Advanced search

What age did your dc understand how to separate their languages?

(24 Posts)
seventeen Sun 03-May-15 17:06:37

DS is coming up three and bilingual.

We speak language A and he's coming on really well - lots of sentences of 5 or 6 words and he can make himself understood most of the time. Counts to 20 etc.

We live in country B and he hears language B in nursery and with family who he sees about once a week. Because I don't speak language B with him I'm not totally sure how much vocab he has, but it's much less than in language A. Counts to 10 and has the odd word, although his understanding seems good.

At what point will begin to sort his vocab into the two languages? He doesn't seem to have much of an idea at the moment that there's a difference in what he speaks with me and what he hears around him. I couldn't describe him as bilingual at the moment simply because he doesn't speak enough of language B.

I guess I'm just wondering what the next step is?

kelda Sun 03-May-15 17:22:20

My eldest two are 11 and 9 years and still mix the languages. Totally normal! What has nursery said? How often does he go?

kelda Sun 03-May-15 17:23:05

Although obviously my girls know to just speak dutch at school! They only mix the languages with me because they know that I understand them both.

seventeen Sun 03-May-15 17:51:56

Nursery haven't said anything - I get the impression his bilingualism is not something they really have at the forefront of their minds iyswim.

To them he's just a normal language B kid as he's only just making himself really understandable in language a, I think they just regard it as " normal toddler babble".

Family have mentioned a speech delay in language B but tbh they don't really know what they're talking about and I think it's normal - he's not exactly advanced, but not behind either.

DrankSangriaInThePark Sun 03-May-15 18:02:18

I don't think there is a point where the child starts consciously doing anything- at least not till much later on. It's just natural, they know they'll have to say - I don't know- pan if they're talking to Spanish granny, and bread if they're talking to the English speaking one.

Coming up to 3 he is still hardwiring both languages as language, a means of communicating. He isn't thinking about what he's doing at all.

IME with dd, the mixing came later, once she was aware that she spoke 2 languages with different sets of people.

That's when the fun starts as you realise you use an Italian (in our case) word, even in the middle of an English sentence, just because it seems more appropriate. And you add an ED ending to its past tense as well! grin

Take no notice of anyone saying bilingual children have language delay. They tend to be the people who Don't Approve of Such Things. wink

purpleapple1234 Sun 03-May-15 18:02:35

Dd is 3 as well. She has a roughly equal vocabulary in English (my language) and swedish (father's language and where we live). She can very quickly figure out which language to use with which person. She mixes up English and swedish with us both as she knows that we understand/speak both but speaks mostly to me in English and mostly to her dad in swedish. God bless her she tries more complicated sentences and has to cobble together words and phrases from both languages to get there. Sounds so cute and funny. I think things are going very well for her at the moment, although she is maybe a bit behind her swedish-speaking friends. It is fascinating to observe.

seventeen Sun 03-May-15 18:39:46

Thanks for the responses, it's so interesting when the parent of a more advanced child can give their experiences.

I suppose as I don't really hear DS speaking language B, the bilingualism kind of happens without me ie I don't experience it because to me he's just language and nationality A!

Whereas everyone who speaks to him in language B never hears him speak language A (he only speaks A to me, my family and my friends) so there's no mixing from that point of view at all. I suppose I can see why to them he seems behind.

Poor DS I feel quite sorry for him having to sort it all in it on his Own!

kelda Sun 03-May-15 19:59:28

It sounds like he is doing very well in language A.

If he is a little behind in language B, I wouldn't worry too much, but I would try and increase exposure to B via more nursery hours and more family interaction.

I have a boy as well as the girls and he does have a very severe speech disorder, but despite this he is bilingual, so even children with delays, with the right help, can become bilingual. My eldest girl was slow to speak but this was probably due to a hearing problem rather then being brought up in a bilingual household.

All of my children were slower learning english then dutch but this has rectified itself over the years with a lot of perseverance from me.

As another poster says, it's really quite fascinating to watch how they develop and to listen to them switch from one language to the other.

seventeen Sun 03-May-15 20:35:38

Thanks kelda, he's in nursery full time so I'm confident that language B will eventually come on on its own. He has the option to go to school in language a, and he will do eventually but I'm delaying it for a couple of years to get his language B up to speed.

I can't wait until he can correct me in language B grin

Ellle Sun 03-May-15 21:37:00

Hi seventeen,
I think it varies depending on the child.

With DS1 it happened quite early. At 2.3 years old, he was already saying sentences of 5 to 6 words in language A just like your son.
I wasn't quite sure how much of language B he knew as we chose language A as the home language.
He learned language B at nursery (only 2 days a week), and he was exposed to language B whenever we went to a playgroup, out in the street, or if we met friends who didn't speak language A.
Up to that point he had only said about 3 words in language B to me, and I asumed he was using those few words and maybe more at nursery.

Then one day his nursery teacher came to me excited because he had said "sit down" to her for the first time. That was when I realised he wasn't talking at nursery despite being a chatterbox at home and knowing how to say "sit down" in language B for more than 3 months already.
I thought the reason he wasn't confident enough to try to talk in language B was probably the lack of vocabulary.
I decided to give him a gentle push/help, and from then on, when we read picture books and he named the pictures he saw I said to him "Yes, we say this word in language A, and they say this other word in language B at nursery". I also asked DH to read a story to him in language B (language B is DH's first language, although he agreed to use his second language at home to give language A more exposure).
I think this gentle support was all that was needed because in less than a month he started talking a lot in language B and very soon he was also labelled a chatterbox at nursery.
I think that because of this, from very early on he acquired words to label language A and language B. And he was adamant that DH would only read to him in language A, and not in language B. He always showed a strong preference for the minority language.
As soon as I saw language B starting to develop, I stopped referring to it at home, so that language A continued to be used exclusively.

DS1 is now 6 years old, and fully bilingual, never gets them mixed, and picked up language B perfectly fine at school in terms of learning to speak, read, write, etc.

I have another son (DS2) who is only 2.4m now, and with him, I haven't seen that he differentiates language A from language B like you mention.
He doesn't mix the languages. In fact, he has over 200 words in language A, can count to 10, can say sentences of 5 to 6 words, but only knows 3 or 4 words in language B.
He doesn't go to nursery. Only hears language B at playgroups, and when we see family once a week or every two weeks.
He doesn't seem to have labels to differentiate the languages, and sometimes I wonder if he knows/notices that other people speak a different language to us.
I'm quite curious to see how it would be in his case.

seventeen Sun 03-May-15 22:41:16

Thank you for your interesting reply Ellie.

I think your penultimate line sums it up for me - sometimes I say to DS "in language B we call it this" and I think he probably thinks "language b? What the hell are you on about mother??!"


MediumEnglisch Thu 14-May-15 08:11:10

Mine have all had the distinction down by 4 - DC3 has been the slowest (I think because with the older ones it was easier to keep to minority language at home and a clear separation, but with school kuds and their friends through a busy house the edges are getting fuzzier as more community language is spoken in the home).

DS3 turned 4 last month and is currently obsessed with educating me about the community language - he loves to tell me what words are in German as I always speak English to him smile All the kids have gone through this phase (they also all go through aphase of ttranslating for me despite the fact they hear me speak German to people other than them). My older 2 were about 3.5 and my youngest is just doing it now at 4.

My older two always had a very clear instinctive understanding of the separate languages but my 3rd mixes - as I say I think it was because it was easy and automatic to keep to minority language at home when the older children were under 5 (and nobody at Kindergarten spoke English to them - they were the only non German children) but there are now more foreign (though not English) children at Kindergarten, and one new teacher who loves speaking English and I have to regularly ask not to... and the older kids have German friends in the house all the time and speak more German between themselves especially when talking about school/ schoolwork or football... so the edges between the languages are harder to keep in place! :D

I really strongly want kids to speak English and German not "Denglish" (I know this preference is unpopular among some bilingual communities) but it gets harder as they get older to enforce it!

fortunately Thu 14-May-15 08:27:45

Do some German/English bilingual people prefer "denglish"?

I always correct the bilingual kids I teach if they do this. I get a lot of "I gekicked the ball" "what stands there (is written there)?" and "can I go on the toilet?".

I thought mixing the grammar was the very worst thing you could do! Am I wrong?

AiCee Thu 14-May-15 08:41:12

I wouldn't say DS (14) mixes the 2, think that stopped quite early on. Memory is a bit hazy. But there is still some "false friend" stuff going on from time to time. Seems to be more noticable when he is expecially tired, ill or very stressed,

For example for an accident, like say if there was a car accident, he will say an incident. But self corrects when I pull my "quizzical" face.

And "made a goal" persists. Despite face pulling.

But by and large his languages are separate and he jumps between the two without any trouble.

MediumEnglisch Thu 14-May-15 08:47:13

No fortunately I guess I phrased that wrong grin

But I know people who revel in dropping German into their English or think it's off putting/ unnecessary/ pushy to correct "Where's my Schlampermappe? " ... There are loads of English words in common spoken German obviously "Ich war so happy! " and I hate it when people drop more in when speaking German to my youngest - I want the languages modelled properly til they are firmly established but that is hard to enforce and comes over as fussy and pedantic even though I think it's valid grin

Denglish was the wrong word maybe - nobody thinks mixing grammar is good, I agree.

fortunately Thu 14-May-15 08:52:44

Oh I see sorry Medium.

What really irks me with my own child is when German people who speak a bit of English (and are inordinately proud of the fact) insist on speaking to him in terrible broken English. It's so unnecessary and he gets really confused as to which language he should be speaking....

MediumEnglisch Thu 14-May-15 09:05:45

Yep I agree Fortunately - and it is actually really hard for small children to understand their mother tongue spoken very badly/ with a very strong accent especially if they are expecting to hear German - they can't make the leap and hear nonsense, leading the speaker to face savingly assume the child doesn't actually speak such good English hmm One of DS1'S friend's dads did exactly that out if the blue - DS1 turned to me and asked "What language is Matthias' daddy speaking?" and Matthias' dad looked bemused and asked me in German whether DS1 could understand English hmmconfused

Hakluyt Thu 14-May-15 09:18:44

Not sure if this is helpful or not- but my niece and nephew are 15 and 19. They started off as OPOL, but once they moved to England they had a "home" language (Spanish) and an "out" language (English) because SIL has good English but is not bilingual. The whole family quite often forget what language they are speaking- when I'm there they will start dinner in English then something happens, they change to Spanish without noticing and look expectantly at me for my opinion.........Not sure if that is alt all relevant or helpful.

The children did not become truly bilingual until they came to England, though. The language of their mother, school and friends took priority over their dad's.

Sgtmajormummy Thu 14-May-15 09:23:08

My two differentiated right from the start, we live abroad and do OPOL with 16yo DS and 9yo DD. I remember Dd babbling before she could talk properly and it was "unu meeny lordy lady lad" all English sounds!

I do accept mixing of vocabulary, especially when there is no common English equivalent or they learned that skill in the other language. It's quicker and not so pedantic. Both of them had the "Where did you went?" phase at about three, which I think happens even in monolingual learners, but not to the same extent.
I will pull them up on laziness, though. "Ask me again in proper English." Is my usual response, or "You got it at the library? No, you got it at the b...?" "Bookshop!"

I love languages and am often in awe of my kids' two track minds. They're not 50/50, but that is actually a BAD state to be in, leading to mid-sentence crossover. A reference language is better. More like 60/40, DS in favour of our local language (high school peer pressure) and DD in favour of English.

It's definitely a brain expander and they're proud of themselves. They are now very eloquent kids in both languages and Ds has been quick to learn Spanish, Latin and Greek at school.
You're basically hard wiring their brain to have a second opinion on everything! So take it seriously, but have fun!

MediumEnglisch Thu 14-May-15 09:40:04

I liked that at 5 and 3 nobody in England could tell my older two kids weren't monolingual English and nobody in Germany could tell they weren't monolingual German ... Once they started school they started dropping the German vocabulary in - DD (now 9) was eager to know the English terms and self correct but DS1 (now 7) can't be bothered and gets cross. So we have the "Where's my Schlampermappe? " "I need a new Füller" "I scored a goal when we played football against 4 er Klasse in the Pause"... They've never mixed grammar but the vocabulary bothers me (partly for the entirely silly reasonthat hhypothetically if we ever moved back to the UK I know they would be teased at best or out and out bullied for letting mistakes like that slip out - I used to teach secondary school in England and there were plenty of teens and pre teens who seemed to think ww2 had only just ended and loved anti German xenophobic insults)... We aren't actually planning on leaving Germany so I shouldn't let it bother me perhaps, but I feel as if while they're under 10 languages need to be spoken properly to lay solid foundations so they know what they are doing if they play with them later. Also the older ones mixing sets a bad example for the youngest, who is the first to genuinely not know, sometimes, that certain words aren't English and grandma and grandad etc. don't know what he means - which leads to frustration.

Breadkneadslove Thu 14-May-15 09:41:06

At 3 your DS is absorbing more in both languages than you realise. It is normal that outwardly their speech may seem slower / delayed than those of the same age processing only one language.

Each child is different and how they process and learn to speak differs from child to child. Some children are really vocal and will start really quickly sounding out sounds, then a word, trying out a collection of words and then finally sentences. For others it is much more internal and they don't appear to say much because they are processing it all then suddenly they just start talking in almost full sentences.

If you are living in country B, then I would allow the focus to remain on language B for reading and writing, i would avoid introducing R&W in language A until he has mastered language B which will be around 8 as it is too confusing for the brain to do it dually. Around 8 it will be much easier to learn to R&W in language A as language B is learned, stored and instinctive leaving space for more learning to take place.

At home of course language A his mother tongue takes priority and songs and bedtime stories should be done in language A

MediumEnglisch Thu 14-May-15 09:42:24

Sorry about the lack of paragraph breaks there - long texts on the phone are never a good idea! blush

Cloggal Wed 08-Jul-15 19:30:24

Mine separates his completely and always has (he's only 2) - but he will often say things in both languages in case his meaning hasn't come across, usually if he's demanding something and not getting it. He switches grammatical structures if he spends more time in dad's language than mum's and vice versa, but not usually words if that makes sense. Great to see so many bilingual families on here.

amyboo Tue 01-Sep-15 14:09:21

We live in country B and speak language A at home (both DH and I are from country A). DS1 (now 5.5) went to crèche fulltime from 5 months and then school from 2.5 in language B but hardly spoke a qord of it till he was about 3. He understood but just never spoke it. Language A was and is his atronger language. Howevwr, he now speaks language B like a native - there's no difference with his peers.
DS2 (2.5) is completely different. Mixes up language A and B constantly - half a sentence in one then half in the other - but will repeat words back to people in either language and has no trouble understanding both languages. I guess he probably hears more of language B as DS1 has frienda ro play, books in language B etc. I'm sure DS2 will sort it all out in time - no one seems particularly concerned, but he definitely doesn't speak either language as well as his peers yet.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now