Parents without a common language? - Mothering Forums
Multicultural Families > Parents without a common language?
deethai's Avatar deethai 09:50 AM 02-11-2008
Do any of you have a child with a partner who does not speak the same language as you do, as in, you don't really have one common language that you are both fluent in?

What did you do with your child in that case in terms of learning?

What are the most difficult problems that will come up?

Did anyone find that as both parents speak their native language to the baby, the other partner will kind of learn alongside the baby and pick up the other language, is that possible if you spend most of the day together?

My boyfriend speaks only Thai, really no English. I lived in Thailand now for 2 years but my Thai is still very basic, plus I can't read or write it. I can of course talk in Thai to my boyfriend, but it is very basic and often very wrong. Most of the time it's ok to communicate, but many times we just have no way to understand each other properly if it's something beyond daily common topics. I speak more languages than English, but in this case that doesn't help either.

I am worried our child will pick up my bad Thai. I am also worried not being able to understand what my boyfriend is saying to the child and him not knowing what I say. We might have different parenting approaches and don't even know it, confuse the child?

In the end, if I speak only my native language with the child, will it learn it even without exposure to it outside of our home? When the child is older, will it end up acting as a translator between us?

I am not sure if I should make en effort to teach my boyfriend English, because I would prefer to talk to the child in German, which is otherwise hard to learn by studying it. English is easy to learn later on. So if I speak to the child in German, to my boyfriend in English (assuming I try to teach it) and he then speaks Thai to the child, it would be more confused than with just German and Thai involved, right?
But I would not have any hope that I could somehow teach my boyfriend German either unless he ends up picking some up while I talk to the baby.

I am honestly pretty worried about all that.


Bad Mama Jama's Avatar Bad Mama Jama 01:47 PM 02-11-2008
I think this is an interesting dilemma and I am interested in what folks have to say about it. I don't have any advice because we are solely English speakers.
Bunnybee's Avatar Bunnybee 03:11 PM 02-11-2008
I'm interested too even though we only speak English. Although, I thought it would be really cute if my kids spoke with Jamaican accents, lol!
RomanGoddess's Avatar RomanGoddess 04:32 PM 02-11-2008
It does not matter what language you speak to your boyfriend. Communicate the best you can in whichever language works.

When you communicate to your child, stick to ONE PARENT ONE LANGUAGE. He speaks to your child in Thai, exclusively. Your speak to your child in English, exclusively. Do not EVER try to speak to your child in Thai.

I do also think it is important that when you speak to your child in English and your boyfriend is present, you repeat what you have said to your boyfriend in Thai, the best you can, even if it is just a summary of the conversation. Same goes for him when he speaks to your child in Thai and you don't understand what was said.

Stick to this and your child should work it out all by himself.
MetasMom's Avatar MetasMom 05:59 PM 02-12-2008
Just a side note:

I wouldn't worry about my child picking up "bad Thai". I remember never even noticing how horrid my German mother's English was until I was 5 or 6. Remember, you are not responsible for teaching Thai - that would be dad.

We do OPOL, but there are other methods of raising children multilingual that work as well. Perhaps you need to read up on this topic and find something custom made if you don't feel comfy with OPOL.
RomanGoddess's Avatar RomanGoddess 07:05 PM 02-12-2008
Quote:
Originally Posted by MetasMom View Post
We do OPOL, but there are other methods of raising children multilingual that work as well. Perhaps you need to read up on this topic and find something custom made if you don't feel comfy with OPOL.
Er given that the OP only speaks English and the father only speaks Thai, what other option do they have?
grumpybear's Avatar grumpybear 08:59 PM 02-12-2008
I think that this might work to your advantage actually if employing OPOL.
I am bilingual (English and Tagalog) and my husband speaks only English. We live in the United States in an area where the minority is pretty much a minority. So I speak English 99.99% of the time unless I am on the phone with my sisters (where I speak a mix of English and Tagalog). It's so hard for me to speak Tagalog at home with my child because I have to switch to English everytime I speak to my husband. Tagalog sort of requires a more hardened tongue whereas English has to be spoken with more of a softened tongue. It's like muscle memory, my tongue gets used to one language after a period of time. I end up botching both English and Tagalog when I try to talk to my son in Tagalog when my husband is there and vice versa.
kateena's Avatar kateena 01:34 PM 02-13-2008
I'm not in the exact same situation, except maybe that our family language (French) isn't the mother tongue of either of us. In the past I've been really worried about this- I know a family where the parents spoke only English to their children even though neither one of the parents spoke English perfectly- the result? The kids have no mother tongue to speak of, the only language they've ever learned they've been taught with mistakes, etc. So personally, even if your boyfriend and you do eventually learn each other's language, I'd really make sure your child knows at least one language perfectly. It's easy to move on from one language to another (I've seen that with children), but I think it's really hard when you've never spoken one language perfectly.
hakeber's Avatar hakeber 04:51 PM 02-13-2008
Quote:
Originally Posted by deethai View Post
Do any of you have a child with a partner who does not speak the same language as you do, as in, you don't really have one common language that you are both fluent in?

What did you do with your child in that case in terms of learning?

What are the most difficult problems that will come up?

Did anyone find that as both parents speak their native language to the baby, the other partner will kind of learn alongside the baby and pick up the other language, is that possible if you spend most of the day together?

My boyfriend speaks only Thai, really no English. I lived in Thailand now for 2 years but my Thai is still very basic, plus I can't read or write it. I can of course talk in Thai to my boyfriend, but it is very basic and often very wrong. Most of the time it's ok to communicate, but many times we just have no way to understand each other properly if it's something beyond daily common topics. I speak more languages than English, but in this case that doesn't help either.

I am worried our child will pick up my bad Thai. I am also worried not being able to understand what my boyfriend is saying to the child and him not knowing what I say. We might have different parenting approaches and don't even know it, confuse the child?

In the end, if I speak only my native language with the child, will it learn it even without exposure to it outside of our home? When the child is older, will it end up acting as a translator between us?

I am not sure if I should make en effort to teach my boyfriend English, because I would prefer to talk to the child in German, which is otherwise hard to learn by studying it. English is easy to learn later on. So if I speak to the child in German, to my boyfriend in English (assuming I try to teach it) and he then speaks Thai to the child, it would be more confused than with just German and Thai involved, right?
But I would not have any hope that I could somehow teach my boyfriend German either unless he ends up picking some up while I talk to the baby.

I am honestly pretty worried about all that.
Here is what I can tell you from my friends' experiences and mine (sort of)

Children have this amazing capacity to separate who speaks what language in a very natural way.

If you speak in German to the baby and he speaks in Thai, the baby will learn his thai (and everyone else's Thai) and learn that to communicate with those people he must use THAT set of words. and to communicate with you, he will have to use YOUR words...he will not pick up bad thai, and in time he even be correcting you, even if you speak to eachother in broken Thai. Probably your partner will pick up some German anyway in time, and likely, out of pure necessity your Thai will improve as well.

What Language you speak to eachother in will definitely get picked up on by the kid...but if you can manage to speak to the baby in German only, than the baby will speak to you in that language. I think it will be mostly confusing for YOU, no?

The downfall is that usually billingual kids raised this way start to speak in sentences a bit later than normally because they take more time to absorb two words, not to mention (as is often the case) to sets of syntax and grammatic codes. But once they get their footing there is little to stop them.

My husband I, while we both speak English, lived in Argentina, and our child attended a spanish speaking nursery and our housekeeper/nanny spoke only in spanish, so he spent half the day that we were working with either he or the day-care, and a lot of our friends only spoke Spanish as well... Benjamin never picked up our bad habits, and at almost three he speaks it better than I do.

I do wonder how you are going to communicate about big things in terms of child care with your partner...that must be so hard.

linguistically your kid is going to be at SUCH a HUGE advantage, especially since with a language like Thai under his belt languages like Mandarin, cantonese, and Vietnamese (tonal languages, I mean) I think will be MUCH easier for him to pronounce and pick up later on in life...that's a pretty awesome thing, eh?

My friend speaks French to her kid, her husband speaks in Swedish to the kid, and they both speak in English to eachother (she's bilingual the father not so much...but it does sound like more than your bf)...their kid is five now and she is fluent in all three. So that's pretty good, eh?
blondygirl's Avatar blondygirl 04:59 PM 02-13-2008
Something that I would suggest is, a baby sign language class. My original language is English, but my boyfriend is Hispanic and speaks Spanish. We both speak both languages to our 4 month old daughter, even though I speak almost fluent Spanish and he speaks very basic English. I've heard that babies learning multipal languages can communicate more easily if they can express themselves through body language because it will take a little bit longer to figure out the different languages. I don't think it's wrong to speak Thai in front of your baby (even if it is weak) because they're gonna hear you talking it anyway. My boyfriend doesn't speak good English but he still talks to our daughter and I just love it cause it's like they're learning English together. Anyway, if your were to do a baby sign language class with your child it will be easier for you two to communicate like that for the first 1 or 2 or so. Get your boyfriend involved too. It will cause less frustation when the child is older and starts demanding things but is confused about what language to use.
Danelle78's Avatar Danelle78 07:03 PM 02-13-2008
My DH speaks German to the baby and I speak English. I am picking up German as he is increasing his fluency in English. The more time I spend immersed in the German language, the more I pick up on it.

ITA with pps. You're baby will be able to learn which ever language you choose to speak easily as her neuropathways for language are still forming. She'll probably learn English too just from exposure.
isra1986's Avatar isra1986 02:31 PM 02-16-2008
My DH is Palestinian, I am American. He is only speaking Arabic to our DD when she comes (I am 3 days over due!!!!!! lol) and I will speak only English. I was worried she would pick up his bad english. I could just imagine her going to school and speaking poor english and the teacher correcting her and her replying "Well, my daddy siad that is right"
QueenSheba'sMom's Avatar QueenSheba'sMom 11:22 PM 02-16-2008
we speak different languages. english is dh's 3rd language, and amharic & tegrinya atre my 3 & 4. he speaks more english than I do amharic or tegrinya. at home, anything goes. and that seems fine. the girls seem to know when to use amharic and tegrinya words and when not to.

the deeper problem, i think, are the deeper cultural differences in our upbringings, as much as i always wanted to believe that love would conquer all of that.
Arduinna's Avatar Arduinna 08:47 PM 02-17-2008
Quote:
So if I speak to the child in German, to my boyfriend in English (assuming I try to teach it) and he then speaks Thai to the child, it would be more confused than with just German and Thai involved, right?
It should be fine, my dh learned to be multilingual that way, his parents spoke one language to each other and a different one to him. He wanted to know what they were saying and learned it from listening to them talk to each other.
Quate's Avatar Quate 08:35 PM 02-25-2008
As the PP said, I think it should be fine. Kids are amazing language learners, and any delays or hindrances later in life, IMO, are far outweighed by being naturally trilingual. My DH grew up w/ his parents speaking Mandarin to him and Cantonese to each other, and he essentially started learning English at age 10 when he moved to the US. I can tell he's not a native English speaker, but most people can't. He speaks fluent Mandarin. And he understands Cantonese but doesn't speak it very well because he's had very little opportunity to use it. So this is a slightly different situation, but sort of applicable. If you're living in Thailand, the child will almost certainly not pick up your bad Thai. The only effect I've noticed with English speaking children of immigrant parents living in the US is that some of them don't do well with their 'th' sounds, and I'm guessing that's a carryover from their first language and parents' speech. I've also noticed a few written grammar issues, thought it's difficult to know where those came from. But none of them speak English with a Chinese/Korean/Spanish/other language accent.
AladdinsLamp's Avatar AladdinsLamp 03:28 PM 02-27-2008
I'm not clear on what your first language is - english or german.

There is something about knowing all the nursery rhymes and little songs from your childhood and doing them with your baby. Since your dh doesn't speak english, he for sure will speak Thai to the baby. But which language you would speak to the baby, I would emphasize your native language.

You can speak both German and English to your child - but I would start with whatever is your native tongue and then introduce the other language as something you work on. If you get books in both languages - or read stories in one language and then "read" (really translate them) in to the other language, your child will pick them up.

I'm sure you get lots of German and English speaking tourists in Thailand, right? that should help with speaking both with your dd.

Kids are very, VERY smart. My ds is only 2 1/2 and he already will correct my spanish pronounciation.
TeaLeaf's Avatar TeaLeaf 01:20 PM 03-05-2008
Hello deethai,

Speak whatever language you are literate and fluent in; I would stay away from languages that you are not literate and fluent in like Thai. Your worries are correct.

I speak three languages, but I prefer to speak my native language to our DS while we're alone. When with DH I speak English, but when addressing DS that doesn't require DH to understand I speak my native language. When with the rest of the family, I do the same as if with DH. They don't have a problem with it.

If you can get your hands on this book, it will help you understand bilingualism and addresses your fears. It's a Q&A type of book. There are others, but this one, although sometimes repetitive because of its format, it covers it all.

A Parents' & Teachers' Guide to Bilingualism (Parents' & Teachers' Guides)
by Colin Baker
majikfaerie's Avatar majikfaerie 03:44 AM 03-06-2008
As the mother of a trilingual child, I'll voice a comment on the other side of the OPOL (One Person One Language) school of thought.

My DD was born and grow up half her life in Latin America, so Spanish was her first language. Her father is Israeli, and speaks in Hebrew to her, I spoke mostly in German with her, and DP and I speak English with each other.

Obviously, with me and DP speaking English with each other, DD picked it up, but I made an effort not to speak English with her (well, as much as possible), though it's my mother tongue. Just because I figured she'd learn English well enough eventually anyway.

So I basically talked with DD in a constant mix of Spanish, Portuguese and German, with some Hindi, Amharic, Swahili and Indonesian thrown in for fun.

DD just grew in a very multi-lingual environment, and it always flowed very naturally for her. Her 'first' language was spanish, but by the time she was 2, she spoke equally fluently in Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, German and English.
Of course, once we left latin america, the spanish and portuguese dropped off, then we were in Germany for a while, and that flourished, but again, a while after we left, it dropped off, in favour of Hebrew (we lived in Israel for a while).

She could easily translate herself into several languages, and if she met a new person, she would usually take a little while to work out which language to speak to a person in, and then stick to it with that person. If she said something to someone and they didn't understand her, she'd keep repeating herself in other languages till she was understood.

But with me she always mixed it all up, sometimes using 4 or 5 languages in a single sentence. By 3yo she worked out how to seperate all the languages perfectly.

Studies have shown that children in multi-lingual environments tend to start speaking later than single-language children, but still, this is only on average, and from memory, the studies show a delay of only a month or 2; hardly worth worrying about. The benefits of being multi-lingual are well worth it.

So, IMO, don't worry about it: you speak in German to the child, your boyfriend will speak Thai, you will communicate with each other however works best for you. But don't be too worried about speaking bad Thai to your child, or anything. practice your Thai with the child (I learned a lot of my Hebrew from DD, and she corrects me more often than not ). Just speak and communicate in whatever way works for you
Mamasota26's Avatar Mamasota26 05:08 PM 03-06-2008
My husband is mexican and aside from with me and my family, he only speaks spanish. I speak some spanish but mine is pretty basic as well. He has a son from a previous partner but his son lives with us full time. With my dss I speak to him in English. His mom is american and all her family so english is what he was primarily taught. My husband speaks to him in only spanish because he wants his son to be able to communicate in both languages. My dss knows that when talking to dad, he talks to him in spanish, and he easily changes over to english with me. It hasn't been a problem and he doesn't seem to get confused. He knows who he should speak to in english and so on and so forth. My husband speaks decent english and I understand everything he says but it is sometimes broken and he turns words around and puts them in the wrong order so when people first meet him some have a hard time understanding him until they get to know him. Now we are expecting our first child together and I plan on speaking english to my child and I know my hubby will speak spanish to our child. I'm hoping to continue studying spanish so that I will be able to understand both of them!!! As far as discipling and raising your chldren though, I don't think language will play the most important part. We discipline and raise with actions and as long as you both are on the same page, then the language barrier should be minor. :-)
DavinaT's Avatar DavinaT 06:32 AM 03-14-2008
I can't say have anything aditiona;l to ofer. I just wanted to give an example of my clleague. He is North African and speaks Spanish fluently and Englush very well. His wife is Spanish with very basic English and very little arabic.
At home they speak a mixtute of 3/2 Spanish and English and he speaks arabic to their ds - translating it into English for his wife.
Result: They almost three year old ds speaks English and Spanish with arabic thrown in!
Very cute - and very confusing for his monolingual grandparents! So, going on that I don't think you have anything to worry about.
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