Teaching a RARE MINORITY LANGUAGE with very limited exposure and resources - Mothering Forums

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Old 08-12-2012, 07:17 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Hello everyone tiphat.gif

 

My son is 2.5 years old and is being raised almost trilingual. I say almost, because well.. it's not going so smooth :)  See, my husband is Greek, I'm Lithuanian, we live in the US and speak English to each other. My husband is born and raised here, so English comes more natural to him and that's the language he speaks to our son, while I speak exclusively Lithuanian when i am alone with him (or sometimes in front of others,too, if I am talking to him directly and others do not need to understand what i am saying). My husband's family lives here, too, and they speak a mix of Greek and English to our son (yiayia and pappous (grandma and grandpa) speak mostly Greek, but they have been here long time, and even though i keep asking them to not use any English with my son, they still do. I think it's confusing him and he will not fully learn Greek from this). Greek is used in family gatherings (that's when i feel like an alien lol), they have a lot of Greek relatives and friends here, they even have a church and a pretty strong community here. But my husband, his brother and sister speak mostly English between themselves and their families, even though they are fluent in Greek.

 

Sooo aaanyway.... My big problem is that even though Lithuanian is a very difficult language and is only spoken by ~4 million people, i feel very strongly about my son being a native speaker and embracing his Lithuanian side (i am very patriotic person). I have read a lot about raising children multilingual and i am trying to do my best but it's getting very very difficult... I am the only one here who speaks this language, there are no other Lithuanian people in our area at all. The only people he hears speak Lithuanian is my family via Skype. I also let him watch some cartoons in Lithuanian, which there aren't many good ones... Some old ones from the Soviet times, translated from Russian, and some modern American and British ones translated into Lithuanian as well. But we don't really have good media resources of our own. No cool websites (there are several, but they are pretty lame) . We have several baby toys that say Lithuanian phrases (Fisher price puppy and Fisher price phone), a ton of LT books and also we listen to some LT music.. But from having so much more resources and exposure to English, i even started struggling and sometimes catch myself speaking English to him.. because he understands it immediately, he understands it better... And i am simply getting used to English myself..He watches Nick jr. too.. and he learned a lot from the cartoons. He prefers cartoons in English.. his English is pretty good and he says a lot of words in Lithuanian, also knows some words in Greek. He knows all the letters in English and can count in all three languages. He is a smart kid and he understands when spoken to in all three languages more or less, but English is winning big time. I am just worried that i will give up eventually, because it is so hard with having no good help; and even if i won't give up,  he will simply forget Lithuanian eventually because he really doesn't have a NEED to speak it.

So, i must invent that need.. :/ And i would love to hear from those who can relate or have some advice!

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Old 08-13-2012, 08:05 AM
 
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Have you tried placing an ad in your local news or online, maybe Craiglist or Meetup?

I have friends who live here, and live with English-speakers, but wanted to maintain their native language and have an opportunity to speak it now and again, and were able to meet others from their national and ethnic groups by looking at online ads.  Of course you have to be careful, but you might meet a wonderful new friend!  Good luck!  thumb.gif
 


lovestory.gif   And on 09/23/2011, we were three;  husband, daughter, and me!

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Old 08-13-2012, 09:51 AM
 
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Tynka, I am Baltic as well and understand your predicament. Will PM you when I have more time (at work at the moment) with information about what I have done with my kids!
 


Mom "D" to DD1 "Z" (15) and DD2 "I" (11) DH "M"

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Old 08-13-2012, 02:52 PM
 
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My Mom is Russian, and my Dad is Latvian. My brother and I were raised tri-lingual. Sort of. Until my bro went to K, English was not spoken at home. At all. Poor kid was tossed into the pool, cold. I learned from him. :D My Dad and his mother spoke Latvian to us - until she passed away. That was the end of that. We continued to speak Russian, and I'm fairly fluent. Not long ago (2-3 years), I visited Riga with my Dad, and had a very pleasant surprise - I remembered a lot more than I expected. Am I fluent in Latvian? No. I'm not. BUT... I found that I could understand more than not, and over the course of three weeks became much more conversant.

 

Point being? Keep talking to the kiddo. He will learn, and he will retain.
 

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Old 08-17-2012, 12:26 PM
 
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I agree that teaching a rare minority language with little backup from books/videos/visits to the homeland is a different ballgame from teaching a minority language that is widely spoken.  I heard somewhere (maybe on here?) that on average a child needs 20-30% of his interactions to be in a minority language in order to learn it.  It is incredibly hard to provide that if you are the only source unless you are home with the child all day.

 

Also teaching a language that is not related to the other languages the child knows is harder - there are no cognates so you can't 'fake it' by using a majority-language word with a minority-language accent and ending (as you can do easily among Romance languages, and to a lesser but still large extent between English and Romance languages and between English and Teutonic languages).

 

FWIW so far my experience with my 3y/o is that just my talking to her exclusively in the minority language (Greek as it happens) has worked pretty well so far.  She speaks it with a fair number of grammatical errors but she does speak it almost exclusively to me.  She has some books that my dad brought for her and she enjoys having me read those to her.  She doesn't see my family very often (a few times a year) and there's not much in the way of DVDs or other media.  I WOH and she has been in full day daycare since 18 months.  Frankly I've been really pleasantly surprised with how willing she is to speak Greek with me given that I am pretty much her only source of exposure.

 

Obviously every child is different and your own child's interest in and propensity for minority language acquisition is a wild card.  But things have been working well for us so far.  I think it has been important for us that I pretty much never use English with her - I have had to a few times when there is another child around and I am speaking to them both - but at this point it feels extremely unnatural for me to use English with her and I suppose it feels the same for her to use it with me - even though I speak English with DH at home.  This is the only real piece of advice I have, that in this situation it is important to stick 100% to the minority language and never get into the habit of using the majority language with your child at all.  It is just too easy for it to take over.


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Old 08-17-2012, 12:35 PM
 
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Oh, and something else!  DD1 had a *huge* lag in her acquisition of Greek compared to her two other languages (English and DH's language).  I got quite upset and made a couple of panicked posts on this forum asking if she was ever going to speak it.  I think what happened was she simply couldn't pronounce the Greek words - they are pretty much all polysyllabic and just really hard for a little kid to say.  Greek is just a difficult language (not only the pronunciation but the grammar as well - I realize this more as I watch DD1 acquire it) and I really think that the difficulty of the specific language is quite a significant factor, one that nobody seems to talk about much.

 

I learned Spanish in school starting at age 12 and I am fluent and regularly pass for a native speaker.  Spanish is like a toy language next to Greek.  I don't know any Lithuanian but I wouldn't get worried by comparing your kid to children around him who are learning less complex or more widely spoken minority languages.


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Old 08-23-2012, 09:59 AM
 
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I'm Hungarian and face a lot of the same issues.  I just find it so hard to force myself to speak Hungarian to the kids when DH (who is also home all day) only speaks English, no one around here speaks Hungarian, etc.  For a short time we lived in a community with a thriving Hungarian population, but unfortunately we moved away from there super quick and now we're again in a semi-rural area with no language exposure.  Bummer.

 

I did download some Hungarian media and ordered some books from overseas, and downloaded mp3's of children's songs, etc.  But my kids are pretty resistant to it unfortunately.  With the new one I'm expecting in Jan I expect I'll be even more dedicated in speaking to him/her from birth onwards, and hopefully that will rub off on the older kids as well.  I dunno.  I too feel the same way, that it's my patriotic duty to teach them my language... but it's challenging, for sure.  Especially since English is my "second first" language - I speak and think in it just as well as I do in Hungarian.  So, idk...  I'm not happy with the limited amount they know right now.  It's cool and well that they know the colors, animals, etc, but that's not anywhere NEAR being fluent (or even conversational).  =/

 

So I guess this is more of a sympathy post than a suggestion one!

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Old 08-26-2012, 11:15 PM
 
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This is another sympathy post.  I am a native English speaker but my DH grew up speaking Marathi, which I bet nobody here has even heard of (I never had).  There are no classes.  There are hardly any books available for learning Marathi, and what few kids' books you can find are all translated from Hindi so the language is really weird.  This is what we're doing to try to make sure DD learns Marathi:

 

--I try my best to speak as much Marathi as I can to her.  My Marathi kind of sucks, but I figure even bad Marathi is better than no Marathi, and I do pretty well with simple stuff.  (She hears a lot of English from me though.)

--My DH almost always speaks Marathi to her.  I am the enforcer on this so he can't get sloppy.  And I try to push him to speak Marathi to me too (we are way too much in the habit of speaking English to each other.)

--We are trying to be very proactive about hunting down anyone else in the city who speaks the language and being friends with them.  So far we're friends with only one family.  There is a Marathi organization that shows movies and plays for adults, though, so I'm hopeful we'll meet more people over time.  (We only recently moved here.)  We're especially trying to make friends with families with kids the same age, so the kids and DD will eventually talk to each other in Marathi.

--When DH's family comes to visit, they're under strict orders to speak Marathi to DD (and nearly always do).  We try to visit them, or have them visit us, as much as possible.  My MIL is able to stay for a couple of months each year, which is wonderful.

--We had DH's family in India round up as many kids' books and songs in Marathi as they could find.  It wasn't all that much...but we try to play the songs a lot.

--DH "reads" DD stories by paraphrasing the English story into Marathi or making up a new Marathi story.

--We bought a bunch of Marathi schoolbooks meant for very young kids and plan to have "Saturday Marathi school/storytime" when DD is a bit bigger. 

--We intend to insist that DD answer in Marathi when she's bigger (right now she's in the "a few single words" stage, but at least most of them are Marathi words).  Otherwise we're afraid she'll end up like our nephew, who understands Marathi but refuses to speak it.

 

Mostly we're trying to make sure that she hears a lot of Marathi, that it's fun (we make up silly songs, etc.), and that it seems relevant because she also hears other people speak it.  She also hears DH correct my grammatical errors...I'm hoping it helps her realize that you don't have to be perfect to converse in a language. Hopefully it'll work...we'll see.

 

Wishing you best of luck!  It's awful hard when your minority language is rare.
 


Mom to the wacky and wonderful Kalyani (August 2011) femalesling.GIF

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Old 09-01-2012, 02:08 AM
 
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First of all, languages don't have to be a race. My children speak three languages, on three different levels. It doesn't hurt any of the languages and it doesn't confuse them. Their French (we're in France) is the best, followed by English. They're in a bilingual French-German program at school so they're all fluent in speaking it but the level is far behind the other two languages. Their skills in reading and writing German are better than in English while they speak English better than German...

 

It's all not a problem. 

 

Remember that it's easier to conduct one's life in only one language. Using two is more complicated. It's normal and natural that your child tries to use English with you. Mine tried that with French. If your child can get all of his needs met by just using English, he wont use Lithuanian. It's that simple. Since there are no other speakers and you don't have a lot of resources, 99% of his Lithuanian has to come from YOU. Your relationship will have to be conducted entirely in Lithuanian to get the maximum exposure you can in your home. If you slide into English, it simply wont happen. You said "He doesn't NEED to speak it". Well, make him "need" to speak it to communicate with him. You, the mother are the most important person in his life. Don't be afraid to set the rules!

 

So many parents just sit back and expect their kids to somehow decide to use the minority language on their own. Doesn't just happen... Then years later, when the child asks the parent, they answer "but you wouldn't use it!" but the parent didn't insist, so it didn't happen. Also, some parents think that a child "should be able to express themselves as they wish". Lovely thought but if I applied that parenting logic to my kids table manners, the results would be scary! My daughter actually hates using a fork and I swear they would eat directly off their plates if I let them eat "as they wish". Time to be a parent!  

 

Don't be intimidated by his level of English or the fact that English is all around you. Let him progress in English. Let him play and do everything else in English. But if he wants a glass of orange juice or for you to tie his shoes, he needs to ask you in Lithuanian. I didn't ignore my son but any requests made in French got "forgotten", took ages or were just plain wrong (i.e. apple juice instead of orange). I also asked him to repeat all requests in French, not necessarily in English, but he had to say everything twice. So I made the "easier" language more difficult. Guess who started just repeating in English?!? 

 

Don't get involved in the Greek. Let that be your dh's project but I will say that the stronger he is in the other two languages, the easier the third will be. Sounds a little illogical but it actually works like that. Get your in-laws on board with it. If they hear him babbering on in Lithuanian, that might inspire them! 

 

Once you get into the habit, there's no looking back. It'll be easy and natural. Now, my son laughs at this story and can't believe he ever spoke to me in French. Using French together, even though I spoke it and lived in France before meeting my husband, would be weird and unnatural. 

 

It's easy to talk to a toddler in the community language but now, I'm so glad I can explain how a car engine works and have mine talk to my parents as if we never lived outside the U.S. Once we got into the habit, the language never became a battle ground. They continued to speak to me in English even after starting school. That made zero impact because we were only used to using English together. 

 

Your goal should be fluency. Don't get into comparing the languages. When I say that my kids are at different levels, they speak all fluently, the English and French accentless, but they have fewer words. This is not a problem. They do have to ask what something is. The other day, my daughter forgot the word for "black". She is so determined to not use French with me that she said "I need a pen, not blue but the darker color", even though she knows that I understand "noir". They also make mistakes that children who use more English wouldn't make. They'll make the occasional error like "making" breakfast, instead of eating it but this is not a hinderance to communication in English. Prepositions get creative. "When I was TO the school". Don't let these kinds of errors derail you. It's normal, common and you'll hear them for years!

 

As far as how common a language is, children don't care. My kids honestly thought only I, perhaps a few friends, and my family spoke it. It struck me when a Japanese dance troop visited the school and I accompanied the class. I talked to the dancers afterwards and the kids were all "D's mom speaks Japanese!" Um no. "Why do they speak YOUR language?" they asked. It struck me that they were really clueless about how common English was. They only saw it as "my" language. A child is totally unaware of how many other speak the language. All they know is that the parent speaks it and uses it with them.  

 

You may want to reinforce vocabulary at all opportunities (just name stuff as you go through your day). Vocabulary building takes a little effort and he does need to know the words in order to make this easier for him. 

 

So just get talking with him. Don't let English be a part of your relationship. Talk to him in your own language and don't be afraid to set the standard. Don't look for him to be "inspired" or "motivated". Just make it necessary for him to speak to you in it. 

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Old 09-01-2012, 07:47 AM
 
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Hello! I'm raising trilingual children in an English speaking country. I speak to my children in Italian and my husband in Farsi, and so far my children (of 6 and 4) are pretty much trilingual. Although there's no lack of Italian people here, I don't have any Italian friends, so my children only learn the language from me, via books, cartoons and our annual two-weeks holiday in Italy. I believe that it is important to create a need for the children to speak the language, so from early days if they asked for something in English (and they did try!), I would tell them "ask like mummy". As they grew up, they automatically started to speak exclusively in Italian to me. But still to this day, I need to sometimes remind them to stick to mummy's language.

 

My husband shares my passion for teaching his language to our children, and this makes things easier for us. He speaks exclusively in Farsi to them, and we have many Iranian friends, so the children are exposed to the language in various situations. But interestingly, it remains their weakest language, and I believe that this is because it's their father's language and men tend to communicate less with their children than mothers. My children's strongest language is English. But this doesn't worry me, and I think that it's only natural, as they speak English most of their day at school and with their friend.  

 

You may be interested in my blog that I started recently, charting the ups and downs of our trilingual family. It's at http://trilingualfamilylife.blogspot.co.uk/.

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Old 09-01-2012, 12:19 PM
 
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Remember that it's easier to conduct one's life in only one language. Using two is more complicated. It's normal and natural that your child tries to use English with you. Mine tried that with French. If your child can get all of his needs met by just using English, he wont use Lithuanian. It's that simple. Since there are no other speakers and you don't have a lot of resources, 99% of his Lithuanian has to come from YOU. Your relationship will have to be conducted entirely in Lithuanian to get the maximum exposure you can in your home. If you slide into English, it simply wont happen. You said "He doesn't NEED to speak it". Well, make him "need" to speak it to communicate with him. You, the mother are the most important person in his life. Don't be afraid to set the rules!

...

 

So just get talking with him. Don't let English be a part of your relationship. Talk to him in your own language and don't be afraid to set the standard. Don't look for him to be "inspired" or "motivated". Just make it necessary for him to speak to you in it. 

yeahthat.gif

 

Great post Eclipsepearl


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Old 09-01-2012, 12:52 PM
 
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Awesome post Eclipsepearl!

 

To the point of in-home exposure being so important;  I have friends and people in my life that have been in the USA for decades but are still not fluent in English because they don't speak English at home.  On the flip side, I have friends and people in my life that have been in the USA less than one decade and they are as good with English as any native speaker because they are in a home where no one else speaks their native tongue. 

 

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Old 09-04-2012, 02:19 AM
 
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Awesome post Eclipsepearl!

 

To the point of in-home exposure being so important;  I have friends and people in my life that have been in the USA for decades but are still not fluent in English because they don't speak English at home.  On the flip side, I have friends and people in my life that have been in the USA less than one decade and they are as good with English as any native speaker because they are in a home where no one else speaks their native tongue. 

 

smile.gif
 

That's actually not true when talking about children who attend local schools (and "local" means any school, public or private, which is conducted in the community language).

 

Usually when someone is not fluent after many years in a country, they didn't learn because they arrived as adults and usually, they moved into a micro-community which spoke their home language. Not to racially profile, but just as an example, a girlfriend's grandparents arrived as a newly weds in California, from Mexico and their children were all born shortly after they arrived. The dad worked and learned English but the wife, a SAHM, living in a Spanish speaking community in Los Angeles, never did. She never really needed it.  

 

I live in France where some English speaking ex-pats put their children in English language schools and mainly socialize with other English speakers. I saw one family with a 5 year old born in France who all never learned more than rudimentary French. I also live near Germany and many German speakers (including other speakers who are already fluent in German) never learn French. You can do everything here in German, including getting a plumber. There is no "micro-culture" as you find in many places but German is so common... I heard the same is true for English speakers living in the Netherlands, India, etc. 

 

I've heard this "home language" argument before and quite frankly, it doesn't make hold water. People who only speak the minority language at home still learn the community language through school, work, etc. Only in cases like those I've given above do people never learn the language on the outside. The point is that you do not need to introduce the community language inside the home in order for the children to be fluent. This could even derail your bilingual project, especially in cases where the language is rarely heard in the community. The child needs all the interaction and exposure they can get! Too easy to slide into the habit of speaking the outside language inside the home if you believe this! 

 

Keeping two minority languages at home does not mean that it will somehow "eat into" the child's ability to learn the community language (English). This is the "milk bottle" theory where children only have a lmited ability to absorb languages and then the milk spills out of the bottle and they can't learn any more. Very common myth! The only limit to language learning a child has is how much of their waking hours are conducted in each language in order for them to learn enough to be fluent. There's no way that you could do that with seven languages but three is entirely possible. Some children manage 4 or 5 (nanny, school, playground, etc. with each language having its own time and place). 

 

Someone growing up, only speaking a certain language at home, with just one parent, can definitely become completely fluent. What usually happens is that the level of the language is not as strong but that doesn't make the person "let fluent". They usually have no accent but fewer words and make a few more mistakes than someone growing up in a country where it's spoken. Let's say a 7 year old will make the mistakes in the minority language that a 4 year old makes. The point is that both grow up and stop making those mistake eventually! 

 

What's really interesting is that these children usually make HUGE progress on trips to these countries. I know errors and pronunciation problems magically disappear after visits to California and the U.K. with my own kids. 

 

Luanagi who posted above has a similar situation. Her children speak their three languages at three different levels like mine do. Hers' speak 1. English, 2. Italian and 3. Farsi. Mine are 1. French, 2. English and 3. German. Mine even read and write German better than English and again, this is not a problem. Expecting a child to maintain all three at the same level is unrealistic, unproductive, unnecessary and probably impossible! 

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Old 09-04-2012, 10:52 AM
 
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Sorry, I should have been more clear - these are adults, arrived as adults, that I'm discussing (not being fluent in the majority language).  Their children are 100% fluent in the majority language in spite of never hearing it at home because they heard it outside the home, at school and with their friends. 


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Old 09-05-2012, 06:41 AM
 
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Someone growing up, only speaking a certain language at home, with just one parent, can definitely become completely fluent. What usually happens is that the level of the language is not as strong but that doesn't make the person "let fluent". They usually have no accent but fewer words and make a few more mistakes than someone growing up in a country where it's spoken. Let's say a 7 year old will make the mistakes in the minority language that a 4 year old makes. The point is that both grow up and stop making those mistake eventually!

 

Hm, I think accentless fluency is one outcome of this situation but not necessarily the most common one.  Most of the people I know who grew up with one (or even two) Greek-speaking parents at home ended up with obviously accented and imperfect Greek in adulthood.  I know of at least two people who grew up in the US with two Greek parents who spoke the language at home (but did not demand that the children reply in Greek) but never acquired expressive capacity to any significant degree and do not speak the language as adults (although both have siblings who range from competent to fluent). 

 

A friend of mine who immigrated from Iran as a toddler is fluent and accentless in Farsi (two Farsi-speaking parents at home) while her brother is less fluent and accented.

 

Another friend of mine who immigrated from Hungary to the US at age 10 and continues to visit the country frequently reports to me that he has actually acquired something of a mild foreign accent over his many years living in the US. 

 

I know a number of children of Spanish-speaking immigrants and their fluency and accent in Spanish is generally much better than I see among the children of Greek expats - I attribute this to a number of things including: a) Spanish is ubiquitous, even though it is a minority language in the US there are scads of native speakers, Spanish-speaking communities, and reading/multimedia material available, b) Spanish is a more simply constructed language than Greek, c) there is an enormous variety in accent among native speakers of Spanish so variations are less detectable as non-native (vs Greek which is extremely homogeneous so even minor variations are quite obvious)

 

Basically I'd say the development of fluency, competency, and accentless speech in a minority language depends on a complex of factors including the specific language spoken, the child's aptitude and motivation for language acquisition in general, and the degree and type of exposure.


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Old 09-05-2012, 03:40 PM
 
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FWIW - I moved to the US for the first time when I was 5 and moved back and forth from here to Hungary as a kid.  We spoke Hungarian at home, English in school.  I am fluent in English and have no accent.  I also was really quick with picking up other languages as a kid - at one point I spoke intermediate Spanish and conversational in German, Dutch, and French, and a bit of Italian thrown in as well.  Now?  Yeah, uh, I've forgotten most of those, heh.

 

My father had a really strong accent in Hungarian - and a really strong accent in English as well.  He moved out when he was in his late 20's, I think?  My mother was in her early 30's and she has a strong accent in English (and still isn't really 100% fluent, although she understands it well enough) but has no accent in Hungarian.

 

I don't have an accent in Hungarian, but I admit that most of the time I think in English and when I don't have anyone to speak it with for a while, it takes a few days/weeks for me to adjust back and remember all the vocab etc, despite it being my first language.  But a few nights of journalling in Hungarian, watching TV, reading etc will get me back up to par pretty quickly.  When I talk to my mom on the phone I usually speak English and she speaks Hungarian and we get along just fine.  (Same with some of my friends from Hungary - we have bilingual conversations with no harm to anyone.)  I just wish I had more discipline to speak it at home with the kids instead of lapsing into English because it's easier.  =/

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Old 09-10-2012, 05:34 AM
 
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Hm, I think accentless fluency is one outcome of this situation but not necessarily the most common one.  Most of the people I know who grew up with one (or even two) Greek-speaking parents at home ended up with obviously accented and imperfect Greek in adulthood.  I know of at least two people who grew up in the US with two Greek parents who spoke the language at home (but did not demand that the children reply in Greek) but never acquired expressive capacity to any significant degree and do not speak the language as adults (although both have siblings who range from competent to fluent). 

 

A friend of mine who immigrated from Iran as a toddler is fluent and accentless in Farsi (two Farsi-speaking parents at home) while her brother is less fluent and accented.

 

Another friend of mine who immigrated from Hungary to the US at age 10 and continues to visit the country frequently reports to me that he has actually acquired something of a mild foreign accent over his many years living in the US. 

 

I know a number of children of Spanish-speaking immigrants and their fluency and accent in Spanish is generally much better than I see among the children of Greek expats - I attribute this to a number of things including: a) Spanish is ubiquitous, even though it is a minority language in the US there are scads of native speakers, Spanish-speaking communities, and reading/multimedia material available, b) Spanish is a more simply constructed language than Greek, c) there is an enormous variety in accent among native speakers of Spanish so variations are less detectable as non-native (vs Greek which is extremely homogeneous so even minor variations are quite obvious)

 

Basically I'd say the development of fluency, competency, and accentless speech in a minority language depends on a complex of factors including the specific language spoken, the child's aptitude and motivation for language acquisition in general, and the degree and type of exposure.

 

I know lots of these various stories too, especially since I both live in, and come from, bilingual communities with large immigrant and international communities. 

 

What is key is usage. You can have two minority speakers at home but if the kids are answering in the community language, they probably will never be fluent. I see this a lot. Many parents come up to me and say "My child understands everything!" but I remind them that understanding and speaking is NOT the same thing. The "real" skill is speaking. That's what's tough. Understanding is easy! Getting the mouth to form those sounds and getting your brain to form those sentences... can't be done with just listening! 

 

Remember too, I'm saying "fluent", which doesn't include kids who go off, live their own lives and never use the minority language. They get rusty! But they do retain the ability to "relearn" or remember that language. The fun part is that they can get it back without the accent. That seems to stick... 

 

You also don't want to dive into all the details. Retaining a small accent could "protect" the person from saying something odd. I've actually blurted out 1980's slang on trips to the U.S. by accident (one guy's comment "Been awhile since I hear THAT one!" lol!) I've been gone since 1989. Someone speaking something more remote, and more isolated could do this more often, especially since, as the OP pointed out, there are few resources to keep it up.

 

Also, when I say "fluent", that means completely functional. They could have some glitches and no slang. They could also be missing vocabulary and/or use words out of context (like my son saying something is "interesting" instead of a good deed, since that's how it's used in French). Some languages change more than others so even a one-generation gap can cause a communication gap. Once, amusingly, my Hong Kong coworkers got me to "translate" for a Chinese-American woman who had lived most of her life in California. They were too timid to tell the woman they didn't understand her Cantonese so they got me, blond, blue-eyed and fellow Californian, to talk to her in English. I've heard stories about Japanese too. 

 

Luckily, most European languages are less likely to change so drastically so quickly and quite frankly, our own families wont care! 

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I know lots of these various stories too, especially since I both live in, and come from, bilingual communities with large immigrant and international communities. 

 

What is key is usage. You can have two minority speakers at home but if the kids are answering in the community language, they probably will never be fluent. I see this a lot. Many parents come up to me and say "My child understands everything!" but I remind them that understanding and speaking is NOT the same thing. The "real" skill is speaking. That's what's tough. Understanding is easy! Getting the mouth to form those sounds and getting your brain to form those sentences... can't be done with just listening! 

Same experience here. We speak only Romanian at home, but when ds went to daycare at 3y/o it took just a couple of months for him to start speaking only English at home, even if we continued to answer in Romanian and spoke only Romanian at home. A year later, when his grandma came to visit he wasn't able to speak to her, even if he understood everything she was saying. He had to relearn Romanian.


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Old 09-11-2012, 06:55 AM
 
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We are quite a mix here as well. We live in Japan. My husband is Japanese, I am Hungarian and we speak a mix of three languages : English, (I don`t know Japanese well enough), Japanese and Hungarian. Needless to say, I am the only one who even speaks to my kids in Hungarian. I`m very strict about it though: with momma only Hungarian. If my son (he is 6 yrs) answers in Japanese and ask him to repeat the same thing in Hungarian (and help him if he doesn`t remember the words). He is doing pretty well with it, although his Japanese is much more fluent.

All of that to say is that perseverance is the key. Don`t give up, it`s worth the effort.


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Old 09-11-2012, 05:36 PM
 
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Well, if we ever go to Japan I'll have to invite myself to see you guys, then you can teach my kids Hungarian too.  ;)

 

Seriously, I need to get on it.  Although just today my daughter corrected DH's pronunciation of her Hungarian nickname.  My son has a very distinct accent and can't "hear" or say the different sounds that don't exist in English (like gy or ty) but DD has no accent on the couple of words she does use.  She does prefer to listen to Hungarian songs though and has some story tapes that she insists on listening to.  I'm not sure what, if anything, she gets out of them, but maybe she understands more than I give her credit for.

 

I guess one funny-ish thing that happened was that DD keeps saying "igen" for yes lately.  When DH asked her to do something the other day, she yelled "igen" and ran off to complete the task.  He turns to me and asks me, all upset, "what is this "igen" sh** she's saying, that's not right, I don't like her talking back..."  After I start laughing and telling him what she actually said, he got all embarrased.  Seriously, we've been together for like... nearly a decade, and you haven't picked up that "igen" means yes?  ;)  Silly DH.  (ETA:  OK, so technically I suppose the normal reply would be "jo" instead of "igen", so maybe that's what I normally reply - but igen does technically mean yes... Shrug. Now I'm just rambling.)

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Old 09-12-2012, 08:13 AM
 
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Same experience here. We speak only Romanian at home, but when ds went to daycare at 3y/o it took just a couple of months for him to start speaking only English at home, even if we continued to answer in Romanian and spoke only Romanian at home. A year later, when his grandma came to visit he wasn't able to speak to her, even if he understood everything she was saying. He had to relearn Romanian.

 

Examples like this one are why I think there is such a large component of the child's intrinsic personality.  My DD1 has been in English-speaking daycare since 18 months and still (at 3 years) speaks DH's language to him and my language to me.  (We don't differentiate our responses to her based on the language she used.)

 

Why does one child respond like transylvania_mom's DS and another like my DD?  Who knows?  I don't think you can exercise total control over your child's linguistic outcome.

 

But ITA with EclipsePearl's point that the key is for the chlld to *speak* the language, not just hear it.  Now the question of what language environment is required for your particular child to choose to speak the minority language is where it gets complicated.


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Old 09-12-2012, 09:51 AM
 
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Yes, I agree. My kids speak my language to me *sometimes* even though I have spoken it to them exclusively since birth. The catch is that their dad speaks English to them (and was a stay-at-home dad in their early years - so his linguistic influence was greater than mine), their dad and I speak English to each other, and we live in an English-speaking environment. Plus they are also taking Spanish at school; the younger one is still in immersion (at least 1/2 the day is in Spanish). So they have a lot going on. By the time we get to speaking my language, it's not the easiest for them to speak (I hear you about Lithuanian! Latvian is pretty complicated as well) and sometimes they simply find it easier to communicate in English. To some extent it is personality, too. So, my language ends up on the "bottom of the pile" despite us doing language/cultural school on Saturdays, participating in community events, family camp in the summer, etc. BUT speaking to them consistently and participating in as many events as we can has resulted in kids that do understand and speak my language OK/pretty well, if not perfectly. I can only be happy about that since even I am a heritage speaker (have never lived in Latvia). It also means that they can travel there and communicate with people and pick up the language more intensively later if they choose, which would be pretty difficult had they not learned as children.


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Old 09-12-2012, 11:13 AM
 
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BUT speaking to them consistently and participating in as many events as we can has resulted in kids that do understand and speak my language OK/pretty well, if not perfectly. I can only be happy about that since even I am a heritage speaker (have never lived in Latvia). It also means that they can travel there and communicate with people and pick up the language more intensively later if they choose, which would be pretty difficult had they not learned as children.

 

If we end up with this degree of language acquisition (basic expressive competence) I will be thrilled.  All I really want to do is be able to go on family vacations to Greece without having my kids need me to translate for them when they want to order a soda or find the restroom.  :)  


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Old 09-12-2012, 12:42 PM
 
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Examples like this one are why I think there is such a large component of the child's intrinsic personality.  My DD1 has been in English-speaking daycare since 18 months and still (at 3 years) speaks DH's language to him and my language to me.  (We don't differentiate our responses to her based on the language she used.)

 

Why does one child respond like transylvania_mom's DS and another like my DD?  Who knows?  I don't think you can exercise total control over your child's linguistic outcome.

Let's agree to disagree. I believe you CAN have some degree of control over your child's language acquisition, at least until a certain age, when external influences become more important. I COULD have changed the outcome when my ds was 3 y/o, by refusing to answer when he spoke English to me, but instead I took the more mellow approach, responding at his requests in English, translating the sentences in Romanian for him (although he refused to repeat them). The result was that he lost his ability to speak Romanian at 3.

 

Yet, he speaks it now just fine, thanks to his grandparents visiting us for more than a year and his extended visits to Romania, when he had no choice but to use the language. The problem was not that he wasn't able to learn it, but my inability to maintain my communication with him exclusively in Romanian. And in the meantime, he learned another language as he goes to French school, where no English is allowed.

 

My point is, if the child does not HAVE to use a language, he will lose it. It depends on us as parents how important that particular language is. There is no good or bad answer imo.

I've read somewhere that the first thing immigrants' children lose is the language, and the last thing is traditional food, which stays in the family for generations. I have no doubt that my ds will gradually lose his Romanian when he becomes an adult, but I believe that knowing your roots and being able to speak to your elders is important.


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Old 09-12-2012, 02:08 PM
 
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Let's agree to disagree. I believe you CAN have some degree of control over your child's language acquisition, at least until a certain age, when external influences become more important.

 

Absolutely, a great degree of control for sure (I think we *do* agree about that!)  Just not *total* control.  I'd say that by maintaining constant exposure you can pretty much guarantee the acquisition of passive understanding (which is a lot IMO!), and possibly the acquisition of some degree of expressive capacity (by requiring that the child speak the language in order to function at home).  I think the difference between basic expressive capacity and native or near-native fluency is where the individuality of the child comes in.

 

Quote:
I COULD have changed the outcome when my ds was 3 y/o, by refusing to answer when he spoke English to me, but instead I took the more mellow approach, responding at his requests in English, translating the sentences in Romanian for him (although he refused to repeat them). The result was that he lost his ability to speak Romanian at 3.

 

Sure, it's possible things would have been different if you had taken a different approach.  A different child might have responded to the approach you did take though.  I think it's helpful to be a little zen about this stuff.

 

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The problem was not that he wasn't able to learn it, but my inability to maintain my communication with him exclusively in Romanian.

 

Of course he was able to learn it, but evidently his individual exposure requirement was greater than simply being spoken to in Romanian by one parent.  It was fulfilled by exposure to grandparents and travel to Romania.

 

Quote:

 

My point is, if the child does not HAVE to use a language, he will lose it. It depends on us as parents how important that particular language is.

 

I agree with that also, although the constraints that define whether a child 'has to' use a language will differ.  One child may perceive that he 'has to' use a language simply by being spoken to exclusively in that language by one parent (as in EclipsePearl's experience).  Another child (eg your child) may not perceive that situation as sufficient pressure and may need stronger inducements (eg interactions with other relatives who do not speak the majority language, or visits to the minority-language country).

 

I guess I feel strongly about having the differences between children acknowledged because I think it's easy for parents to think, "Well that approach worked for this other person's child so it will definitely work for mine!" and then be unpleasantly surprised when their results are different from those of the parent next door.  Also I think it's helpful to be prepared for the possibility of large differences in language acquisition between siblings despite exposure to the exact same language environment.


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Old 09-12-2012, 03:26 PM
 
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I agree with that also, although the constraints that define whether a child 'has to' use a language will differ.  One child may perceive that he 'has to' use a language simply by being spoken to exclusively in that language by one parent (as in EclipsePearl's experience).  Another child (eg your child) may not perceive that situation as sufficient pressure and may need stronger inducements (eg interactions with other relatives who do not speak the majority language, or visits to the minority-language country).

 

 

As far as I understand from Eclipsepearl's post, she was saying that you need to speak to a child in the minority language, and the child will acquire it if you give him/her no other option. Her child wasn't simply "spoken to exclusively" in that language, but actually asked to use it to respond. I'm going to quote from her post, because she explains it so much better than me:

 

 

"Mine tried that with French. If your child can get all of his needs met by just using English, he wont use Lithuanian. It's that simple. Since there are no other speakers and you don't have a lot of resources, 99% of his Lithuanian has to come from YOU. Your relationship will have to be conducted entirely in Lithuanian to get the maximum exposure you can in your home. If you slide into English, it simply wont happen. You said "He doesn't NEED to speak it". Well, make him "need" to speak it to communicate with him. You, the mother are the most important person in his life. Don't be afraid to set the rules!

...

 

Don't be intimidated by his level of English or the fact that English is all around you. Let him progress in English. Let him play and do everything else in English. But if he wants a glass of orange juice or for you to tie his shoes, he needs to ask you in Lithuanian. I didn't ignore my son but any requests made in French got "forgotten", took ages or were just plain wrong (i.e. apple juice instead of orange). I also asked him to repeat all requests in French, not necessarily in English, but he had to say everything twice. So I made the "easier" language more difficult. Guess who started just repeating in English?!? 

...

 

Once you get into the habit, there's no looking back. It'll be easy and natural. Now, my son laughs at this story and can't believe he ever spoke to me in French. Using French together, even though I spoke it and lived in France before meeting my husband, would be weird and unnatural. 

 

...

 

So just get talking with him. Don't let English be a part of your relationship. Talk to him in your own language and don't be afraid to set the standard. Don't look for him to be "inspired" or "motivated". Just make it necessary for him to speak to you in it. "

 

...all bolding mine. Eclipsepearl, I hope you don't mind.


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Old 09-12-2012, 04:39 PM
 
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I wasn't able to create a situation where my kids had no option but to speak Latvian. There WAS another option - refusing to speak to me if I requested an answer in Latvian and instead turning to their dad. Especially easy since he was actually the main caregiver. If he wasn't around, they sometimes simply refused to speak with me. That part I mainly attribute to their English being more fluent, so it was just easier to speak in English - they could actually say what they wanted to say without thinking about it. This usually happened when they were tired, just came home from school, etc. It still happens sometimes now that they are older.

 

That said, I think the main thing with rarer languages is to get as much exposure as possible. With our languages, you can't just pick up and take a class anywhere like with Spanish or French. The more exposure the kids get early, the better chance they will be able to build on that or pick it up again later, like Transylvania_mom's example.
 


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Old 09-12-2012, 04:44 PM
 
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I agree with that also, although the constraints that define whether a child 'has to' use a language will differ.  One child may perceive that he 'has to' use a language simply by being spoken to exclusively in that language by one parent (as in EclipsePearl's experience).  Another child (eg your child) may not perceive that situation as sufficient pressure and may need stronger inducements (eg interactions with other relatives who do not speak the majority language, or visits to the minority-language country).

 

I guess I feel strongly about having the differences between children acknowledged because I think it's easy for parents to think, "Well that approach worked for this other person's child so it will definitely work for mine!" and then be unpleasantly surprised when their results are different from those of the parent next door.  Also I think it's helpful to be prepared for the possibility of large differences in language acquisition between siblings despite exposure to the exact same language environment.

Yes, I feel strongly about this, too. On a board for translators (I am one), all I hear is about how every kid picked up 3 languages effortlessly - there people lean heavily toward OPOL (one parent one language) as THE solution. It's not that way for everyone for a variety of reasons, not all of which are under the parent's control, and it's nice to have that acknowledged as well.


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Old 09-12-2012, 05:16 PM
 
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As far as I understand from Eclipsepearl's post, she was saying that you need to speak to a child in the minority language, and the child will acquire it if you give him/her no other option. Her child wasn't simply "spoken to exclusively" in that language, but actually asked to use it to respond. I'm going to quote from her post, because she explains it so much better than me:

 

So I agree that 'giving the child no other option' (eg by refusing to respond to majority-language requests) is more likely to produce expressive capacity than not doing so (eg simply using the minority language when speaking to the child).  But it will not *necessarily* result in native or near-native fluency in all cases (some children will acquire only basic home-environment competence, perhaps with a notable accent), and it is not a *necessary* component for all children either (some children will more easily choose to use the minority language without the need for such strong inducements).


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Old 09-13-2012, 10:20 AM
 
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I guess I feel strongly about having the differences between children acknowledged because I think it's easy for parents to think, "Well that approach worked for this other person's child so it will definitely work for mine!" and then be unpleasantly surprised when their results are different from those of the parent next door.  Also I think it's helpful to be prepared for the possibility of large differences in language acquisition between siblings despite exposure to the exact same language environment.

 

Yes, this was my experience too. 

 

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So I agree that 'giving the child no other option' (eg by refusing to respond to majority-language requests) is more likely to produce expressive capacity than not doing so (eg simply using the minority language when speaking to the child).  But it will not *necessarily* result in native or near-native fluency in all cases (some children will acquire only basic home-environment competence, perhaps with a notable accent), and it is not a *necessary* component for all children either (some children will more easily choose to use the minority language without the need for such strong inducements).

This is true. Also, I didn't force my oldest, just to set the record straight. I got the apple juice half an hour later in French but immediately in English. Worked like a charm! 

 

My kids speak three languages but they don't know all the words a child in America would have in English and they don't really have "emotional" vocabulary in German. Each language is used in a different context. The point is that they're TRI-lingual. I would, honestly, have to put my kids in ESL if we returned to the States (on short notice, like if my dh died or were thrown in jail, neither which seem likely). They don't have the academic knowledge to just jump into classes at their age level (yet, and chances are, they wouldn't spend a lot of time in it). So even speaking a "common" language with lots of resources, my kids have limits, at least for now... 

 

People can split hairs if they want but these gaps are really just details. A child with very limited vocabulary, who only uses the language with one parent at home, still has a solid base to grow from if they ever got the opportunity to use it further. Throw that child in a different situation and they will learn what they need fast! For example, if one of my kids fell in love with a German speaker or went to the U.S. to study. A child speaking a language on a limited basis also still has the other "perks" like the advantages bilingualism gives him or her in math and music and whatever other studies you read about. The fact that child doesn't know banking terms or car parts or doesn't have a current, exact local accent become easily rectified footnotes.

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