Advanced search

Do you allow language mixing?

(20 Posts)
HopeForTheBestExpectTheWorst Mon 06-Sep-10 20:05:55

This has come up quite a lot recently, and I was wondering what everyone else does:

We as a family have a rather relaxed approach to language acquisition, there are no hard and fast rules. This is what usually happens:
when we are alone, I speak English to ds. Our home language (between dh, ds and me) is also English, though dh is German.

In any German situation, I speak German to ds.

This has, so far, caused no problems for any of us. Ds has been in Kindergarten for 6 months now, and appears to have no problems with being in an all-German-speaking environment. His German vocab is increasing daily.

However, unlike most of our bilingual friends (that's English-German bilingual, the German-other language friends are not at all bothered), we allow language mixing ie if ds throws a German word into an English sentence, we do not correct him. If he asks how to say it in English (or vice versa) then I of course tell him.
Dh and I both language mix too. I was brought up bilingually (English and another language, not German) and we did it at home too, it seemed like a very natural thing to be doing.
We had no problems not doing it when others were present who did not understand both languages though.

So, anyway, was just wondering what everyone else did.

I also wonder whether the dc who are being corrected (or, in one case, actually told off!) for using the wrong language will at some point rebel and refuse to use the minority language.

The dc in question here are all between the ages of 3 and 5 btw.

LiliAnjelika Mon 06-Sep-10 20:27:25

Hi. I'm a Welsh speaker but my partner isn't. I feel strongly that I want my children to speak Welsh, as I have an emotional and cultural attachment to it, but my partner, who is a non-Welsh speaking Welshman, would prefer it if they stuck to English, and has issues with the Welsh language in general (it's a complicated history!). I think he feels excluded basically. Anyway, to cut a very long story short, I speak welsh to the children when dp isn't around, although i also speak english a lot too (probably 50/50). It's impossible not to when the English language is so dominant! When dp is home however, we speak English. This means that the children are fluent in English, and have moderate Welsh, and get everything mixed up as well! In the case of my daughter, her Welsh has now improved no end since she has begun to attend a Welsh-medium school. Her English is still excellent. I don't think you need to worry - they will work it out in the end. I worry more about the conflicts around language in the house, and how that might affect their sense of identity, and yes, I also worry that they might rebel against the minority language. But hey, what's the alternative? To deny them access to one language in order to make life simpler? And o the question of mixing, we all mix languages anyway, and English is always importing words from other cultures and vice versa. t makes life more interesting...

AussieCelt Tue 07-Sep-10 11:56:47

I wouldn't be at all worried about it, especially if it's just words. Young children mix languages out of need (to fill gaps in vocabulary), because they are attached the that word for that object/concept or for some idiosyncratic reason.

As they get older they, the mixing for 'need' gets less as they fill vocabulary holes, but mixing for semantic, social or interpersonal reasons is more prominent. I code switch frequently with my partner and bilingual friends because it allows me to express myself in a way I couldn't in just one language.

The only sort of mixing you need to keep an eye on, especially in older kids, is grammatical and syntactical mixing, where they regularly use forms or structures of their dominant language is the weaker one. Obviously very young children are more fluid, but once they're up to 5 and beyond things should be sorting themselves out fairly distinctly between languages, with only small lapses when tired or emotional.

If it's only inserting words here and there, I'd just ignore it. If it's saying things like 'I want in bed goen' then you need to work on it. I find the best way of getting kids to think about 'language purity' is to ensure they have some time with monolingual speakers of each language (or at least people they think are monolingual).

HopeForTheBestExpectTheWorst Tue 07-Sep-10 13:43:11

I'd be interested to hear from those who are doing OPOL, whether they also allow mixing.

I personally have no problem with it - dh and I do it all the time at home, and I was brought up bilingually doing it too, so I feel very much that it is a normal part of language development. And, as you say AussieCelt, sometimes it's the best way to express yourself!

LiliAnjelika - I think that must be quite a difficult situation to be in, I mean if you dp is not particularly supportive of the Welsh language. I can understand though if he doesn't speak it that he would want the home language to be English.
I wonder if your dc will mix at all, now that they are speaking Welsh at school?

domesticsluttery Tue 07-Sep-10 20:09:00

We are English/Welsh bilingual. I grew up in a bilingual home (Dad Welsh, Mum English)and DH grew up speaking only Welsh at home. We both attended Welsh medium schools at primary, he attended a Welsh medium secondary and I attended a bilingual one.

We have 3 DC who are fully bilingual. They have been educated through the medium of Welsh, but read and write in both and speak whichever language everyone else is speaking!

When they were toddlers (they are 8, 6 and 4 now) they would frequently mix languages within a sentence, and even now if they can't think of the word in one language they will say it in the other. Come to think of it I still do too sometimes! But then I suppose we have the advantage that most people around us understand both, it would be a problem if one of the languages wasn't widely spoken in the area.

MrFibble Tue 07-Sep-10 20:33:56

Yup, we allow mixing but always try to say something like, do you know what mummy calls it / how daddy says it?

We are not pure OPOL - DH and I will speak to each other in either home language (english and German) and frequently change mid sentence. We have also allowed the use of certain verbs where there isn't an equivalent e.g. basteln . Great word.

Schnullerbacke Wed 06-Oct-10 23:09:02

Anything goes in our family. I mostly speak German to the kids, 4 & 1.5, husband speaks Nepalese and between us we speak everything. He sometimes gets fed up speaking Nepali to eldest daughter as she doesn't speak it that well and she can't express herself very well in it.

So at dinner, it will be me speaking German, him Nepali and he if really looks fed up or left out I will switch over to English. Its a constant muddle but she seems ok with it.

cory Thu 07-Oct-10 12:38:06

We allow mixing in the family, but there are always plenty of context where mixing won't work, e.g. monolingual school friends or relatives, so I don't see a risk that they somehonw wouldn't cotton onto the fact that there are separate language.

The funny thing is with my relatives, who are all Swedish speakers and (at least the adults) quite competent in English. Dcs have always spoken Swedish only to them and in front of them, but last night my brother dropped in on us unexpectedly here in England, and for the first time we all spoke like we normally do as a familty, veering from one language to the other. I felt it was a further step into intimacy, warts and all, this is what we are actually like, and I think he felt that too. Wouldn't do it in front of my mum though (though her English is actually better than his)- but she might judge and take it as "we don't feel confident about our Swedish".

MIFLAW Thu 07-Oct-10 15:06:17

We are OPOL. I don't do any mixing myself and wife almost never does - but if our daughter (30m) does then of course that's different because, as she is still learning, how could she be expected not to?

If she does, I will correct her in the sense that I will say, "oui, maman dit 'x', que dit papa?" or else "comment dit-no ca en francais?" (or sometimes just pretend not to understand her!) It's contextual, too, of course - if she's crying her eyes out about something I'm hardly going to pull her up about which language she's doing it in!

Punish her or tell her off? What a sad and ridiculous idea!

mirikiri Thu 21-Oct-10 11:52:33

We (OPOL) allow mixing and i was allowed to mix as a bilingual kid too. I think kids are generally aware of the fact that it's two different languages and that they are only quoting the other language as it's quicker or the word just happened to be more readily available - adults living abroad do it all the time, especially when they speak to someone who also understands both languages or when they are quoting what others have said etc..., so why worry so much about it? as long as they know what to do when speaking to monolinguists! Actually as a kid i used to find internationalisms difficult - i found it strange that "real germans" could also use "porte-monnaie" or "portmonnee??" (sp?)

trockodile Fri 22-Oct-10 09:16:59

MrFibble- my 5 year old does 'basteling' now-it is a great word, much better than english equivalents!

DS speaks German at kita and English at home but if he mixes up I don't fuss, just say from time to time, yes in English we say x. Often it is words where they are similar-so elektrisch instead of electric etc.

Schroedinger Sat 23-Oct-10 20:46:57

Our home language is German, our 4.5 year old son has been at nursery since he was 6months old. For a long time he was mixing the languages, i.e. saying basically the entire sentence in English and just add one word in German. All we would do is just repeat the sentence correctly in German without any further comment.I was getting a bit worried if he would ever speak proper German but just over the last couple of months he has really cracked it. I'm sure you will be fine, it just all takes a little bit longer.
Btw love your nickname Schnullerbacke.

doodleduck Thu 04-Nov-10 21:11:53

Code switching is a pretty natural thing to do. It's interesting that people would actually tell off their child for doing so.
In fact do they never code-switch themselves? Ever?? I would be surprised.

The Bilingual Family is a great book to dedramatise the whole bilingual thing. I thoroughly recommend it and it certainly emphasises how natural code-switching is. And at age 3-5, children are still sorting out which language is which so really any kind of telling off seems v. unfair indeed!!

abeautifulbutterfly Fri 05-Nov-10 08:35:20

We also allow mixing (also OPOL, me English, DH Polish, in Poland), though I try to repeat the sentence in "proper" English afterwards.
At the moment we are suffering a regression in English, in that all past forms have suddenly reverted to "did", e.g. "I did go to school today and I did eat all my lunch"... drives me up the wall but am trying just to patiently remodel and smile through gritted teeth, desperately hoping secure int he knowledge that "This Too Will Pass" grin

Bucharest Fri 05-Nov-10 08:41:53

I think "allow" gives an impression of something very rigid.

It happens, as a natural part of language hard-wiring. I havn't really thought about it, but I think I probably let it go, (will keep a lookout from now on!) but I probably would intervene if it were clear that dd (who is 7 so quite a long time bilingual now) was using the L2 word in a L1 situation because she didn't know the L1 word, for example if I noticed it was a word which she always used the "wrong" language for.

What I would never do though is speak Italian to dd, even with Italian friends. We speak English with each other, wherever we are. In the same way I wouldn't expect Italian friends suddenly to launch into English because I'm present, nor would they expect me to suddenly speak Italian to dd, that would feel very wrong to me.

<suddenly realises Miflaw is a Mr which I never had before and adjusts image grin>

abeautifulbutterfly- monolingual children do that with irregular verbs as well! Have you had "I wented" yet? grin

PortoTreasonAndPlot Fri 05-Nov-10 08:59:54

DD did it a lot when small. We never made a thing of it. As she got older and her vocabulary improved it's pretty much stopped.

She uses French sentence structure sometimes though - so whilst a sentence is not technically "wrong" it sounds strange in English. Something like "I arrived at doing xxxx" which is really a direct translation from French. Normally I just repeat the correct sentence, in the same way that I do with verb conjugation - e.g. found not finded etc. "Oh you found the toy then,did you?"

We do use a lot of French words still - mostly things connected to school - cartable, farde d'avis, bic, journal de classe. This is just what these things are called grin

MotherMountainGoat Fri 05-Nov-10 09:20:12

I certainly wouldn't tell the DDs off for code-switching, but I don't encourage it either. Our family language is strictly English at home (DH and myself are native speakers, but both speak good German), they speak German when out and about, and both languages at school (international schools using the immersion method - one subject one language).

They mix primarily if the thing they have experienced has been in German and they're telling me about it in English, for instance. DD was doing 'the environment' recently in German and said: "so we learned that throwing things away is not umweltfreundlich and that we should use low energy Glühbirnen". Now she knows the word lightbulb, but it just didn't occur to her right at that point, whereas environmentally friendly was new to her. So I repeated the whole thing in English 'Oh really, those lightbulbs are more environmentally friendly, are they?', and she used that phrase in her next sentence. With truly bilingual children it's not a problem.

abeautifulbutterfly Tue 09-Nov-10 10:58:39

Bucharest: no, but we have "haveted to" (usu, meaning "should have", as in "You haveted to give me a hat today because it was cold") grin

Porto: we do that too. I spent ages checking out on MN the standard words for various school things that I never had or had forgotten (e.g. "after-school club", and the names for the different classes - reception, Y1, Y2, etc.) but it doesn't come naturally to me in English, so half the time I use the Polish anyway. And if they're telling me what they had for dinner at school/pre-school they will use the Polish words for the various things even though if we talk about what we're having for tea at home in the next sentence, they will say all the same things in English!

HopeForTheBestExpectTheWorst Sat 20-Nov-10 19:15:33

Ah, didn't realise this thread had been resurrected!

Since ds started Kindergarten, we've had more mixing, mainly because he now has a whole new vocabulary which is Kindi-based and which we've never come across in English. I'm in a similar situation to you now, abeautifulbutterfly in that I also don't know what most of these things are in English, so we are all using the German, and mixing like there's no tomorrow

Dh and I, both fluent in both languages, mix a fair bit too, depending on what we're talking about, so I've never really seen in as a problem for ds.

I must see if my friend is still as against it as she was last year, now that her ds has started Kindergarten too and will naturally be exposed more to German.

kissdelphine Tue 23-Nov-10 00:55:38

I like to hear language mixing from our kid, it means he is experimenting with language and as he is only 2, I wouldn't expect him to be perfect yet anyway grin. He knows to use French with mum and English with dad, but holds on to favourite english or french words for certain things. Its funny watching him switch and you can see the old clogs ticking away in his little head!smile

I have read that if a child has been raised in a simultaneous bilingual home since birth, it could take up to the age of 4 or even 5 before they completely separate the two languages. Considering how much information a little kid that age has to process I think thats pretty damn amazing!shock If you are against mixing then fair play, its your life! as long as your kid is happy and not worried about what they say or how they say it then its all good!

P.S. if you are interested in sharing or helping improve bilingual learning resources check out the thread I posted and share your opinions as a lot of it has to relate to this thread.


see ya,
Rowan smile

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, watch threads, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now »

Already registered? Log in with: