So my husband speaks only English, my babysitter speaks only Russian and I speak about 80% Russian/20% English to our almost two year old. I am shooting for OPOL (one parent one language) and doing exclusively Russian with him, but it's tough, as Russian is my second language. Lately my son has been picking up letters and number like CRAZY but only in English- he KNOWS all the numbers in Russian, if I ask him in Russian "Where's the four?" he will find it easily- but he'll only SAY "FOUR" in English.
I am torn- I love that he's picking this up kind of early and I so want to encourage him, so I have been saying "Yes, four!" and so on when he says it, because I want to reinforce it for him. He knows a lot of Russian letters but I'm trying not to confuse him too much- the Russian "r" looks like the English "p" and so on- anyway, about half the time I feel like I should just not speak English with him no matter what he says and the other half I think that encouragement is more important and I have the rest of his life to speak Russian with him. FWIW, he never SEEMS confused, but I worry! Any advice?
I've not looked into this as a linguistic topic but I have raised six children bilingually. We've tried this approach as well as just speaking whatever we wish and is most appropriate at the time. All of our children have come out equally fluent in both languages.
Many families mix languages and the kids end up bilingual. It works as long as the children get equal input for each language. That's not our situation.
Since I'm the only one who speaks English, I did insist that my children, actually only the oldest, answer in English. It was hard because I'm in France with a French dh who can't speak English, in a community where very little English is spoken. If I had done as the pp did, my children would NOT be bilingual today. They just wouldn't have had enough English exposure.
So to answer what you "should" do, only you can decide. If you conduct your relationship with him in English, with just a little Russian thrown in, he wont speak Russian. You can try to teach him some Russian, songs, numbers, colors, etc. Make games and try to get him exposed elsewhere. Also, take into consideration if bilingual schooling in Russian is available, even weekend classes. Trips and visits from Russian speakers is also helpful.
I wish I could say to you "just speak whatever you want to" with him but that wouldn't be honest. If his "world" is predominately English, he simply wont get enough Russian to learn it. Speaking to you is his only route. Some people are lucky and there is exposure to the minority language, through relatives, school, community, etc. but I don't have that luxury.
Supposedly, a child needs 20-30% of their lives conducted in a language to learn it. That's interchange, not passive learning like watching T.V. Even with one parent speaking it all the time, getting this much of their lives in a minority language can be tough.
So ask yourself how much you want to do this, what your child's situation is (and will be) and decide what you want to do.
Eclipsepearl, i've been reading your posts for a few years, always with much interest due to your experience
am glad now to read about the 20%- 30% range of average imput needed , it makes me hope ... my son just failed the entrance test for international section of middle school (= 9 hours of classes in english instead of learning english for 4 hours per week) so am sorry that i won't be able to offer all my children the same chance .... (DD1 has been in that program for the last 2 years)
am not the native speaker in our family & am back in my native land so it doesn't feel so natural for me to speak in english to my son (although i did excusively 4 years ago when we were just back from the US and said son had totally, totally forgotten ALL of his french ....)
... i must try harder in the near future so as to switch to english as the home language ....
I appreciate the additional comments. Just to be clear, I definitely do have a relationship in Russian with him, as well as games, stories, books and music, and his nanny speaks only Russian with him. If I were his only source and I only spoke it sometimes, of course it wouldn't work. My question was about right NOW, when he's first saying numbers and letters. After his speech is more developed and I feel like he really knows his letters and numbers, I'm definitely all in Russian- I already answer him only in Russian for food, requests, etc. I just feel like numbers and letters are confusing right now and I want him to feel reinforced for learning them in English at this moment.
Personally I don't feel there's a particular advantage to learning letters/numbers 'early' vs 'late.' He's going to know how to read in the long run so what's the difference how quickly it happens? There is however a huge long-term advantage in maintaining exposure to the minority language. (Especially if you don't plan to maintain a Russian-speaking nanny through your child's teenage years.)
That said, what's wrong with encouraging the recognition of English while speaking Russian? Eg in your example above, what's wrong with
You (Russian): Where's the four?
LO (English): Four!
You (Russian): Yes, four!
He won't be confused, and he'll learn how to say 'four' in both languages.
Me, DH, DD1 (5/2009) and DD2 (10/2011).
I'm not crunchy. I'm evidence-based.
Vaccines save lives.
When it comes to schooling, I have my children in a French-German program. I don't really speak German and French is not my native language. So they've learned all their math in German, a language I can't really speak.
I had absolutely no problems switching the languages when it came to school material. The only thing I had to correct was when my son said something like "Ten less seven..." since they say the word "less" for "minus". They do have an additional lesson in French so that the children are used to French terms in math for general testing. All three are strong students in math in a language neither they, nor either parent speak natively.
When one of mine has to learn a poem or random facts by heart, they repeat it to me in German or French (depending on the subject) and I give feedback in English. Yes, I've had a child reciting in German I don't understand but I can tell if they've memorized it correctly. What I can't do is correct any pronunciation errors in either language but that hasn't been a problem. If they do make a mistake there, it's easily corrected in class (and chances are they aren't the only ones).
I right now have an 8 year old who can't repeat the entire English alphabet correctly. She also only recently learned all her numbers in English. Scandalously late?!? No, because she had them down cold in both the other two languages at the "correct" age that her peers did. She was not behind. Why wasn't I concerned with the English? Because there's no time limit and I'm assured that she understands the concept since she's doing it right at school. It was simply a case of memorizing the English.
So I'm basically letting the school teach them school subjects and letting them delve into the English when they feel like it. So far it's working since my son was tested at age level in English at age 10 for a school aimed at native speakers. We opted to keep him in German instead. I do admit that their English is not completely at school age level (compared to children their age in the U.S.) but they are all fluent and accentless in it. They also have zero impact at school because of it. The teachers assure me that they are equal to their peers and my middle child is first in her class.