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DS refuses to talk anything other than German. Just a phase?

(19 Posts)
MultipleMama Sat 01-Feb-14 22:19:29

Not really worried, just curious.

DS3 is 16 months old, and unlike his twin brother, he isn't very talkative but when he does talk, it's German and he refuses to speak English. He either shakes his head or he replies, "nein."

He has a vast vocabulary of both English (me) and German (DH). He is of British nationality and have only just recently moved to Germany. So, I don't know if it's just from the culture shock, a comfort thing, or if he's picking up that mostly everyone is speaking German constantly.

I've been away for 4 weeks, so other than other DC (who are 5 and under) and DH no one has been speaking English that much. DH and I are fluent in both as are DS1 & DD1 but DH would prefer to constantly speak German all the time. He's very proud of his heritage.

I have a sneaky feeling that DH has completely stopped talking to DC in English since moving. Could this be the cause? Is he copying? He understands me, he just answers in German. DH says he's been doing it for a couple of weeks now.

I talk in my first language as much as possible just so they have variety in a different country.

Has your DC ever done this? Did it resolve itself?

Sorry for the rant!

exexpat Sat 01-Feb-14 22:33:53

DD went through a period of language refusal as a toddler. She was born in Japan and went to a Japanese nursery, so was immersed in Japanese most days from around 11 months (but DH & I both British, so home language English, apart from some TV and children's books). Some of her first words were Japanese, though English was always dominant.

After one summer when we had been back in the UK for a few weeks, when she was not quite two, she started refusing to speak Japanese at nursery. Nursery staff said she obviously still understood what was going and complied with basic requests etc in Japanese, but refused to say anything to them. It went on for a few months, and strangely seemed to resolve after spending a weekend with British friends whose son was the same age as DD and also went to a Japanese nursery. They were doing role-playing games together, including things like playing 'nursery nap time', and started using the Japanese words for things.

I have no idea what was going on, but I wondered if it was something to do with DD suddenly realising from her toddler friend that it was OK to speak both Japanese and English, not just one or the other - she hadn't really encountered any other bilingual children her age before.

I also have friends (Japanese wife, British husband) whose daughter refused to speak English at all for years while living in Japan (until she was 9 or so), though she understood it perfectly well (her dad always spoke to her in English, she would reply in Japanese) and she would speak English on visits to the UK; then when they moved to the UK, she switched to English and refused to speak Japanese... But I think she did eventually turn into a properly bilingual teenager/adult.

MultipleMama Sat 01-Feb-14 22:43:08

That's really interesting. His twin speaks German to DH and English to me, but I have heard the twins talking German to each other. I keep speaking in English hoping to at least get a "hello" out of him but not overly concerned about - trying to get them into a nursery where there are other English speaking children.

I think's it interesting how quick children can pick up changes in language and alternate to their preferred choice. He is starting to develop a little of a German accent with his words, it's adorable!

exexpat Sat 01-Feb-14 23:03:08

I think exposure to other English-speaking children might help, though I presume in Germany it might be hard to find monoglot English speakers who won't reply to him in German if he uses that.

If he were a bit older, I might suggest trying to get him involved in Skype conversations with non-German-speaking grandparents, uncles/aunts, cousins etc, but at that age he may not yet be interested in phone or Skype calls. When are you next taking him back to the UK for a visit?

MultipleMama Sat 01-Feb-14 23:43:57

We won't be for a while. I have one preemie at home and one still in hospital. I have my dad in UK who the twins do skype with he's Russian but knows both English and German but I may ask him to speak just in English to them to see if it helps.

Thanks smile

exexpat Sat 01-Feb-14 23:52:59

Wow, with all that on your mind I'm surprised you can even register what language he's speaking... Hope the new twins are doing well and the second one is home soon.

I think the main thing is to make sure that you don't slip into replying in German, and make sure that he still gets plenty of exposure to English, so even if he resists speaking it for an extended period, he is still building up a good passive knowledge, because as my friends' daughter demonstrated, that can quickly be turned into active knowledge.

Good luck!

MultipleMama Sun 02-Feb-14 18:13:13

I have a good support system who are amazing with the DC. DH has started speaking some English again for my benefit as well as DS3.

Thank you for your replies smile

noramum Sun 02-Feb-14 22:09:44

DD lives in England all her life but despite DH and I talking 90% German to her she only started now starting to speak German back to us - she is 6.5. But her passive knowledge was full there, she could translate what DH said to her to an English audience without problems.

I think your DH is right not to speak English, OPOL means each parent speaks its mother tongue.

Continue to extend his passive knowledge. We hardly ever read English to DD until she went to pre-school, her TV exposure was mostly German and we went to holiday there for at least 2 weeks each year in an environment where she has to speak German to have playmates.

Don't give up, depending on his social outside world and without you for a while I think it is normal to swap language, it may be more when he is with his peers without parents like Kindergarten.

MultipleMama Mon 03-Feb-14 01:07:30

DH has no problem speaking English and I know he has a right to speak in his home tongue and I have no problem with DH speaking it all the time but we compromise. I also like to speak in my home tongue but with me away I wanted him to speak some English around the DC as DS1 prefers to talk in English just so they have a variety on a daily basis.

When back in UK we spoke 40% German. Obviously we'll be speaking more German here but I want them to still have some English present.

We've only been here a month and with DH working and me previously being away we haven't had time to arrange things like Kindergarden which we won't be sending them to til August anyway, so thinking about it, it may be their Grandparents as they spent pretty much all day with them for the past 4 weeks and they speak hardly any English.

We'll carry on doing what we do and see what happens. He's the only one doing it other DC are speaking a little more German due to DH but happily talk to me and others in English. smile

MultipleMama Mon 03-Feb-14 01:19:23

What we usually do is DH speak German, I speak English which works well for us, and if DC talk/ask in English we reply in English and same if they speak German. But DH sometimes wants to speak English and same for me so really it varies. So maybe it's the lack for normality at home. Who knows.

Thank you both for replies will just trying smile

EBearhug Mon 03-Feb-14 01:28:49

A friend's child refused to speak anything but French for a while, regardless of which language she was spoken to in. Her parents were breaking up and it was a reaction to that. So if you have so much going on just now, it might be because of all that. I think as long as you keep talking to him in English, he'll come round in time.

Freckletoes Mon 03-Feb-14 01:35:49

No help at all from me-just saw thread and was interested as i think bilingual kids are fab! have 6 kids under 5? Wow! Hope your little one comes home to you soon.

MultipleMama Mon 03-Feb-14 02:32:34

2 sets of twins are the reason for that! Haha grin Thank you, I hope he's home soon too!

Will keep trying. Tried this morning and got a "no" when asked if he wanted berries in his porrige, he then giggled and covered his mouth with his hand and then said "nein, nein!" Hasn't spoke English since but we'll see what later today brings! smile

OhSoSirius Mon 03-Feb-14 03:01:24

Bilingual children tend to move through phases of one language or another while they're small - just my experience as a nursery teacher. They'll understand everything said to them, but only want to reply in one language, or will prefer certain words in one language to another. And it's natural for him to be speaking more in whatever language he hears the most as well, because the patterns are just more familiar in his daily life, but he may just like the sounds of German more right now.

The way small children develop languages is interesting. When an adult learns a language, he has to make connections from one language to the other in his brain to 'translate', even if he is fluent. But a young child learns languages equally. As they get older, it's like a switch in their brain they can flip to speak one language or another, the brain naturally separates the languages. But for toddlers, it's more like knowing one language, even if the words are from multiple languages, it's one stream, their brains haven't separated them so much yet. They just use the words they like more, and DS3 probably likes the sound of German right now, or is hearing the patterns a bit more.

Just make sure he's hearing both English and German regularly, and he'll know and be able to switch between them. After about age three that switch becomes easier to flip, if you ask them to speak in one language or another or translate something they'll be able to. When they're little the distinction is less obvious in their brains.

Best wishes for you all! Hope your little one is home with you soon.

MultipleMama Sun 16-Feb-14 20:44:15

Thank you all for replies. Just to update DS3 is still no speaking anything other than German but persist to talk to him in English and he understands so just decided to go with flow and not pester him or ker bringing up the subject.

I have noticed when he throws a tantrum he adds a few Russian words into the mix!

I think he's just bored of speaking English and having people speaking German around him has sparked his interest.

MultipleMama Thu 20-Mar-14 13:12:54

DS started talking English again about 3 week ago, however he still prefers German as his primary language and more often than not replies in German to everything even if you ask him in English.


TheTerribleBaroness Tue 25-Mar-14 15:40:14

Where did he get the Russian from?

BertieBotts Tue 25-Mar-14 15:44:10

Oh good, nice to see an update smile

I've heard this kind of thing is pretty common and you just have to sort of ride it out and keep doing what you're doing. Don't refuse to speak in the unpopular language or force him to use that before you respond etc, just speak as usual and respond however he is communicating to you.

BertieBotts Tue 25-Mar-14 15:44:37

I think OP's native tongue is Russian so there are Russian grandparents.

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