Language contact/interference in bilingual children - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 17 Old 10-14-2008, 04:37 PM - Thread Starter
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The Spanish accent thread got me thinking.....

Have you noticed language interference in your bilingual children? By this I mean where one language somehow intereferes with their speaking in another language.

I think accent is pretty common (such as the original thread where the OP's child was speaking Spanish with an American accent).

But there are others as well, as I've seen in my dd.

I haven't really noticed any accent issues with her yet, but mainly because she is only three (well, almost three), and still speaks with a "toddler accent" in both languages (some sounds she can't pronounce at all, others she simplifies, etc).

But I have definitely noticed things in her grammar. Although English is by far her stronger language for speaking (although she seems to understand both English and Russian equally well), I have on several occassions noticed that she uses distinctly Russian sentence structure when speaking English (e.g. she ALWAYS says "I something want," "I someone see", etc. which would be the standard Russian syntax).

A Polish friend of mine has noticed the reverse in her dd (who is bilingual Polish-English, and also a toddler): she speaks Polish quite well (and is extremely verbal for her age), but uses distinctly English structures--basically, she'll just take an English sentence and plug the Polish words into it.

So I was wondering if anyone else had noticed such things in their bilingual kiddos? Just curious, because it is a subject I find quite interesting.

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#2 of 17 Old 10-14-2008, 11:12 PM
 
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I definately have, my daughter is trilingual Spanish-English-Dutch. We lived in The Netherlands until she was 3 years old, and even though at home my uncle and I used to speak to her in Spanish(both of us with an accent from Spain) and she got Dutch from my auntie and everybody around her. She used to talk to me 75% of the time in Dutch with a correct structure but when speaking Spanish, her accent wasn't from an Spaniard child and she used a Dutch structure
We moved to Mexico 2 years ago, her Spanish is perfect now, except for the usual mistakes that a 5 year child would make, BUT her accent is still different, it's hard to explain her accent becuase it's not exactly a Spaniard accent like mine but you can definately say that she doesnt speak with a Mexican accent. Her Dutch is pretty much fine also, but her vocabulary is not as advanced as her Spanish now. My auntie and uncle come for seasons to visit us and we go to the Netherlands. ANd she speaks english with an Spanish structure at times, or she'll mix spanish with english...

So, yes i've notice it, people sometimes ask me if where are we from becuase of her accent in Spanish..
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#3 of 17 Old 10-15-2008, 04:24 PM
 
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I haven't noticed it in dd2 yet (3 on Friday!!), but dd1 who is 6 still does this. She will mix English sentence structure with Swedish and vice versa. She will also "make" English words into Swedish - Swedish verbs end in an a in the infinite form so she will say for example "reada" instead of the Swedish "lasa when she wants dh to read with her - she does this mostly when she doesn't know the Swedish word, but in the case of read/lasa she does know the Swedish, but just forgot at that moment. She also has a strong Canadian accent when she speaks Swedish which I never really noticed until we were in Sweden this summer and I heard her speaking with her Swedish cousins.
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#4 of 17 Old 10-15-2008, 10:58 PM
 
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Bilingual children hearing both languages from birth will approach the languages as if they were one communication system. Mixing up the forms (grammar, syntax), and pronunciation, is normal! When exposed to more than one language, a child will eventually be dominant in one, dependent on the social/cultural circumstances.

In time, toddlers learn to differentiate the appropriate context to use each language. However, think on this: what does your own accent sound like? Your toddlers will communicate with the accent they hear and know.

I grew up in a bilingual Spanish (mother)/English (father) household. Although we lived in the US, I spent a lot of time with my Mexican relatives when I was young. My English was accented in Spanish until I was around 9 years old. I know this because a friend from elementary school who I talked to again when I got to Jr. High asked what happened to my accent! I also noticed this same change in my little brother's accent as he grew up.
When children go to school, they will change the way they speak in order to communicate with their peers.

Remember that a majority of the people on our planet are bi- or multilingual. Being monolingual is in fact not the universal norm, no matter the attitude some may have about it!
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#5 of 17 Old 10-17-2008, 09:40 AM
 
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DD is only two, so she speaks a combo of English/Spanish/Toddlerese, so it's hard to say how much of what she says is impacted by the other language and how much is from her age. That said, she does mix the languages together, try her best to conjugate verbs and end up with some kind of Spanglish, etc. But her pronunciation is excellent in both languages... as toddlers go, of course.

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#6 of 17 Old 10-18-2008, 03:10 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by moonrosebud View Post
Bilingual children hearing both languages from birth will approach the languages as if they were one communication system. Mixing up the forms (grammar, syntax), and pronunciation, is normal! When exposed to more than one language, a child will eventually be dominant in one, dependent on the social/cultural circumstances.
:
I grew up bilingual (English, Spanish) and when we were little all my siblings and I --and all the other bilingual kids we knew-- mixed up syntax, pronounciation, words constantly. We all grew up perfectly able to speak both languages correctly. Plus, the understanding of different syntaxes has made it so much easier to learn additional languages since.

I wouldn't worry about it.

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#7 of 17 Old 10-18-2008, 03:55 PM
 
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Yes, I've noticed this too. My kids are definatly dominate in Hebrew and tend to use Hebrew sentence structure with English words. I am so happy they are growing up bilingual.

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#8 of 17 Old 10-19-2008, 05:48 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by moonrosebud View Post
Bilingual children hearing both languages from birth will approach the languages as if they were one communication system. Mixing up the forms (grammar, syntax), and pronunciation, is normal! When exposed to more than one language, a child will eventually be dominant in one, dependent on the social/cultural circumstances.
Actually recent research shows this isn't true. They can tell the two systems apart from a remarkably early age.

A more accurate way of looking at it is that they borrow structures from one language into another. How much they borrow depends on a multitude of factors, including which language is stronger, which language they hear more and how much borrowing and code-switching they hear around them. Borrowing (so taking English words and making them Swedish) and code-switching (mixing two languages in one sentence) is normal behavior for bilinguals.

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#9 of 17 Old 10-19-2008, 06:13 PM
 
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I'm trying to teach my 2yr Polish. She understands it but doesn't speak it. I worry that learning the language will become more difficult as she gets older. I play Polish movies and songs for her and try to be more consistant in speaking only Polish to her. It would help, however, if she could play with other Polish speaking kids. I would like to find other Polish or bilingual families with kids in the area. Is anybody here in N.Oregon or S.Washington? I could commute.
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#10 of 17 Old 10-20-2008, 06:47 AM
 
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Definitely! We're bilingual Dutch-English, with Dutch being the majority language (we live in Holland and DH is Dutch) and DS' strongest language. He often uses Dutch sentence structure in English. For example, "Mama, I want it not." instead of "Mama, I don't want it." He'll often also say things like, "Mama, look to the paper" instead of "Look *at* the paper." since "look to" is a direct translation from the Dutch. It's cute, but sometimes exasperating.
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#11 of 17 Old 10-20-2008, 01:48 PM - Thread Starter
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I'm trying to teach my 2yr Polish. She understands it but doesn't speak it. I worry that learning the language will become more difficult as she gets older. I play Polish movies and songs for her and try to be more consistant in speaking only Polish to her. It would help, however, if she could play with other Polish speaking kids. I would like to find other Polish or bilingual families with kids in the area. Is anybody here in N.Oregon or S.Washington? I could commute.

There's a site called meetup.com that might have a group for you. I've found several local Russian speaking groups where I live through this site. Try searching for a local Polish group and ask if anyone in the group has kids. Good luck!


Quote:
I wouldn't worry about it.
Oh no, I'm not worried about it at all. I'm a linguist so I'm simply interested in the issue on an intellectual level (and, of course, as the mom of a bilingual dd, on a personal level).

Quote:
Actually recent research shows this isn't true. They can tell the two systems apart from a remarkably early age.
Yes, I think I've read that around 8 months or so babies can differentiate between languages. Perhaps earlier.

Quote:
A more accurate way of looking at it is that they borrow structures from one language into another. How much they borrow depends on a multitude of factors, including which language is stronger, which language they hear more and how much borrowing and code-switching they hear around them. Borrowing (so taking English words and making them Swedish) and code-switching (mixing two languages in one sentence) is normal behavior for bilinguals.
This exactly. So I'm just curious about people's stories of how these factors are playing out in their families

DD started doing this from a very early age, then she went through a period of mixing languages (speaking sentences with some words in English and some words in Russian), but now has learned to separate them for the most part and recognizes to whom she must speak English and to whom she must speak Russian. So she is clearly very aware of things. She defintely knows which language is which and who around her speaks which language. She is getting fairly adept at situational code-switching.

As she is only 3, though, she is still sorting out grammar in both languages, and I find the ways in which she does this quite interesting, and particularly interesting to me is that she seems to be focusing on the grammar of her weaker language (Russian) and analogizing it to what is otherwise her stronger language (English), rather than the reverse, which is what I would have expected. I've done quite a bit of reading about bilngualism, so I love seeing these things happening before my own eyes

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#12 of 17 Old 10-20-2008, 03:06 PM
 
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I've noticed that as well. My DS is 3.5 and speaks vietnamese/english. However, even though we live in the states and english is dominant, he does the reversing the grammar into vietnamese at times and it sounds a little wacky. Also, since vietnamese doesn't have plurals, he'll put the "s" sound at the end of the viet word to indicate he wants more than one, even though his grammar is spot on viet. i figure hey, he's 3.5, just the fact that he's understanding both is great!

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#13 of 17 Old 10-23-2008, 10:38 PM
 
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My ds (2.5 yr) doesn't seem to have too much trouble with grammer or syntax. Instead he mixes up words. My DH is french and I'm english the area we live is predominantly french but what I find is ds will take the word for any given word and mesh the two together and make up his own language. He likes to say "Merc you" instead of merci or thank you. or mouche instead of mouth or bouche. Its kinda cute but as he get older he has started to use the word in either language instead of his own little made up words. But I think sometimes he has started to use the pretend ones as a little joke, when he says them now he smiles big and then starts laughing. LOL.

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#14 of 17 Old 10-24-2008, 07:54 AM
 
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Originally Posted by Alathia View Post
Also, since vietnamese doesn't have plurals, he'll put the "s" sound at the end of the viet word to indicate he wants more than one, even though his grammar is spot on viet. i figure hey, he's 3.5, just the fact that he's understanding both is great!
DS is 4 and does this too. He puts -er at the end of american words to make them plural. (Danes differentiate between british english and american english - which is not called english but american)

DS's sentence structure is also danish, even if he is speaking american. But mostly he speaks danish. With me he occasionally speaks half the sentence in danish and the other half in american. Mostly he speaks danish and I reply in american. But he clearly understands which is which. He will say that word X or character Å is danish or english.

DD is 2 and also speaks mostly danish, with some american words thrown in. She does not yet speak differently to me than she does to danes.

I learned Danish at the young age of 33! And I also mix up the structure. For example, I think "that know I not" instead of "I don't know that." I usually catch myself before opening my mouth, but sometimes it comes out wrong. So I don't think it is a child thing. Maybe more of a learning new language issue. Until the second language is really comfortable, you are still naturally thinking in one. Except then I should be thinking in my first language, american english, not danish. OK, I am totally confused.
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#15 of 17 Old 10-24-2008, 08:25 AM
 
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Originally Posted by moonrosebud View Post
Remember that a majority of the people on our planet are bi- or multilingual. Being monolingual is in fact not the universal norm, no matter the attitude some may have about it!
Can you qualify/quantify this a bit more? Thanks. (Not the attitude part. That's obvious. )
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#16 of 17 Old 10-26-2008, 08:41 PM
 
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nope. not in my dd. not interference. but more preference.

it drove me battttttttty coz i couldnt understand half of what she was saying. she was multilingual from infancy to 3 due to our neighbours. i spoke to her in 3 languages including english, and she spoke japanese, spanish and french from our neighbours. between toddlerese and her preference of choosing to speak all the languages at teh same time to me who didnt understand the rest 3 i had a hard time figuring out what she was saying.

but no she was completely comfortable in that. she created her own unique language mising all of them together. for instance she had specific words in specific languages. like delicious, orange was in japanese, red and no yes in french and so forth. her dad and i had to learn her vocab to understand what she was saying.

it is so sad though when we moved she lost touch with the 3 languages. but she still has interest in them and wants to learn.

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#17 of 17 Old 10-27-2008, 08:31 AM
 
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I am an English language teacher from Britain and we live in Greece with my Greek husband. My daughter is 2 years 9 mos. Tis is very interesting for me to see how my daughter's language develops as it is also my job to teach people to speak English. I noticed that she learnt "I" in Greek before she learnt "I" in English, which I have heard is a big developmental step for a child. I wondered if that meant she was maturing more as a person in Greek.


She speaks both languages pretty well. She uses some Greek structures in her English "close the light" even though I repeat it to her time and again. I love the way she simultaneously translates saying something in English to me and then immediately the same in Greek to her dad.

We listen and sing a lot of English songs together and I also tell her stories a lot in English and I think her English is overtaking her Greek now. I have noticed she has invented lots of nonsense words and uses them a lot, which is good fun.
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