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My children don't speak English

(27 Posts)
allegretto Sun 04-Sep-16 14:48:46

I am British and live with Italian dh in Italy. My eldest son is bilingual but my younger two (6) don't. They undersrand but really struggle to speak and are very Italian in the mistakes they make (I not like this, you wait me etc plus really Italian accents). What can I do to sort this out? People have told me that they will get there but I really don't think they will! Anybody been in the same situation? I can't take them to the UK atm unfortunately. Thanks.

7to25 Sun 04-Sep-16 14:50:35

English language TV?

allegretto Sun 04-Sep-16 14:52:16

They watch tv in English but it doesn't really help.

PitchFork Sun 04-Sep-16 14:52:38

keep at it.
agree with english tv or radio.
are there saturday english classes for expats?

allegretto Sun 04-Sep-16 14:55:44

No. We know other Brits but all their children are bilingual so they just speak Italian together.

ClaudiaWankleman Sun 04-Sep-16 14:56:28

Do you and your DH speak English at home? I would be tempted to make home exclusively English speaking.

Pitapotamus Sun 04-Sep-16 14:56:43

When you speak to them what language do they reply in? If not English can you just insist they speak English and play deaf otherwise? I think an Italian accept is almost inevitable but their speech should become grammatically correct provided you repeat the correct English back to them when they make mistakes.

NoBetterName Sun 04-Sep-16 14:56:51

When you're one to one with them (or at least without dh), you speak to them in English and dh uses Italian? That's what happens in our house with dh who is German. Children learn to use German with dh (unless we're all together) and English with me.

allegretto Sun 04-Sep-16 14:57:33

I have tried but DH finds speaking English a bit of a chore!

Pitapotamus Sun 04-Sep-16 14:57:42

*accent not accept.

allegretto Sun 04-Sep-16 14:58:58

No better - that's what I do and it worked well for ds1 but not for the other two.

allegretto Sun 04-Sep-16 15:01:17

Thanks for the ideas. I am thinking maybe of employing an English babysitter for a couple of hours and seeing if that makes a difference.

jamaisjedors Sun 04-Sep-16 15:06:22

I know quite a few families like this.

I think you can either carry on as now and then send them to summer camp or international school later.

Or you can really step up the English at home. Be a bit draconian. Only English tv (including DVDs). Teach them to read in English (my bilingualism used headsprout, it's brilliant), read to them lots yourself, and as a pp says, don't reply to any Italian.

My two ds are bilingual, ds2 is lazier than ds1 and uses a lot of Franglais. He is getting better now (9) and can laugh about using French words in an English sentence.

NoBetterName Sun 04-Sep-16 15:11:00

It's a bit extreme, but when my step-DB was little he went on an intensive French course. My stepmum is Norwegian, my dad is English and they were living in Belgium at the time. step-DB learned Norwegian and English from being little, but when it came time to go to school he couldn't speak French. He went on an intensive course (aged 5) and now speaks it as a mother tongue. (With all the nationalities in our family is like a UN convention when everyone gets together).

FarelyKnuts Sun 04-Sep-16 15:11:11

If you speak exclusively in English and only answer them if they speak English back (and your husband does the same with Italian) it should help the language confusion.
Having your husband speak English might confuse things more.
Gentle reminder every time "in english please" and not correcting their grammar as such but parroting back the correct sentence eg: "you wait me mummy"
"You want me to wait for you DC?"

TanteRose Sun 04-Sep-16 15:24:26

Yes, we were/are the same - we are in Japan so obviously it's a very different language but I'm fluent and they always replied in Japanese because they knew I understood. I wasn't draconian at all blush - which I regretted at times, but they were in the local Japanese school system from the start (international schools are far too expensive for us). I didn't want to push English too much because I'd had friends for whom this had backfired and the DCs became hostile to English (made them seem different and not fitting in at school etc)

However, I read to them in English and we watched tv/movies in English and they grew up being very much "passive bilingual". They understood everything and actually would do fairly well when we visited the UK, which wasn't very often due to expense/distance.

The good news is that they are 18 and 17 now and are pretty much fluent in English.

DD (18) is at uni (in Tokyo) studying American and English literature and culture, and was placed in the top 15% of her year with all the international school kids and bilinguals. She studies and converses in English on campus, and speaks to me more in English these days (she still lives at home).

DS has another year and a half at high school and is passing university level English tests and using his English as a DJ.

Keep at it - it all goes in even if they don't express themselves all that well in English when they are younger. Don't panic smile

albionica Mon 05-Sep-16 16:15:10

I also live in Italy with Italian and English-speaking kids. Mine still haven’t started proper school but I’ve noticed DD speaking less English than DS did when he was her age, so I am always looking for suggestions on Mumsnet and elsewhere! We started off planning to do one parent-one language but now DH speaks quite a lot of English too. If your DH understands but doesn’t want to speak English, can you at least have conversations with the kids where you both speak your own languages? We only manage to go to England about once a year but try to Skype or call regularly with family and friends in English. We have Netflix so the DC only watch TV in English, without any adverts in Italian, and bedtime stories etc are always in English. DS hasn’t started learning to read yet but I’m planning to look at phonics to help him read in English when the time comes.
I’m rubbish at links but found this book quite helpful ( as unlike a lot of books it has actual practical suggestions rather than lots of theory and irrelevant discussions of “do you want to be bilingual or not?”. The author suggests aiming for at least 25 hours of the minority language a week, which is certainly a challenge with all the homework Italian children have to fit in as well.
Good luck and please post again to let us know how you get on.

allegretto Mon 05-Sep-16 16:36:18

Thank you for all the tips and links. It is especially good to hear TanteRose that even passive bilinguals can end up pretty fluent!

Amalfimamma Thu 08-Sep-16 15:55:23


Is this a new thing or has it been Ongoing? Dd has selective bilingualism as in she decides if she wants to understand or not according to the situation.

Do you speak to them in English? Even in front of DH? He may find it a bore but he has to accept it and maybe he'll learn too (it must be a trait in Italian men to find English a bore my DH does the same)

Are they going into prima this Year?

QueenJuggler Thu 08-Sep-16 15:59:23

OPOL - one parent, one language.

So your DH and your children only speak Italian to each other.

You and your children only speak English to each other.

The only time that we find we have to flex is over the dinner table, when we all speak a single language.

allegretto Thu 08-Sep-16 20:14:42

We do OPOL except for at the dinner table - they answer me in Italian. Yes, they are starting prima next week.

MyBreadIsEggy Thu 08-Sep-16 20:20:59

I did this when I was a child blush my dad would speak to me in English and I would reply in Polish. I point blank refused to speak English even though i understood it because I spoke Polish all the time with my mum and everyone else - felt like a chore to switch between languages blush. Do your kids genuinely struggle with their English or are they choosing not to use it?

HeteronormativeHaybales Thu 08-Sep-16 20:35:24

It's natural for them to prefer using the main language they're surrounded by in their daily lives. Whether we like it or not (I'm in your situation, except in Germany), they will identify more closely with the culture and language in which they are growing up. 'Forcing' them to use English a) won't work and b) could be damaging in the long run. Just stick absolutely to OPOL - I use English to my dc in absolutely all situations, even though it does mean people look at us, and 'translate' in to German for others who are present if needed. My dcs' books etc are mostly in English, and I have always been in charge of reading to them at bedtime, meaning we have covered a load of the classics as they grew. English DVDs, story CDs, even YouTube clips. English radio on via digital radio (R4 - they have developed a love of ISIHAC smile ) and lots of talking about the language. We only get to the UK about once a year, as I no longer have family there, but we attend an Anglican church, see English-speaking friends as much as we can and - as it's common here to do a 'high school year' abroad at 16 or 17 - am planning for them to do this in the UK. My older two started using more German to me the older they got. I very rarely go down the 'English please' route, but I will often repeat back what they're saying in English, and I always, always reply in English. Eldest is functionally bilingual. Middle one mixes his languages more, but has a huge vocabulary (and sometimes uses English structures in German as well as the other way round). Youngest isn't talking yet.

QueenJuggler Thu 08-Sep-16 20:52:43

It's not OPOL if they're not answering you in a different language to the one you are speaking to them in. How would they react if you insisted on being spoken to in English?

Amalfimamma Thu 08-Sep-16 21:05:48


If they are answering you in Italian then I think it's laziness on their behalf. Start ignoring them when they speak italian and they'll soon start speaking English.

Keep an eye on them in prima because I sure you know all to well they could be the 'teachers enemy' because they are bilingual.

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