Toddler understands but won't speak minority language - Help!

(10 Posts)
WhereIsMyCoffee Wed 30-Dec-15 13:33:42

I'm German & my husband is English. We live in England. I've always wanted my child (almost 3yo) to be bilingual, and so I have tried to do OPOL from birth. Although I think my son pretty much understands everything I say in German, he hardly ever produces it spontaneously (will answer me in English, etc). He does know quite a few words in German (and produces these when I say "what's that in German?"), but prefers to speak English. He does like books and TV in German.

I'm feeling really down about this lately. My husband doesn't speak German so it's all down to me to teach him, and I work part-time too (English nursery doesn't help). I do also admit that sometimes I speak English with him, and I guess this is what's created the problem: He knows I speak English, so why should he speak the minority language with me? I really really really want to try an encourage German production - Any advice is much appreciated!

Also, any success stories (of toddlers who learnt to speak the minority language more slowly, but eventually caught up) are also very welcome! I hope it's not too late already:-( Many thanks!

madwomanacrosstheroad Wed 30-Dec-15 13:58:28

Perfectly normal. The only thing you can do is have the child spend periods of time in Germany so he has to speak the language. My eldest is bilingual english/german but at some stage just refused to speak german to me (we had lived in Germany for a while when he was young and he went to kindergarten). As my husband also speaks no german it felt artificial to my kids.

With the younger ones I did not keep it up consistently because I did not go back often enough.
I have a friend who does speak german with all her kids consistently, spends a a month or so each summer there and her kids also refuse to speak. They have a perfect passive grasp of the language and speak with a heavy accent. The only way I have seen it work properly is if the family language is one used by both parents as the only means of communication in the home.

SparklyTinselTits Wed 30-Dec-15 14:06:46

I was the opposite to your son. I refused to speak English until I was 5 confused my dad didn't speak much polish, but he would ask me things and I would reply in polish, then he would have to rely on my mum to tell him what I said.
But one day I just snapped out of it and was happy to speak both languages. Maybe your son will do the same? When I was at primary school, we did show and tell, and I loved taking in polish food and photos from our visits there because it was a bit different to the things my peers brought it - your son might start to like the fact that he has a different heritage to tell his friends about, and they will be doubly impressed if he's bilingual wink keep going with it!!

IHeartKingThistle Wed 30-Dec-15 14:08:41

He's still bilingual and this is normal. Don't stop, you are giving him a wonderful gift!

JavaFee Wed 30-Dec-15 19:11:18

We have a similar problem. I'm Polish, DP is English and we live in Germany. We did OPOL from the very beginning- the result is that DD speaks fluent German, understands and tries to speak some English and understands but refuses to use any Polish. She even told me to start using German with her because Polish is "too difficult". Sigh.

villainousbroodmare Wed 30-Dec-15 19:16:56

Don't anyone stop, anyway. Use all those languages!
My mother and sisters and I speak Irish to DS. DH speaks English and our housekeeper speaks to him only in Zulu. I hope it works.
I have a friend who's American and lives in Italy with her Italian husband and three children. Those children, aged 6-12, speak virtually no English. I think that's such a pity and they could have acquired the language with minimal effort if they had got it from her.

IHeartKingThistle Wed 30-Dec-15 23:05:07

I'm just popping back with a cautionary tale too - I know a lady whose children didn't like her speaking to them in her own language, do she stopped. Her English is very very basic. Her children are now at school, speak only English and she has problems being able to speak to her own children. It is so so sad.

Keep going op, it's worth it!

PeachFuzzzz Wed 30-Dec-15 23:22:26

Bilingualism isn't a walk in the park. I have plenty of friends who let the minority language slide, and now their kids are more or less monolingual. Can you find other German speakers? Can you find or make a German playgroup/dates? Books, films etc. Reading and writing the minority language helps a lot - at three you could, if you wanted, start playing phonics games in German. Or make specific fun activities but only do them in German to encourage him. At just three my dd was more proficient in the majority language of the country we are in. At six, English has become her main language with a lot of work from me. Don't give up!

WhereIsMyCoffee Thu 31-Dec-15 14:56:54

Thanks for the great advice guys! Funnily enough he said quite a few things in German yesterday, so I feel encouraged enough by all your comments to keep trying!

noramum Tue 05-Jan-16 12:57:56

I think it is pretty normal.

We are both German and at that age DD heard 100% German at home. Hardly any TV or English books.

She went to nursery part-time and was fluent in English, active/passiv. Her German was 100 passiv but she hardly spoke a word. She could translate everything we said into English, which she often did to her nursery key worker when DH picked her up and, for example, said "Wir muesen einkaufen" she turned and said "we need to go to the shops!".

When she was 4ish DH tried the brutal method of not answering but that didn't work at all, it backfired. So we stuck to speaking to her and to counteract the amount of English books/TV/music we only read German to her at bedtime.

We then went to German on holiday, Ferien auf dem Bauernhof, so in order to play with the other children she had to speak. The first week was a bit difficult but after that she wouldn't stop. She is now 8.5 and can speak German if she wants which is not that often at home, but she switches as soon as we have the grandparents on Skype or visit friends in Germany. She can read and starts now to write decently.

It is hard work, lots of keeping up despite your child not that interested.

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