Teaching DC your language - is it a lot of extra work?

(21 Posts)
Fazerina Mon 19-Nov-12 23:47:28

This may seem like a silly question really.. Of course encouraging speech development takes a lot of effort in itself, I was just wondering how much more effort will I really have to make when DC is trilingual?

DS is now 18 and says approximately 8 words. The ones out of these 8, which are not names (like Daddy, Haahoo and George), are all in English or are sounds (broom broom for car). I speak my language to him and as I'm a SAHM and DH gets home late in the evenings, DS gets a lot more exposure to my language than DH's. I'm finding it increasingly hard to stick to my language and I'm beginning to wonder how much more so it will be as DS grows. It's so easy to just speak English, as it's all around us all the time: we speak English with DH, I speak it with most people every day, when we go out to toddler groups and I see my friends and it's on tv etc. It seems to be so difficult to surround DS with my language and probably even more difficult to offer much exposure to DH's language at all.

The only real reason I seem to have for continuing to speak my language to DS is that I don't want to upset my mom and would like DS to be able to speak to her in her language (my mom does speak English though). I know DS will never be fluent in my language and have as wide a vocabulary in it as a monolingual person and I feel at most I could expect him to understand and communicate at a basic level. Is it really worth the effort, if the outcome isn't the same level skill as a monolingual child? Are there any parents on here, who started speaking their language to their child, but stopped for one reason or another? I would be interested to hear people's thoughts.

alexpolismum Tue 20-Nov-12 07:38:34

Hi Fazerina,

I don't live in an English speaking country and I am the only speaker of English that my dc have access to. I speak to them only in English. I don't see it as extra work, to me it's perfectly natural to speak to them in my own language. Even if there are other people around, non-English speakers, if I am addressing the dc, I use English. I have lots of books in English that I read to them and if they watch TV, I try to put on a dvd in English for them. Is this an option for you? Can you find children's books/ dvds in your language?

The key, I have found, is consistency. Your ds does not need you to speak English to him, he is getting plenty of exposure to it elsewhere. If you are speaking to him, no matter who else is present, speak in your own language. Don't switch back and forth from English to your own language.

Does your dh speak a different language entirely? If so, does he also speak your language? Or at least understand it? If so, you can speak your language all the time at home, including when speaking to him. He doesn't need to reply in it, but if he understands, then you can use it, and it will give your dc further exposure to it.

I am fluent in the local language, but in front of my children, I use it only when socially necessary, and I switch back immediately to English if I have anything to say to them, even if it's only something like "Stop doing that, ds1" or "No!" Anyone that visits us that also speaks English is encouraged to do so freely with the children. You can encourage your mother and any other family members to speak your language and no English at all with your dc, to help boost it as much as possible.

My eldest is 5 and a half now and he speaks English very well, having used this approach from the beginning. He does make mistakes, usually to do with irregular verbs or plurals (he might say "sheeps" or "I breaked it"), but these are improving, and I hope will get better especially as he starts reading (we're just getting started) and is exposed to more vocabulary via his books.

cory Tue 20-Nov-12 09:00:15

My children are now 12 and 16 and I was in a very similar situation: only speaker of my language around here but family abroad to whom it mattered that they should be partly part of the same culture. In our case it has worked out very well- no doubt partly because we were able to visit my country from time to time. Ds almost sounds like a native speaker, makes the odd grammatical mistake but can carry on a conversation and certainly understands everything that is going on around him. Dd (16) is on a different level: she sounds completely native, reads Swedish literature, keeps in contact with Swedish teens over facebook. And the three of us get a lot of pleasure out of having this language.

But I would say even if you end up at a much, much lower level it is worth it. My mum taught me German when I was little. I certainly don't sound like a German, I can barely conduct a conversation, but that little insight into another culture has enriched my life. And if the other culture was part of my heritage that feeling would be even stronger.

noramum Tue 20-Nov-12 15:10:33

I can't imagine NOT speaking my mother tongue (German) to DD. We are a German family so home language is German while outside one is obviously English.

As DD started nursery very young her main language is English but she understands German perfect and can speak if she wants. We spend most of our holidays in Germany, most in a surrounding where there is no English so if she wants to have playmates she has to speak German.

We also read a lot to her in German, until she was 3 we hardly had English books at home. We do typical German things with her so she learns about our culture. We have music CDs and storytapes. I buy DVDs in German. All this will widen her vocabulary.

Obviously school work (she is in Year 1) is done in English.

Fazerina Wed 21-Nov-12 00:12:53

Hello everyone and thank you very much for your replies and insight.

I think part of my problem is my somewhat negative attitude towards my heritage and culture from my mother's side. Without going into any details, it so happens that I had some unpleasant experiences growing up that were closely linked to my mother's culture and now that I have a DC of my own, I've come to realise my mixed feelings regarding conveying that culture to him through the language.

Initially, I had decided to just treat it as a language and put my own feelings aside. After all, like you all have said, it is always positive and enriching to master more than one language, and while my mother tongue is not spoken by many, speaking it may some day open up opportunities for DS, who knows.. Despite this, I have now fully come to realise that you cannot simply teach a language as an isolated skill. Teaching a language means teaching a culture and a way of life and I'm not sure I want to teach this to DS.

There are loads of resources I could use to encourage DS to learn my mother tongue and I already have many DVDs, books, CDs etc. (Given to us mainly by my mom). It's just I don't feel like using them. It doesn't excite me somehow and it sometimes angers me to "have" to speak my language to DS just because I wouldn't know how to explain to my mother that DS doesn't speak it..

I was born in a different country to that of my mon's home country and my mom decided to move back home, when I started speaking, as I started with the local language instead of hers. Consequently, I know she sacrificed a lot to make sure I learned her language and I know it would break her heart if I didn't pass it on to her first grandchild..

Sorry for the rant! I guess it's a little more complex than I initially let out.. In any case, I suppose I have to make my mind up sooner rather than later, as it's crunch time at our home for learning to speak right about nowsmile.

natation Wed 21-Nov-12 06:52:07

Just how hard would it be Fazerina to find someone with a child of similar age who speaks the same language, to arrange playdates? As your language comes with negative baggage, searching out new opportunities to speak it without the baggage could help you see the language for more positive aspects?

CoucouCache Wed 21-Nov-12 16:00:41

Fazerina, I completely sympathise. Language and culture go hand in hand, and I, too, feel that parts of my culture had a negative impact on me and is not something I would want my DDs to experience. BUt my culture, like all cultures, also has some wonderfully positive sides to it too - you just need to seek it out.
My language and culture is also part of me, for better or worse, and I want my DDs to know who I am.
Also, in twenty years time, I don't want my DDs to ask why I didn't speak to them in my mother tongue and pass on the language and culture.

I hope this makes sense. Good luck in whatever you decide to do. smile

Fazerina Thu 22-Nov-12 00:38:22

Thank you again for taking the time to read and reply.

I do actually have a few friends with children in my area, who speak my language, so arranging playdates isn't too difficult. In fact, providing quite a few opportunities for DS to hear my language spoken by a number of people of varying ages is not an issue at all, nor is travelling abroad to visit my mom (and other family etc.) fairly regularly. So all in all, I know DS has a good setting for learning my mother tongue, should I choose to carry on with it.

I'm also fully aware of the fact that there are good and bad sides to every culture and it would be silly and naïve of me really to deprive my child of a potential asset just because I decided it's not worth it.

I guess this is just one of the many decisions you have to make as a parent, where you'll just have to put your own feelings aside and objectively think what is best for your child.. Easier said than done!

vladimirimp Sun 25-Nov-12 11:46:39

My wife is Polish and speaks both Polish and English perfectly. I speak only English with some basic Polish that I've picked up from my wife. We live in England, the babysitters are English and our DD has had hardly any contact with her Polish in-laws.

My wife speaks Polish 100% except when I'm home at the weekends when it's a mix.

DD is 15 months old and has a mix within her limited vocab. She says the equivalent of 'yes' and 'doll' in Polish, 'no', 'dada' in English. Then there's a range of animal sounds which seem to be the English variant like 'quack quack' though they are fairly neutral.

In terms of comprehension though, she's perhaps slightly stronger in Polish. Sometimes I will ask something like 'where is your book?' and get a blank look, then my wife tries in Polish and succeeds. I feel this is the right way around because she will increasingly be exposed to more English, especially when she goes to school.

Bi-lingual friends tell us the biggest challenge is when it comes to speaking - that they'll default to English because they can achieve everything they need to with that - they'll understand Polish, but not speak it.

ClueLessFirstTime Tue 27-Nov-12 08:58:04

as long as they are little it seems to be little effort. a lot of immersion with x-language speaking people + dvds and books.
ime when school starts the majority language tends to take over. work sheet from magazines help a little as do saturday schools.

goralka Tue 27-Nov-12 09:00:35

I have heard that you have to do 'one parent one language' if you want them to be bilingual.

ClueLessFirstTime Tue 27-Nov-12 09:02:12

you don't 'have' to do opol but it does appear the most practical and consistent method. and it works well for many families.

LaCiccolina Tue 27-Nov-12 09:07:12

I learnt French via school. I only ever had access to culturevia exchange trips and occasional holidays. It is perfectly possible to learn a language with minimal cultural interaction. I learnt Italian via holidays and university. I've done Spanish via tapes and holidays.

I might have learned faster if I immersed myself but there wasn't the opportunity so I enjoyed what I had and am still good at all.

Why teach the bits at this age ur not keen on? Just focus on conversation, food and family times. Create ur own culture and include more challenging thoughts and discussions as ds is older and u can enjoy the politics interest.

LaCiccolina Tue 27-Nov-12 09:09:13

I feel u are over thinking this, relax a bit and it might flow better....?

slippyshoes Wed 28-Nov-12 08:51:32

OP, I understand how you feel and I think teaching your child another language can be incredibly hard work. Before DS came along I conducted my entire life in English (live and work in the UK, have British DH and friends, none of whom speak my language) and have found it very difficult to suddenly start using my mother tongue with him, especially as we are surrounded by English everywhere! I love my home country and culture but it feels very awkward and clumsy to be using my language in (what feels to me like) 'the wrong context' (it's fine when we go visit my home country, then it feels right) and I often find myself slipping into English when speaking to him. I have worked hard, got books, CDs, DVDs, taken him to Saturday school where they teach kids my language, Skype with grandparents etc etc but at 3 he is still to say a single word in my language and always answers back to me in English.

Having done a fair bit of research I have now sadly come to the conclusion that in my particular situation where my DS's only regular exposure to the minority language is me he is very unlikely to ever speak it or to become truly bilingual. While this makes me sad and feel like I have somehow failed as a parent, I have accepted this and hope that what little exposure he does get to my language and culture now will still give him some sort of connection to his other culture in the future.

noramum Wed 28-Nov-12 15:37:35

Goralkal: that only works if each parent actually speaks a different mother tongue.

My DD is bi-lingual because we live in England which is neither my or DH's home country.

We do "one language at home, one outside" with the exception that we obviously speak English when we are out and about and speak to other people.

cory Wed 28-Nov-12 16:41:57

I don't think there is any point in making predictions as to what your dc will or will not achieve in terms of language based on your particular situation at any one time- families are all different, children are all different

my mum taught my db a bit of German when he was little; not for any particular reason except that she was fond of the language and culture

this did not make him bilingual at the time, but it did stimulate an interest which later led him to seek out German culture, to read German books: 40 years later he writes books in German, passes for a native speaker when meeting Germans and has lectured at a German university

my mum didn't do all of that, but she set the ball rolling

as for "they will stop the minority language when they start school"- this didn't actually hold true for my two (who are now 12 and 16); they still found it useful to have a special family language to retreat to when the world got a bit much

not to mention that ds tried to ban me from speaking English on the school run; not because he was embarrassed about my accent (which is slight) but because "if you do, people will understand what you're saying" angry

slippyshoes Thu 29-Nov-12 12:43:50

Cory, I agree with you. I am an example of someone who is not bi-lingual (I had no ‘connection’ with English as a child, apart from learning it at school) yet now I am functionally very close to a native speaker, after having lived in the UK for a while. I have no accent (people are amazed when I tell them that I’m not British when they ask about my non-British name), work in communications in a very competitive industry (so have high quality spoken and written output in English) and think/dream/live my whole life in English. The only thing I lack is a true ‘feel’ for the language - I can usually judge whether something sounds right but not always.

What I was trying to get across with my post is that, depending on your circumstances, bringing up your child as bi-lingual can be very difficult and will not always work. There are various theories about what the best method/set up is for success (and plenty of anecdotal evidence to prove and disprove the theories) but in my mind, what is most important is to acknowledge that you can only do so much, and sometimes even your best efforts will not be enough. My DS will not be bi-lingual but he will hopefully have a connection to another language and culture that will help him in the future if he decides to deepen his relationship with my home country.

CoteDAzur Thu 29-Nov-12 12:55:31

Fazerina - Definitely continue to speak your language to DC. A language is a beautiful gift, and being bilingual boosts children in so many ways, especially in cognitive development - bilingual children outperform in problem solving, switching tasks, and find it easier to learn other languages in the future.

It is frustrating to see your child not saying much when his monolingual peers are already speaking, but don't worry, he will catch up and will soon be at ease in both languages.

And please stop saying things like "I know DS will never be fluent in my language" - that is just not true!

BadMissM Thu 29-Nov-12 16:59:26

I spoke to my DD while she was growing up in France just in English. I was the only Englishg contact she had, and I tried to exclusively read and watch things in English with her. Wasn't a SAHM, so was when not at work.

Her father is French-speaking and doesn't speak English, so the 'family' language was French. She spoke both, fluently, but would answer me, correctly, in French. I worried about her language until there was an occasion with both languages, and she ran from one to the other speaking the right language to each person.

We eventually moved back to England. Within 2 weeks her English was perfect. Now no-one can even tell she isn't and English first-language speaker.

So, yes, speak your language!!!

Fazerina Thu 29-Nov-12 21:38:31

Wau, I had already stopped checking this thread - I thought the conversation had ended, so sorry for my late reply! And thank you all so much for sharing your experiences and thoughts, it's really been fascinating to read.

I just had one clarification to add regarding my particular situation; my DS is actually trilingual. DH understands about 80 per cent of my language and speaks some, but I don't understand (well maybe 10 per cent) his language nor speak it. It would feel extremely awkward to speak my language when we're all together so we speak English with DH. DH unfortunately has very few opportunities to offer any exposure to his language for DS outside the home and even at home, he only sees DS evenings and weekends and I'm of course mostly there too, so the main language again is English. I would actually be very surprised if DS learned much of DH's language at all, which is a real shame, mainly because DH, unlike me, is very positive and proud of his culture and would love to teach all aspects of it to DS.

Cory, I can relate to your brother's experience in that the mere fact that I was born in a country where a language different to my mother tongue was spoken, gave me enough exposure to pass as a native-speaker accent-wise. The only way you can tell I am not native in that language is my lacking vocabulary in certain areas. This is actually what I'm hoping for for DS; I know from personal experience that it's much easier to interact with people when they don't constantly have the thought at the back of their minds that you don't quite belong..

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