How would you deal with this bilingual child's issue? - Page 3 - Mothering Forums

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#61 of 66 Old 06-18-2013, 06:02 AM
 
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Hi. I don't get to this end of the boards often, but this conversation is such a great read.

 

Diyabolo, I am sort of in an opposite role from you; I am the English-speaking primary caregiver. I have two children and my dh is a native speaker of Berber and Arabic (and also speaks his very colonial French). Because of the stresses of circumstances and I suppose a lack of mindfulness, we now have two older children who are struggling to catch something in these languages. I have a little of each too, but a semester's worth of French and my very elementary Arabic are little to no help most days. We lived until recently in a suburban-to-rural area in US where English is all there is.

 

Fast-forward a couple years and we are now living in UAE, where Arabic is a school requirement. Regardless, quality education in Arabic is nearly nonexistent and where found, outrageously expensive. We've found an excellent tutor and pulled our kids from school there to work at home, so they will have more time and focus on their language learning. Two years in, my children are beginning to understand the gist of some overheard conversations, maybe some news reports. And this is all with the extra effort and time we put in. UAE is expressing a crisis these days, in that Arabic is being lost (to English) there. English is the primary language of instruction (although there are French and I think also Chinese schools), and the transient nature of most of the expat community means a lot of turnover both in teachers and students. This means that even in middle to upper grades, even with differentiation between native and non-native families, there are so many low-level language learners coming into class that nearly every year is a repeat of greetings, colors, shopping words, etc.

 

The struggle for us is that we know the cultural exposure is really good for our kids, and we want them to get the language, too. Arabic is a fascinating language to me, too. I study with the same tutor as my kids, in my own sessions. We have learned to ready pretty well by now, and I am moving now into conversational language. We're focusing on MSA, because we don't use the language "in real life" much, and either kid would likely end up with at least a quasi-academic use for it. I do have a pretty good grasp of a North African dialect, which is not much use outside North Africa. I learned it almost entirely without learning to really read, so learning to read has been a big deal for me.

 

All this to suggest bringing new baby and dh on board to maybe help instill a little more pride with the language/culture. One cool thing my kids have discovered is that languages are codes; dh and I do that thing grown-ups sometimes do, where we speak a common (non-English) language together in front of the kids and they have no idea what we're saying. Rude, maybe, but it always tweaks their motivation a little. What if dd1 were enlisted to help teach Dad and new sister as a point of family pride? Not to suggest that Dad's fluency is a goal, but maybe less of a feeling of either-or, to the exclusion of someone in your own little tribe? Would Dad be on board to get in on the fun?

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#62 of 66 Old 06-19-2013, 03:46 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by lilitchka View Post

we are purists in a sence of never speaking majority language to our kids.
we have sons, almst 4 y.o and a 15 months.
we live in a bilangual community ( 70% english, 30%french).
i speak only russian to our kids, regardless of where we are and who is with us.
dh speaks only arabic to them.
me and dh are both fluent in our 2 home languages and in the 2 community languages.
I speak to dh mostly arabic with some french.

we chose to work both part time mostly to mak sure our kids learn our mother tongues. so they don't go to daycare/preschool and don't speak any french or english.

ds1 isluent in both arabic and russian at his age appropriate level.


what ould I do if I was OP.....probably what you have been doing up until now: divert attention, playfull answer etc.
i really feel that this will pass!

 

Wow! You have managed to so something really amazing with your kids; quadrilingual children is something beyond my scope of experience :)

 

I am curious about what will happen when they go to school, especially since they do not, as of yet, speak the community languages. DD speaks it (English) fluently because of DH, but I have been dreading preschool because of the complete immersion in the community language and how that might negatively affect her desire to speak Arabic.  Have you thought about any strategies you might follow when your 4year old goes to school? I would love to hear them since I have been thinking about this myself.

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#63 of 66 Old 06-19-2013, 04:14 AM - Thread Starter
 
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oh, and i wanted to add: growing up in a bilangual family, when people forced me to speak a certain language, it never worked. it also never worked when i tried to force my dad to speak a certain language. no one can force anyone to speak a certain language.
so Op, your daugher can't force you to speak a certain language.
that's just a fact.

 

I hear what you're saying lilitchka, but then I feel that I am forcing her to speak Arabic, in a way. It will be a rough transition for me if she decides she doesn't want to speak it any more.

 

So far, she's been trying really hard and makes a very concerted effort to do so and to acknowledge the significance of this verbally. For example, yesterday DH, DD and I were all in bed and she said to me (in Arabic): "My tummy hurts. Nana (paternal grandmother) says it's because I have . . . .(long pause for thinking) benzine in my stomach."  Now, "benzine" is the word we have been using for "gas," as in gas at the gas pump for the car. It's the word Arabs use for car fuel :) It's not the word she needed; there is an Arabic word for stomach gas that she hasn't learned yet. At any rate, my point is that she tries very hard to find the equivalent for the word she's looking for so as not to use English. When she can't find it or is unable to Frankenstein it, she asks me, mid-sentence, "what is the Arabic word for "x"? and then continues the sentence using the Arabic word.  Her Arabic vocabulary is much better than her English, so when she speaks with DH she code-switches often and will insert Arabic words when she doesn't know the English. Since she doesn't code-switch with me (I have emphasized, when possible, a strictly monolingual approach), she has to find other ways to express herself.

 

Here's a question I have for everybody! In-laws were here for about 10 days. They spent a lot of time with DD and all of it in English. MIL is subtle, but I can easily tell she's not crazy about the Arabic situation. Certain phrases, gestures, comments she makes (including in front of DD) indicate that.  I can give many examples, but the one that I can readily recall is when DD wanted to watch a cartoon DVD with her (we do extremely limited screen time and much of it is in Arabic to reinforce the language when I am at work).  MIL said: "I can't watch that with you honey. I don't understand it. You watch it by yourself." It's not a huge deal, but to a 4 year old it sends all sorts of signals about the language and about how this language might affect her relationship with a woman she loves! MIL could have easily said "Great! Will you help me understand it and translate some of it for me!" DD understands the concept of translating and does it all the time.  I don't know how much DD has picked up on this, but it's bound to make some kind of impact, no matter how unconscious and as she grows, it will become more apparent, I think.  There is always a certain level of "re-learning" that has to take place once they leave. This time, it actually wasn't all that bad! Anyway, how would you handle these situations? I don't want to talk smack to or about MIL, so I am very careful to be as kind and loving as possible. Any thoughts on how to handle MIL's discomfort and especially DD's response to that discomfort (which I am worried will one day turn into "I don't think I should speak Arabic"?

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#64 of 66 Old 06-19-2013, 04:31 AM - Thread Starter
 
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All this to suggest bringing new baby and dh on board to maybe help instill a little more pride with the language/culture. One cool thing my kids have discovered is that languages are codes; dh and I do that thing grown-ups sometimes do, where we speak a common (non-English) language together in front of the kids and they have no idea what we're saying. Rude, maybe, but it always tweaks their motivation a little. What if dd1 were enlisted to help teach Dad and new sister as a point of family pride? Not to suggest that Dad's fluency is a goal, but maybe less of a feeling of either-or, to the exclusion of someone in your own little tribe? Would Dad be on board to get in on the fun?

 

Hi 1jooj!

 

Yes! I am totally planning to bring new baby on board and have already planted the seeds ("you're going to help me read stories to the baby," "we're going to have to teach her Arabic" etc.). And DH is very supportive as well. DD is always trying to help him with his pronunciation and he's very happy to learn. But yes, I think a more intentional way of doing this when new baby arrives would be great idea -- maybe mini-Arabic lessons at home for baby and DH!

 

Thanks for the post!

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#65 of 66 Old 06-19-2013, 05:58 AM
 
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My situation is different:

first: I have no questions/anxiety regrading this multilingual environment, because I lived in the same situation, that what ''normal'' is to me.

I lived in an arab-speaking country as a child. my parents spoke only russian to me. at 6, I whent to school with extremely little arabic (few words), but because I was constantly exposed to it (TV, family, outside etc), I became fluent in arabic after 1 month of schooling.

It didn't accur to me that I could speak arabic to my parents (especially dad who was fluent, it is his country!). Istill speak russian to them today.

so what is going to happen to our kids: first, there will be no preschool, no KG. we will ''unschool'' them until grade 1.

by then, I expect them to be totally fluent in russian and arabic.

we will send them to an english-only school, because, even though it is the dominant language in the community, it is absent at home (we are more confortable in french, so we speak often french with DH or friends at home).

It is going to be hard to DS1 the first month or 2 of school. or maybe not. I don't know.

He will start russian only saturday school (5hours) this september.(he will be 4y.o)

and for the french, I don't care if he learns or not. it is out there in the community, it is often at our house. if he wants to learn it as a teenager or adult, it would be very easy for him.

they reason we whant him to learn arabic and russian is not because we want to have ''quadrilangual kids'', it's rather because we want to transmit our cultural identities. and it's impossible to do correctly without language transmission.

 

 

second: we don't have the dominant community language in our house, but you do.

still, I have lots of examples of people who managed to «be fluent in their mother tongue despite the father speaking the dominant language.

 

 

for your MIL: can you address the issue directly/honestly with her?

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#66 of 66 Old 06-20-2013, 12:39 PM
 
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Diyabolo, I would agree you should address things with MIL. Again, my mother was that MIL. She would make fun of the way my kids said, "Baba," instead of Dad (and insist they learn to call him Dad or risk being teased), or make a face when the kids would code-switch and say something she couldn't pronounce. Every comment she used to make would be about assimilation and not being teased. And somehow, she was the single person in their lives responsible for most of the teasing. I did have to be firm and sometimes a little scolding with her, reminding her that our household is bicultural, unlike any of the other households in our family. With time, the offending behaviors dwindled. For us, religion is part of it, though, and maybe that complicates it for us.

 

And I love your idea of Spanish immersion. I hope it helps reduce the sense of any sort of pecking order between languages.

 

lilitchka, your words are a good reminder that any work we do with the kids now will be a help to them in years ahead. Whether or not they pursue fluency, their language exposure and work will help keep them open to cross-cultural experiences that might have otherwise been unlikely. And the very start of school might be tough, but I doubt it would take long for him to pick up what he needs for school.

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