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Need help from bilingual families. Is my DS too old now to start with a second language?

(8 Posts)
choceyes Mon 24-Sep-12 13:11:17

I'm of Asian origin and DH is English. I am sorely regretting not speaking to my DCs in my mother tongue. I don't know why I didn't really. Silly reasons like not wanting to hinder their English vocabulary etc and also English comes very naturally to me as I have studied in English and I'm actually more fluent in English when it comes to reading and writing. I only speak in my native language to my parents, who are also fluent in English, so I speak a mix of English and our native language with them. And parents live 5hours away, so I because of these reasons I rarely speak my mother tongue.

But now I have started to believe that learning a 2nd language is very beneficial and will actually enhance their intellectual capacities. And My DH is also keen for me to talk to them in my own language and suggests that I start talking exclusively in my mother tongue to them.

DS is nearly 4yrs now and is he too old to really grasp this 2nd language? I've read that it is really up to 3yrs that they have this amazing grasp of languages and it gets harder from them on. He has an absolutely brilliant vocabulary in english and he goes to nursery 3 days a week and my DH will ofcourse speak to him in english so it's not like I will be holding him back really. DD is 2yrs and has just startied to string sentences together in English, so will me talking exclusively to her in another language stop this progress and is it going to be bad timing. I'm just a bit nervous really.

Anybody got any experience of this?

terilou87 Mon 24-Sep-12 17:59:24

i have a friend who is polish and her partner is from africa unsure what language he speaks, but they have spoke to their daughter in their own language's plus english from birth and ds is now nearly 3 and is finding it difficult to keep to the same language in a sentence eg mixing it up in to all the languages. i would say wait untill they are speaking and understanding their first language fluent before introducing a new one and i would say 4 years old is probably a good age to start introducing a new one my daughters school are introducing french already and she is 4. hope this is some help

TinyDiamond Mon 24-Sep-12 18:08:21

I don't think it's too late at all. I think if you wait until about after 10 it's much harder but children do pick things up quickly.
What is your language? I am English and DH punjabi so we bring dd up bilingually however dh never remembers to actually speak to her in punjabi. His parents look after her for 2 days a week and in this time they only speak punjabi with her (I tell them
Off otherwise!) it's working really well so far she has loads of words in punjabi, about half what she has in English. She's 13months.
I think any exposure is good exposure, I wish I could speak another language

rattling Mon 24-Sep-12 20:09:08

I am contemplating sending my son to the Gaelic primary. Most of the parents aren't Gaelic speakers, but total immersion at school (bearing in mind this is only 9-3 Mon-Thu and half day on Friday) seems to result in bi-lingual children. They set an upper limit to start of primary 2 (age 5.5-6.5) with no previous Gaelic, so you are still well within that amazing period when they just take it all in.

And I am "selling" this idea to my unconvinced parents with research showing exactly as you suggest - that being raised bi-lingual improves problem solving and the ability to learn generally.

lelait Tue 25-Sep-12 08:34:46

As your kids are a bit older I think it might be a shock to change from one day to the next - what about starting slowly by singing some songs, finding some simple stories etc etc and take it from there? I'm not sure there is so much evidence for the intellectual argument so personally I wouldn't do it if thats your only reason - but I still think its a good idea! There a section on bilingualism where you might get more help.

cory Tue 25-Sep-12 08:46:46

I don't think too old comes into it really. Languages aren't like a train that you either catch or you don't.

My mother started teaching me English for fun when I was 6, with no intention of my ever becoming bilingual. Close on 40 years later, I am married to an Englishman,teach English grammar to undergraduates who are native speakers and speak English to my own children without thinking (though we speak my language too). But that didn't have to happen for her teaching to be worthwhile- even a little English would have been worth having, for the pleasure of knowing things, for the widening of my horizons.

My db was adopted from a foreign orphanage aged 2.5. By the time he started school he had native-level command of his new language. I am sure that ability wouldn't suddenly have stopped on his third birthday.

I think the more important question is the one lelait touches on: how are you going to set about this to make sure it is pleasurable and not a sudden shock. I like her ideas of working up gradually with songs and simple stories.

(And btw don't see language mixing as a negative: it is a normal strategy for a child growing up in a bilingual family: they soon learn when it is socially acceptable to do it and when it is not.)

nextphase Tue 25-Sep-12 08:57:28

Go for it!
We've done one parent, one language since birth.
DS1 was a bit late to start talking (but early on physical stuff), and now, aged 3.4 understands both languages, and is as fluent in English as his mono-language peers. He rarely replies in the second language tho.
DS2 isn't talking much yet (16 mths), but again understands both languages.

DH's parents are one of the few contacts we have with native speakers of the second language, and they live 5 hrs away. We tend to skype them on a sunday afternoon, and the kids play while DH chats to his parents - he used to ring them maybe once a month before kids, so this is a big increase. We have also got some DVD's in the second language, and some spoken books which have both languages on them, so they can have exactly the same story in 2 versions.

DH also translates favourite story books as we go along (he prefers the none rhyming ones!).

I'd agree with the comments above tho about slowly introducing it - do they hear you talking to your parents? ie do they know you can speak a different language? Books, TV and games are good ways we've found.

Speaking a second language is an amazing skill to teach your children. Give it a go - you can always stop if it doesn't work.

sanam2010 Tue 25-Sep-12 10:48:23

It is definitely not too late, learning wise 4 years is still very young and the brain will be flexible enough to learn your native tongue very well until at least ten. So don't hesitate to start.

The only difficulty will be the transition - how will you suddenly speak in a different language to him that he doesn't understand. It seems unnatural. I would suggest taking a holiday to visit your parents, only speak the other language there and then never switch back to English when you come back. Also sing lots of songs in your native language, play music etc so he picks it up. Try to connect with other speakers of that language so he's exposed to it in the UK and sees it's a real language.

It's going to be slightly harder than if you had started at birth but it's def not too late.

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