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3-year-old only speaking English

(10 Posts)
mosaica Thu 05-May-11 22:43:01

My 3-year-old understands Spanish very well but he speaks it very little, less and less in fact which worries me a lot. We have tried to reverse this by hiring a Mexican nanny, but have noticed very little difference in the month or so she has been with us. He still goes to nursery 3 mornings a week and spends one afternoon a week with his English-speaking grandparents. I speak to him in Spanish all the time, except when people who don't understand the language are with us, and he replies in English most of the time.

What do you do to encourage your child to speak the minority language? I'm reluctant to put too much pressure on him as I fear he will end up hating Spanish. On the other hand, I don't like this mixed-language conversations we have; me in Spanish and he in English. It could easily develop into a habit that he might find it very difficult to break in the future.

Any ideas??

RuthChan Fri 06-May-11 19:04:48

Don't worry about it too much.
At the age of 3 it is completely normal for a child to understand both, but answer in one language.
As long as he understands, that is the main thing.
Having a spanish speaking nanny is a great idea. She has only been with you for one month. That's not long. Give him time and you will probably find that the Spanish starts to flow soon enough.
You have to remember that an awful lot of language has to go in before any comes out again. (Children listen from day one, but don't really speak until they're 2 years old.)
The absolutely best thing you could do is to take him to Spain to stay in an entirely Spanish environment. After 2 weeks there, you'd find that he started to speak more.

We are an English/Japanese family in a French speaking environment. DH is the Japanese parent and he spends little time with the DCs other than at weekends, so we have even more of a problem than you!
When DD was 2 we went back to Japan for 2 weeks. Before she went she said she couldn't speak Japanese. By the time we got home she was chatting away. She has little Japanese again now, but I'm looking forward to how much she can improve again when we go for 3 weeks in the summer. If only it were for longer...

noramum Wed 11-May-11 10:03:23


this is totally normal at that age. We are a German speaking household but our daughter goes 4 full days to nursery and her active language is English.

She will be 4 in July and we now start to ask her to speak more German, for example we try to establish German at mealtimes.

Her issue is, she can't put the sentences together in the same way as in English, I would say her German is around 6-12 months behind in the grammar.
This frustrates her and therefore she prefers to answer in the language she knows better.

We try to help her by asking her to repeat the correct German sentence and now she slowly starts to put them together on her own.

I think a Spanish speaking nanny is a great start and you may want to think about a longer trip to your home country.

cenicienta Thu 12-May-11 13:39:38

Hi, we're a Spanish / English speaking family. I'm English speaking and DH is a native Spanish speaker. Our DD is bilingual as she spent the first 2 years of her life in UK. We now live in South America and she goes to a Spanish speaking school. I usually speak to her in English and she replies in Spanish. She's just turned 4!

I know someone who brought up 3 children in a similar situation in Latin America. He was from the US and his wife not only was a non English speaker, but she spoke an indigenous language as well as Spanish.

This friend told me he just kept speaking English to his kids even though they always replied in Spanish. They're all grown up now and completely tri lingual.

We find with DD she doesn't speak either language as well as she probably should at this age, but she's comfortable with both languages so we're not too worried. She has DVDs and books in both languages.

Not sure if this helps but sometimes it can be good to know you're not on your own.

gabid Sun 15-May-11 10:54:15

Yes, that seems to happen to most bi/trilingual families I know.

We are German/English family living in the UK. I always spoke German to DS (6) and he always spoke German to me and he speaks English to dad. I was always very consequent with OPOL. DS does the same now, e.g. around the dinner table he will speak German to me and DD (2) and English to dad. DD speaks mostly German, her English is a bit muddled.

When DS started school he sometimes spoke English to me, but I didn't like it and asked questioned before I answered his, e.g. What did you say? Did you mean ... and then answered in German. He stopped doing that now and usually shows off about the fact that he can speak another language.

Not sure why it works so well for us. Maybe being very consequent with OPOL. I always try to expand they vocab and and language. We watch DVDs and chat about it. I don't read to them in English either. But other people do that too.

Rosa Sun 15-May-11 10:58:56

My 2.5 only speaks Italian with teh odd word of English that she says in both languages. However I know she understands it. I am the only English speaking person around her apart from Steh Disney Channel but when Gparents came last week she spoke onlly IN Italian. to them. However , with more visits in teh future and us in the Uk for a month I am sure that she will be chatting by september. DD1 5 is bilingual but speaks predominatly Italian but will go into English when asked.

bearhug Sun 29-May-11 14:42:07

My 2.5 yr old DS is doing this - speaking mostly English in spite of spending most of his time with his Czech daddy. It seems he had decided English is his language. Recent conversation:

me: DS, say dobrou noc to Daddy
Ds: Night night Daddy
me: not dobrou noc?
DS: no, DS talks night night
me: You will say dobrou noc to Babie (grandma) next week?
DS: yes Babie talks dobrou noc

I think my own failure to learn much Czech is probably to blame, so the conversation changes to English whenever I am home. DP also changes to English in public, as he feels it is rude to speak Czech in public.

I am worried about all this, I really want DS to be able to communicate with his Czech family.

MIFLAW Tue 31-May-11 13:33:21


To me that sounds much more like your husband is "to blame." When you are the minority language parent (both in terms of input, as dads typically are, and in terms of community support, as non-english speakers in England typically are) you really do have to make a stand for your language. So, when your son doesn't say "dobrou noc", your husband has a choice - either to let it go (imo a bad idea unless it is because he is picking his battles) or show his son that, for him and for his relationship with his son, speaking Czech is valuable and important.

As I've said before, I would do this either by just 2pretending" my child had spoken French to me and responding in kind ("night night daddy", "bonne nuit cherie, fais de beaux reves" etc) or (now she is older, pretending not to understand ("night night daddy", "pourquoi tu me parles en anglais? je te comprends pas", "bonne nuit papa") - very light and non-challenging in practice, especially with a smile and at times when things are happy anyway, but very effective.

It is great that you support the Czech but the message that may be coming across is 1) mummy is defending Czech because daddy can't be bothered; 2) mummy claims Czech is important but doesn't use it herself - no one practises what they preach round here!

This is not intended as criticism, more as a warning - in families I have seen where the second language does not "take" as well as it could, it is nearly always because the parent representing that language does not show the child that, for him/her, speaking that langugae is a big deal.

Of course, when the language does take hold, it can actually improve the relationship as there is then a certain complicity between parent and child, thus creating a virtuous circle.

MIFLAW Tue 31-May-11 13:35:15

FWIW my children hear me speak English all the time to their mother; but never to them, regardless of who is around or where we are. I am not providing a radio service and so feel no need to make my small-talk with a three-year-old comprehensible to the general public.

AussieCelt Fri 03-Jun-11 09:33:41

Hear hear Miflaw.

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