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What is the key to your children’s active bilingualism?

(38 Posts)
Maia290 Tue 19-Feb-13 00:48:42

I am wondering what is the key to achieve successful active bilingualism from our child. Is it by using strict OPOL? But this is difficult to do when you join groups, when you need to speak the majority language to the group and your children are around.
Or is it to only accept from your children the minority language, otherwise you pretend you don't understand?
How do you manage to use OPOL when you are with family/friends who don't speak the minority language?
How do you react if your child speaks to you with the 'wrong' language, or mixes languages?
My child is still very young, and he just says a few words in both languages, but I would like to have the right approach from the beginning and it would be useful to hear from parents whose children speak the minority language to find out what approach you have taken to achieve your child's bilingualism.

ruthyroo Wed 10-Apr-13 06:21:54

For us, as two English speaking parents living in France, the key has been to put our dcs in the French state education system- no halfway house of bilingual maternelles etc. IMHO an awful lot of these places are geared towards French families who want their children to speak English rather than towards native English speaking children. ds1 is learning frenchvfrom the experts - french teachers and children. And I can honestly say that after a Rocky start he is genuinely enjoying having two languages both of which seem to be developing in very natural ways.

As he gets older his reading and writing in English is something we'll need to address though. We have a really good bilingual college here but his reading and writing needs to be up to scratch. Luckily mum mum is an ex primary teacher!

gabsid Sun 07-Apr-13 08:04:45

My DC associate a language with a person. Even if someone tried to speak a bit of GCSE German to them they would not use German with them. However, if someone convinces them that they are fluent they will use German for ever! We had that once.

gabsid Sun 07-Apr-13 08:01:32

All DC are different though and you just have to keep your aim in mind and find the best way for you and your family to achieve it.

gabsid Sun 07-Apr-13 07:59:57

Amongst bi-lingual people I know I don't know another family whose DC use their second language as actively as mine. Many people say they always speak German to their DC but they answer back in English. I only know one family who uses 3 languages quite actively, but their DC speak English to each other.

My DC speak German to each other, always, even if they are out with DP who does not speak German. They will speak English to him but never to each other, and I always speak German to them. DS (Y3) said to a friend once that he always thinks in German, even in school.

I do OPOL with DC quite strictly and there was only one or two situations when DS started school when he spoke to me in English - I just let him repeat it twice and then said it back to him in German. It hasen't happened again, he always tries his best to speak German and sometimes if I 'correct' him (repeat a senctence back as a question with the correct vocab in it) he will immediately use it.

I always translated books into German when DS was little, but DS was never much into books. With DD (4), I read to her in English as well (but she knows I read and that its not language coming from me, but from the book), when we discuss what happened in the book it will be in German. I do that because DD loves books and I couldn't possibly keep up with her thirst for reading if I tried to translate it all. She is not at school yet and her first language is definately German.

We use German websites and watch programmes over the internet, and when there is a choice of languages, e.g with a DVD they both will choose German.

GoodtoBetter Fri 22-Mar-13 20:53:22

We live in Spain. DS is 5 and speaks English and Spanish. I speak only English to him and DH speaks Spanish to him and DH and I speak Spanish to each other. DS is a bit behind his monolingual peers in Spanish, but he's much better in Spanish than English. He mixes a lot and will say something like "No puedo go a Granny's house today". (I can't go to Granny's house today). I never pretend not to understand (that would be silly, he hears me speaking Spanish to DH) but I do tend to repeat and rephrase and sometimes ask him to say it: "You can't go to Granny's house today, can you say I can't go?" etc. His comprehension is excellent in both. I also speak in English to him when we're with Spanish speakers. I never speak Spanish to him, although I do obviously speak Spanish to his little friends/their parents etc.

DS was slow to speak...only about 50 words by 2.5...but I don't think this was necessarily bilingualism's fault.
DD is 22 months and has around 15 words (almost all in Spanish) but can differentiate between the 2. Her nursery teacher (Spanish) said to her "Come here, DD" as a kind of joke and DD grinned at her as if to say "that's not your language" smile
I stressed a bit about DS' speech at one point but we aren't in a position to go back to the UK for holidays, so we do the best with what we've got (me as English speaker, books and TV i English) and what will be will be.

Bonsoir Mon 11-Mar-13 06:53:45

I agree with others and think that you first need to reason in terms of quantity and quality of exposure. OPOL delivered that for us at home. When it comes to education I think you need to be vigilant - my DD goes to a school where 3/4 of her day is in French but her English expression and vocabulary are still a lot better than French because I do a lot with her to expand her knowledge of English. I wish that DP could do for her French what I do for her English but it isn't going to happen!

fraktion Tue 05-Mar-13 23:13:57

I would say our framework is OCarerOL but if we are with DHs family the conversation will be that language etc. We are also at 22months starting to have a '(s)he who starts, chooses' rule although DS will switch nicely if DH says he needs to ask me/tell me something and vice versa.

I think if you want a truly educated bi/mulitlingual/cultural child you need to address schooling in all languages by the person best equipped to do that which may not be the native speaker.

That said OPOL or Inside/Outside are good foundations because they give you a ready made balance, opportunity and need which are all vital. If you don't you need to be very vigilant and proactive.

cory Wed 27-Feb-13 23:32:25

I think it's very much a case of what works for your individual family.

Having one language only at home will really only work if both parents speak that language well, which isn't always the case.

We're a bit like dikkertjap's; not trilingual, but for various reasons I needed to cover part of their education in both English and my own language. Again to do with quality issues. Dd is very bright and showed an interest in English literature and drama from a very early age: dh though an intelligent man does not have that kind of education. I do and am well placed to coach her through auditions and discuss books with her in two languages; it would have seemed a pity if she had lost out on that.

dikkertjedap Wed 27-Feb-13 20:06:47

ask I know a few people who have adopted a similar approach to you and it seems to work for them.

We have chosen not to do so, because I am concerned that if I leave Dutch just to school and friends, that dc's knowledge of Dutch does not develop as much as I would consider necessary in order to do well academically. In order to do what you do, I think that you need to be satisfied that your child gets sufficient quantity AND QUALITY exposure to the language which you leave up to school/friends.

In our case we are not convinced the quality is sufficiently high. For example, we consider it important that vocabulary keeps expanding, including expressions, sayings, we found that these were only covered to a limited extent at school. We also consider it important that key books are covered in each language (famous children's books from each country in question, poems, country's history), again we were not convinced it was possible to rely on school to do this in the native language (Dutch). I therefore decided to cover both Dutch and English and my dh covers the third language (his native language).

ask786 Wed 27-Feb-13 17:01:36

Hi all, smile
I have a 13yr old, 4yr old & 2yr old, obviously school/ friends/ tv is all English, it's not necessary to sign up to certain tv channels for ur child to develop the language u speak.
The very best thing me & hubby did to get kids to be bilingual was to have a no English speaking rule at home. Kids will spk English & forget at times, but I don't reply in English then & remind them gently & it's amazing how my 4year old is able to translate what she was saying.
Does work a treat &can be hard at times to remember yourself but set it as no English speaking at home majority of the time & see the difference with their language development, it really works as my 13 year old only became bilingual when we set the rule when she was 9! So not too late to try, & definitely worth it now, good luck grin

kalidasa Mon 25-Feb-13 20:23:22

Watching thread with interest as we are right at the beginning of this - our son is three months old and we hope he'll be French/English bilingual. I am English, DH French, living in London but with regular trips to Paris as we have a flat there. I did some reading while I was pregnant and the plan is OPOL though in practice I find that I sometimes use French with him too (for instance I found myself doing so several times last week while we were in Paris). DH and I mostly speak English together as we met here, but sometimes French.

We are wondering about whether to subscribe to French TV, for instance. Have others done this?

UptoapointLordCopper Sat 23-Feb-13 18:39:51

Yes cory grin. Have had one too many conversations with people about economic usefulness of Chinese and a bit fed up...

cory Sat 23-Feb-13 17:40:46

That was the sort of usefulness I was referring to, LordCopper. Old Church Slavonic is, I suppose, unlikely to become a great language of commerce, but no doubt has other life enhancing qualities. grin

AllSWornOut Sat 23-Feb-13 16:49:45

Yy to dikkert and the utility of many languages. DS is trilingual too. Hi majority language is no the first language of either DH or me but we are both fluent in it. At home we are OPOL except that DH speaks English to me(although i understand his language). DS is still quite young but he speaks all three languages and seems to know when one language is more appropriate than another, although he still mixes quite a lot. We generally do what most of you seem to do and repeat/correct in the appropriate language. We don't make any particular deal out of being multilingual and just do what seems right in any situation.

UptoapointLordCopper Sat 23-Feb-13 16:28:30

"Usefulness" is a double-edged sword. When I was growing up you'd be a fool to learn Chinese. It was simply a dead-end language for the dye-in-the-wool communist sympathiser. Now it's oh-so-useful. My position is that economies come and go but great works of literature are more likely to stay. That is the sort of usefulness I understand.

cory Sat 23-Feb-13 16:19:43

struck by dikkertjedap's point about showing the usefulness of multiple languages

I didn't grow up in a bilingual family as such, but I did grow up in a family where everybody spoke several languages as non-native speakers, where there were books in many languages, where holidays involved using different languages, where you spoke different languages to different family friends

it never occurred to anyone that learning another language would somehow put previous languages at risk; my mother was still studying Czech and Old Church Slavonic in her seventies, with a seemingly reckless disregard for any damage done to her French, German, English etc

so rather than seeing minority language as something to be protected against the evil influences of other languages, my attitude is naturally more along "the more the merrier" lines

obviously, only certain languages will be part of your identity, though even that can change over the years

dikkertjedap Fri 22-Feb-13 18:22:29

Our dc are trilingual so we cannot use OPOL. However, as both my DH and I speak many languages, our kids have a good understanding WHY knowing different languages is so important.

We moved from the UK to the Netherlands and dc blended in the Dutch education system without any problems whatsoever from day one (always having been at English schools before). My DH speaks English and his language, I speak English and Dutch. DH and I mainly speak English to each other. We have made sure we have all BBC programs and rarely watch Dutch TV (is really poor anyway), same for radio, dc have lots of English dvds/audio CDs/computer games etc.

Keeping up three languages is hard work though, we have one week bedtime stories in English, one week in Dutch, one week in third language. Same for dinner conversation. Weekends are pure English, unless we have Dutch guests. We regularly visit DH home country and then exclusively speak/write/read third language.

I also agree with other posters, that it is key to keep it fun and that there is no need to be overly strict.

whenhenshaveteeth Thu 21-Feb-13 20:24:08

OPOL here but I'm not sure this is THE method - we just muddle through and see how it goes to be honest!

We live in the UK, I'm French and dad is English. I've always ever spoke to DS1 in French (DS2 doesn't count yet as he's tiny-weeny) regardless of the situation. It doesn't matter if we're with people who don't understand French, this is the language we use between us. I may translate stuff in English if needed for the benefit of the other people though. For example if DS1 say pushes someone in the park, I will tell him off in French and then I will talk to the little boy and explain to him that DS1 was naughty and that I told him off - although kids aren't stupid: from my body language and tone of voice he would have worked out I had just told DS1 off.

Otherwise we go to a French playgroup and I try to have regular playdates with French kids. I try to follow a lot of the French traditions to bring a bit of culture into the mix (being bilingual to me is also about understanding both cultures) and some fun (pancake day, epiphany, mardi gras etc). I also only exclusively read to him in French and he knows at home we have "mummy books" and "daddy books". I found cartoons brilliant for his vocab is it's a fun medium, so I regularly buy French DVDs or look through YouTube for stuff. We try to go to France at least once a year but unfortunately I don't have much family he can speak French to.

When he was tiny most of his vocab was French but now that he goes to nursery his English has taken off (he's 3.5y). If we're just the 2 of us or if we're at the French playgroup he tends to speak French to me. At home it depends, it might be some sentences in French and others in English. I never pretend I can't understand if he speaks English to me, I just repeat what he said in French and answer back in French. Sometimes if he mixes languages it's because he doesn't know the word in French so I say: daddy says frog but how does mummy say? Then I tell him if he doesn't know and 10 minutes later I'll ask him again: how does mummy say frog? and again.

It's not foolproof and quite frankly and it's a lot more work than I anticipated. Some days I feel my head is about to explode because for some reason he only spoke English to me that day while I stuck to the OPOL and only spoke French - so in effect it feels like we had 2 parallel conversations. And it's exhausting to always repeat stuff in French! But it's worth it I feel. He, or they I should say, will be better at English I suspect but they are English. My role is to pass French on to them not force them to become perfect little french men because that would about me not about them.

Gosh, sorry for the rambling!!

SW1XMother Thu 21-Feb-13 10:05:06

Very strict OPOL here. My husband only speaks French to the children while I speak only German to them. It does not matter if somebody else is there who doesn't understand the language.

SoldeInvierno Wed 20-Feb-13 16:11:56

in my case, I always spoke the minority language, but DH spoke mostly English and sometimes my language. As DS spent his days at nursery from very early age, English was, and still is, his stronger language. However, he's perfectly fluent in the minority language, although you can hear that he's not native and occasionally gets stuck for words.

From age 7 he started having formal lessons in the minority language to learn to read and write, plus he tends to spend 3 to 4 weeks per year in my country of origin in a fully immersed environment. No-one around him speaks English there.

So, with a combination of all these things, he's now basically bilingual.

I do agree with the previous poster that you must not let yourself be stressed by it. Just keep on trying and give your child the opportunity to practise in a native environment. Some months you will feel that he/she is not progressing and then suddenly it all comes at once.

Branleuse Wed 20-Feb-13 14:40:14

the only person i know who has managed to acheive completely active bilingualism is where the mother (as the primary carer) did extreme OPOL and refused to answer the children unless they spoke to her in spanish. She told me they could be drowning but if they didnt say help mama in spanish, tough luck ;)

We do a lesser version of OPOL and dp is a bit lax about the french for my liking, and they understand french fine, but their active use of the language is very much lacking

EvenIfYouSeeAPoppy Wed 20-Feb-13 14:40:03

Oh, and language mixing is entirely normal. My older dc rarely did it, while my younger still does it - they are just different ways of learning. Mixing languages in one sentence is considered a 'productive error', so to speak, in language acquisition - it's learning by trial and error. I do repeat back all-English versions of such sentences, though, just so they hear it.

EvenIfYouSeeAPoppy Wed 20-Feb-13 14:37:23

The interference works the other way too - the dc speak a mix of languages together and when speaking German will often drop English in - 'wir share-n' when they can't agree over who will have a toy, for example grin

EvenIfYouSeeAPoppy Wed 20-Feb-13 14:35:28

We use OPOL and are very consistent with it. English is the minority language and I only ever speak that to the children, even when out and about (which draws us some stares and whispering in our small town in the German middle-of-nowhere) and even when only German speakers are around - translating whenever necessary. Dh (who is German) and I always spoke German to each other before kids, and my German is near-native while his English is OK but not so fluent, so we have retained that rather than adopting English as the family language. Most of the dc's books, DVDs etc are in English and I make it a major priority to read to them every day.

My two have always stuck to speaking English to me and German to dh without much, any really, cajoling on our part. Very occasionally dc1 (7yo) will speak German to me; I just reply in English and repeat a translation of what he said.

Their German is stronger than their English, but they are perfectly fluent and able to communicate in English (with occasional use of German words) and actually have quite a wide vocabulary in English. Dc1 can read fluently in both languages; I taught him English phonics before he started school, which I think helps.

Rosa Wed 20-Feb-13 14:23:47

I am with Cory .... Just chill and go with it. they pick up and absorb more than you think.
I encourage my dds to speak the correct languages in each situation. - we live in Italy so the main language is spoken , dd6 is bilingual and will go back to reading and writing in English as soon as she is ready ( she has started elementary and they are teaching them to read and write). Dd2 will readily and happily speak to me in English if I address her in that language and she will revert to Italian if needed or with her friends.In her first years at nursery I asked her in Italian what she did as often she diddn'tknow the words in English. She does now and often on the phone to relations she might ask me what a word is. I tend to read in English they have books, cartoons in English .
We had an interesting situation on holiday. The miniclub team spoke to both dds in English the first time they met them. Then the next day they realised both dds spoke fluent Italian ( which was the main language of the mini club team). DD2 had a few hours of confusion as she had associated these people with being English so She found it hard to switch to Italian with them. She said ' mummy the words diddn't come out or when they did it was a muddle'. Having said that by the end of the holiday she was speaking both with them no problem - rather like with me !!!!!

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