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Living in a bilingual family when not bilingual

(12 Posts)
1Catherine1 Mon 06-Dec-10 22:03:50

Hi all,

I'm 25 years old and expecting my first child in a few months. My OH is Spanish and speaks 3 languages and I am English and speak just the one. We have been together for over 2 years now and I have tried to learn Spanish but I am utterly hopeless at it. My OH thinks I just don't try and that is the reasons I haven't learnt but he's wrong. I am an educated person and have a degree but languages have always been what holds me back. Even at 25 I have to admit to not knowing what a verb or adjective is and there really is no point telling me as I think mentally I have a block stopping me retaining this information. My point is languages seem to be a hurdle I just can't master. Before meeting my OH I was perfectly satisfied to write of learning a language as something that I couldn't do which was fine for me as I don't like to fail. As a teacher (of maths not English thankfully) I understand that some people just don't have a hope in hells chance of understanding certain things and I really feel as if this is my issue with Spanish.

Now for my question...

My OH and I do want our DD to be bilingual as it is important that she will be able to communicate with both sides of her family. I am wondering how others cope living in an environment where 2 members of the family speak two languages and 1 member only speaks one. Am I going to cause my DD problems learning Spanish by not being able to speak it myself?

I (probably unjustifiably) get irritated when sat in a room where I am the only one not understanding what is being said. When I visit my OH's family (who don't speak English) I manage about an hour of sitting there not understanding a thing before I get really fed up and just want out. I just spent the last 2 hours in my living room with my OH and his Spanish friend while they watched Spanish youtube videos and I found it so frustrating that I had to leave the room. My OH came in to see if I was OK but I was that frustrated we ended up arguing and I ended up crying (blame pregnancy hormones). I don't know if I'm being overly emotional (again hormones) or whether this bilingualism in my family is going to be an issue for me. I would really like to know how others manage this. Does it ever work well? I have heard of the one parent one language watzit but I did wonder how this works when all 3 are together.

Any experiences or advice welcome. Also will accept if you choose to tell me I'm overreacting and over-thinking things and I should stop being such a baby!

GoldFrakkincenseAndMyrrh Mon 06-Dec-10 22:20:03

It will come. It's difficult to learn a language by immersing yourself with adults and much simpler when you hear the same repetitive phrases to a child. I'm assuming you're living in an English speaking country? That makes it tougher to learn another language anyway.

It won't affect your relationship with your baby if that's what's worrying you. It's difficult to explain how OPOL works but it does when you're together you'll just talk whichever language you normally do to your OH and your DC and he'll speak whichever language he usually does to you and whatever he speaks to your DC to them, and there will be a certain amount of doubling up what you say and what he says to them.

2 years ago I could have written your post, minus the expecting the first child because that's only happening now (but I worried in advance!) but now my 2nd language is much better - almost 100% receptive and I can get my point across when I talk.

Necessity is a big, big driver! Plus the exposure to simple, repetitive language structures helpshugely.

Maje Mon 06-Dec-10 22:41:18

May I suggest a language course i think might be useful for you?

(and no, I don't work for them, he he)

It is based on a kind of learning which is similar to how a child learns to talk (I think).

it starts really easy with a picture of a dog, you learn to say dog in spanish etc.

at no point do you have to know what a verb is ;)

i used it to learn german, and really improved a lot.

it's all about the exposure to simple repetitive language structures, as Gold says.

cory Tue 07-Dec-10 09:26:03

It may be that the mental block thing will feel different when it's your own baby.

I can't help feeling that these mental blocks are partly about expectations: I have heard so many English people say they cannot learn languages, but I have very rarely heard a Swede say the same thing (and I grew up in Sweden). We were never told that learning languages was something you had to have be specially clever to do: rather, like reading and writing and basic maths, it was something everybody could do unless they had specific learning difficulties. Now I can't believe that Swedes are cleverer or more linguistically gifted than English people: I think we got on with it because noone told us we had a choice in the matter. And because the rewards were huge: all the good songs, all the good films were in English.

If you could focus away from your own inadequacies and onto the joy of seeing your baby develop his speaking skills, then I think your mental block might well shift. This is not like being at school.

MIFLAW Thu 09-Dec-10 11:36:56

"As a teacher (of maths not English thankfully) I understand that some people just don't have a hope in hells chance of understanding certain things" - so you just give up on certain children? Let them sit at the back and do some colouring in? Or do you look for alternative ways of explaining, on the basis that maths is really important? Perhaps if Spanish is going to be important to you you need to apply a similar attitude?

"I (probably unjustifiably) get irritated when sat in a room where I am the only one not understanding what is being said." You would not need to feel like this if you learnt Spanish.

I do not know what the population of the Spanish-speaking world is, but it's immense. The majority of those people are not geniuses - indeed a substantial number are educationally sub-normal. Probably quite a lot wouldn't know what a verb was if they fell over it. They still speak functional Spanish in a seamless fashion. Why would it be beyond you, a teacher with a university education?

Most people who "cannot" learn a language do not have sufficient motivation to do so. The many Polish immigrants who come to Britain are not all gifted linguists; they learn it because not many employers speak Polish.

However, to end on some positive news, if you never learn a word of Spanish it will not affect your ability to make OPOL work in your family. It might have other impacts; aspects of your partner's and your child's life - might be hidden to you and you may feel left out. But OPOL will work just fine.

Kiwi92 Sat 11-Dec-10 09:38:40

have u thought about maybe getting one of the language games on a nitendo ds, as i used one to help me with my french and it made it much easier

DewinDoeth Wed 15-Dec-10 11:55:01

What excellent posts. Would love to have a long coffee with Cory and MIFLAW!

I agree with everything said - everyone (unless they have specific learning difficulties) can learn a language. So the grammar, 'traditional' style of learning isn't for you? Then you need a different way, Rosetta (and there are other language courses based on the same principles), or learning through play, or learning without even learning in a class etc etc.

One point - communication isn't all about language. I'm sure you're aware that your baby won't speak at all, for ages. You'll still communicate though.

TwinMummy30 Tue 21-Dec-10 15:17:18

hi, my 3 year old twins have 3 languages. as i speak to them in my mother language, my hubby speaks in his and we communicate in english. my husband speaks 2 languages but he is using only one when he talks to our kids. they have no problem whatsoever to speak and understand in all 3 languages. i've learnt a lot of his language only by listening to my husband talking with the kids.i understand most of the stuff as well and can actually (basics) communicate with his family. you'll see how much easier it'll be when ur baby is born, you'll catch yourself understanding more than you would think you can.if i don't understand what my hubby says to twins i ask him to translate. it's not that difficult as it seems. just take it easy. good luck!

Lavitabellissima Tue 21-Dec-10 17:17:21


Lavitabellissima Tue 21-Dec-10 17:29:17

Another vote here for Rosetta Stone, they will send you a free sample dvd, I found it invaluable learning Italian. Although they send you the demo in a different language, to show you how easy it is, mine came in Turkish, and DP and I did it together and I was speaking basic Turkish in minutes, I bought the whole set after that and it was definitely worth the money!
Dp and I have been together 6 years and I completely understand how you feel. You will definitely pick the language up. I found for the first couple of years, I was embarrassed to make mistakes in front of DP. Now I don't care, my Italian is no where near grammatically correct but his family understand me even when I forget words and it's like playing charades, e.g water on my face! I couldn't remember say crying grin

Don't put too much pressure on yourself, it will come, especially when you hear your partner talking to the baby as.he will be speaking in much more basic terms.

Good luck and merry Christmas smile

lightfairy Wed 22-Dec-10 15:03:50

We are in a similar position except that my husband is Polish.
I personally would pick spanish over polish to learn
You need to look at this from your partners point of view too.
You will spend more time with your child so your partner may be scared that your child will have no interest in speaking or even "being" spanish.
His mum would be terribly upset if she couldn't speak to her grandchild (this has motivated my inlaws to learn english).

It can be done and you just have to be confident. There are loads of mother and child languae courses out there and are lucky cos spanish (unlike Polish) is a common language.

Good Luck

diglotbooks Fri 07-Jan-11 15:40:26

Give Michel Thomas language CDs a try, his method is great as he assumes all the responsibilty for your learning and you get to hear other people learning and making mistakes rather than just someone babbling at you with pauses for you to supposedly repeat in..

Also it really will be a great opportunity to learn along with your child, although it will still be harder for you, the whole structure of how babies learn a language by exposure and repetition will really help you. You will find that your OH really slows down his speech and simplifies his vocabulary when talking to your child and this will help you loads too. Get some bilingual books and nursery rhymes to learn together.

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