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Frustated trying to raise a bilingual child

(11 Posts)
Maia290 Fri 28-Mar-14 22:28:34

My son who is nearly 3 is now developing speech very fast in English only (his majority language), he is at nursery full time (in English), it is just me speaking the minority language to him, and he is only using a few words of my language into his sentences in English.
I am really frustated about him not making sentences in my language. I know he doesn't have much exposure to my language, although he understands everything I say to him. I have always spoken my language to him, and often ask him to speak to mummy in the minority language, I often translate what he says into my language and I ask him to repeat it, and he sometimes does repeat it, but sentences are not coming up to him naturally in the minority language.
Is anybody else there frustated trying to raise a bilingual child?

noramum Sat 29-Mar-14 10:00:04

I think it is perfectly normal when the minority language is less in his daily life.

DD was 3.5 before she started speaking German at all and 4 before she used it actively. We speak only German to her since she is born but she was in nursery from 11 months onwards.

We found that exposure in an environment where she has to use it helps. We go to Germany on holiday, farm holiday, where she has to speak German to have playmates.

We also use books and storytapes to get her passive knowledge up, TV is not bad to but less ideal especially where she knows the stuff in English and doesn't like the dubbed ones. I can understand her, I have the same issues.

Don't give up, don't ask to repeat, just repeat his answer in your language and carry on. Try to get into situations where your child sees the language as normal, holidays in your country is the best I found.

It is hard, DD currently uses English again a lot so we have to push a bit again to get back to German at home.

3littlefrogs Sat 29-Mar-14 10:08:57

My DC are bilingual.
Please try to chill out a bit.
You are turning it into a big deal and that is the way to end up with problems.
He is very young and his language skills are developing.
Understanding in any language comes long before speaking, so just keep talking to him, reading to him, singing to him in your own language and he will continue to learn.
When you go back to your country for holidays you will find he comes on in leaps and bounds.
My own DC improved massively when they went travelling in their gap years - they just had to get on with it!
Also, my younger two have become fluent in a third language - just from the foundation of growing up with two.
Also, before the age of 5, children are learning so many new skills, some areas slow down a bit, then pick up again.
Don't turn it into a battle.

LongWayRound Sat 29-Mar-14 10:49:08

What 3littlefrogs and noramum have already said.
Please don't worry about your son not making sentences in your language. Don't try to make him do so, and don't try to force him to speak to you in your language. He can see that you understand the majority language, so insisting that he speak to you in the minority language is only going to confuse him. It will be different when he meets people who only speak the minority language (your parents maybe? other family members or friends?): then he will be forced to use just one language, and he will do so. Meanwhile he is absorbing your language, just not using it.
My DCs (adults now) are trilingual. When they were just starting to speak they mixed up vocabulary from different languages in a single sentence, and seemed to have no idea that different words belonged in different languages: the adults around them understood what they were saying, whatever the language. IIRR it was around the age of 5 or 6 that they started making entire sentences in just one language. At different stages the balance between the different languages has changed, and may well continue to change through their adult life.
Bilingualism can be a lot of fun. Please don't let yourself get frustrated by it.

Maia290 Sat 29-Mar-14 16:19:20

Thank you for your messages, I will try to be a bit more relaxed about it.
I didn't know what is normal at that age or what isn't, I also kept thinking if he doesn't speak the minority language from a very young age, he won't become bilingual, as he will become more fluent and confident in the majority language.
I do realise that reading to him in the minority language really helps as he often repeats the words I say and also broadens his vocabulary immensely, so I will try to do more reading to him.
And holidays in my country, yes we are planning to go there for a long period in the near future, I think this would make a huge difference to his minority language.
Thanks again!

LongWayRound Sat 29-Mar-14 16:35:38

Good luck Maia! Nursery rhymes, songs and singing games in the minority language are good as well. They can't be translated without losing their character, so there is no incentive for the child to take the easy way out and ask you to translate, and they help to familiarise children with the structure of the language. I wasn't brought up bilingual myself, but my father (who was German) used to sing a lot of the time when he was working in the garden or around the house, so I ended up knowing lots of German folksongs, and I am sure they helped me when I came to learn German in school because I was already familiar with the language.

JBrd Mon 31-Mar-14 12:27:24

maia I could have written your post, it is exactly the same with us! DS (who will be 3 in May) never says anything in my language, other than the few odd words that he works into his English sentences.

But he clearly understands all I say to him (well, apart from the selective toddler hearing that he sometimes seems to suffer from wink). I read books to him, sing songs (although not many, I have to admit!), and we have started watching DVDs in my language. I'm hoping that this will help him.

Your son understands what you say to him, so he is already bilingual.

I have heard many stories from people who said their bilingual children refused to speak the other language and then suddenly started to talk fluently. So I'm hoping that persevering will pay off eventually. But I agree, it's hard work, and sometimes it's frustrating to have so little obvious success.

Maia290 Mon 31-Mar-14 21:54:03

Hi JBrd, we are on the same sack then smile as many other people around here.
I came across this article which I found an interesting read for parents trying to raise bilingual children and I wanted to share it with you:

hereshegoesagain Wed 07-May-14 17:14:28

sounds perfectly normal to me, the child always picks the most prominent language even though he/she will understand the minority language perfectly. I am at the toddler stage with my second ( bilingual ) son, and far less stressed than I was with the first one. The eldest wouldn't speak my language until he started at the Lycee at 5 ( I'm French ). 3 weeks of complete silence followed, then his first few words in french. He is now perfectly bilingual, with touching mistakes in each language but no accent whatsoever. It's worth it, but hard work. Don't make a battle of it or the child will pick up your stress and react even harder. Meeting other children of the minority language helps, I found. Then it's not about your - slightly stressed - mum trying to coerce you into speaking in another language. It can actually become desirable , in order to fit in. They use language to fit in, thats all. And when they do, they are incredibly resourceful and you understand that they understood it all along! Persevere, even if you feel stupid talking in your language and getting an answer in english. I have got used to it, and it's absolutely fine. Good luck!

Meerka Fri 09-May-14 21:02:53

my son understood english very well but didnt speak it. we had to make a fuss of it in the end becuase I simply couldnt understand my own son :s (ive tried with Dutch but really struggle to learn it)

Main way I got him to speak english was simply to say 'i dont understand you when you talk dutch'. He -had- to learn to speak english. Its still v much his second language but at least we can communicate again ... it was a fight though and now and then still is (papa speaks to him in both dutch and english which has got to be really confusing but he seems unable to break the habit no matter how much I remind him )

Aditya4 Wed 13-Aug-14 18:58:59

I think Noramum and 3littlefrogs have got it spot on but just to add...

My parents used OPOL to ensure I was bilingual and I remember falling out with my mum on several occasions (all the way to adulthood) as she battled to teach me the minority language. However, I am so grateful she persisted now as being bilingual has been very helpful to me in many different ways. It is not easy to do but I recommend sticking at it. Your child will appreciate it eventually!

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