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Toddler frustrated by second language - any tips?

(5 Posts)
MisterSafetyCatchIsNotOn Sun 26-Oct-14 14:56:06

My 2.3 year old started talking quite late but is now really leaping ahead with his English and constantly chatting. His dad is German and we are trying to raise him to be bilingual, but as he goes to a British childminder and is at home with me (also British) 2 days a week his English is obviously coming on a lot faster than his German. I read to him in German every day but only speak to him conversationally in English and his dad mostly speaks German with him at home, but we speak to each other in English (my German isn't great). He also skypes with his Oma (grandmother) in Germany a couple of times a week and we visit /she comes here a few times a year. We hope to spend a few years living in Germany when he hits primary school age which would obviously be a huge help with the language.

He has always been better at English but understands a lot of what is being said to him in German, can follow instructions etc, however just recently he is getting more and more annoyed by anyone using German to speak to him instead of English. He shouts at me when I try to read in German and says 'that's not right mummy'! He doesn't like his dad reading to him at all most of the time and will insist I do it or just wanders if DH tries to carry on regardless. He will often be ok with it if I am not around. Sometimes when his dad talks to him in German he will ask me to say it again (in English) or will correct him with the English word and gets quite irate if DH doesn't agree and switch to English. Today he had a proper meltdown at being asked to Skype with his Oma and just refused to speak to her.

I can understand where he is coming from, I expect from his point of view he has this amazing new communication skill and it must be frustrating to have to go back to not understanding / communicating as well when using German.

My question is, has anyone else been through this and how do we best deal with it? I am reluctant to force German stories and conversation on him too much as I don't want to put him off more or have it seem like a punishment. I think DH should continue to just talk to him conversationally in German without making a big deal of it, but what do we do if DS refuses to read with him or to respond when he's talking German? He is already quite clingy with me and won't spend time alone with DH if he knows I am available, I feel this issue might be making it worse as he feels he can't communicate as well with DH. Would trying to have a 'German day' where DH and I try to talk to each other and DS all day in German help? Or is that counterproductive given that my German is not that great? Any other tips for how to make learning German fun or how to respond to language-related meltdowns (reward charts, games, positive reinforcement)? Or is it just a phase and we should avoid any conflict and wait it out? Any suggestions for some reading material also welcome! Thanks.

addictedtosugar Sun 26-Oct-14 21:06:44

Were bilingual too, very similar to you, with the added issue that my grasp of DH's language is very scarce - and given the different script, I couldn't start to read a book.
We have cartoons on DVD in the second language, and are freer on language TV than English TV. DS1 is older now, and we also have Disney DVD's in the second language.
Both boys (5 and 3) prefer English, and especially at bedtime ask me to read. But exciting books, like dinosaur and space ones are tolerated.
When skyping, the boys don't have to chat, but they do have to be in the room while DH chats to his parents, so they actually hear a conversation in the language. They are allowed to respond in either language (so English ;) ) but the respective parent always speaks in their native tongue. DH will repeat in English if other kids are about.
Not sure if any of that helps. It appears to be working, but the English bias is strong, and the second language comprehension and vocab is lacking compared to English.

noramum Mon 27-Oct-14 20:31:03

When DD was that age her active German was non-existing but as we are both Germans home language is German. We wouldn't swap to English unless we are in a situation English is required and kept English TV and books to a minimum at that age.

What really brought her German along was a) not giving up and b) getting her into situations where she has to use it and sees it being used. So lots of German holidays for 6 years, lots of skyping, lots of DVD and books.

I think he may get confused that you do both languages. I think you will have to focus more on English and maybe try to do German as the family language. When you can read books to him you could do a normal conversation. One-to-one with your DH could still be English if you feel more comfortable.

cloudjumper Tue 04-Nov-14 13:20:45

We are in a very similar situation - DS is 3.5, DH is British, I'm Swiss-German, living in the UK. I am the only person speaking any German with DS, we do not see my family very often, and DH doesn't speak German.

DS does not speak any German, apart from using the odd word, which he integrates into his English sentences. He does understand it perfectly, though, (when he wants) and will answer correctly when I speak to him.
We've not had any tantrums (yet), but he clearly prefers English and will sometimes try to correct me.

I would try and quietly persevere, don't force him, maybe try and distract his attention from the language - focussing on the pictures or anything that he really likes. Have you tried watching German TV programmes with him? DS is obsessed with watching TV, and I have found that he will have no issue with watching his favourite films in German (tbh, I'm not sure he even registers it's in another language, so I'm hoping for the 'osmosis' uptake grin).
Let him talk English if he wants, even with his Oma, as long as she speaks German with him. I have to remind my mum to stick with German sometimes!

As with everything at that age, it is hopefully just a phase that he will grow out of, good luck.

GuybrushThreepwoodMP Fri 07-Nov-14 18:18:11

We're in a similar situation to you- dh is French, in British, live in UK.
I wonder if it if worth having a clearer boundary. You say your dh mostly speaks in German and that you sometimes speak German. In our house, dh only ever speaks to dd in French and I only ever speak English. We speak to each other in English but if he addresses her, it is in French. I add to the exposure with French radio and cartoons but I definitely don't speak to her. It might be worth giving that a go- I have read theories about consistency which make sense. My friend who is a language specialist says that everyone should speak to children in their native language 100% of the time, irrespective of the language used to address others.

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