken earlier/better but mine eventually did speak well, in both languages, without beating the dead horse...
Remember to praise her when she uses your language. Go from the positive and avoid the negative. She's still separating her languages so it's very normal that things are getting a little mixed up. This is a normal stage but letting it slide will just prolong it. Some people continue to mix all their lives (my dh with his dialect and French, for example!) You need to stay consistent so that she can clearly hear how your language is used and get as much vocabulary into her as possible.
Your relationship with your dd is more important than her linguistic abilities. Picture setting yourself as a good example of your language rather than "getting" her to speak it. A little girl wants to be like Mommy! She has a more complicated linguistic situation than most children so at this point you're guiding, not forcing her. Some parents do ignore their children and find other methods to promoting their language but these are more effective when they are sure their children are capable of speaking it but are being lazy or rebellious. Older children who are just not keeping with the program! But I found that once using English was normal and natural with us, my kids weren't tempted to speak French to me.