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Struggling to speak my language to my DS...

(18 Posts)
thedinosaur Tue 26-Sep-17 13:37:30

DS is 2.

We live in the UK and my DP speaks only English.
I am originally from a different country but have lived here just over a year more than I have lived in my home country. The splits about 11years in home country 12-13years here in U.K.

I speak my language fluently but I'm also completely fluent in English (you can't tell Im not English, no accent etc) and find it easier to speak it in general - I put it down to going to school/college etc here and "growing up" here so to speak.

My parents and siblings also live here although my parents English is very basic compared to mine.
I also have a very large extended family back in my home country.

I would love my DS to speak my native language however I find it almost impossible to speak it to him when I'm alone with him. I speak it to him when I'm visiting my parents and he understands most of what's said to him and can follow instruction but he does not speak any of it.
He's got quite a large vocabulary and pronounces lots of words in English but nothing in my own language past the basic "granny grandad" .

When I'm with DP we speak to him in English, I also spend a lot of time alone with him but I also speak to him in English as I find it comes a lot more natural and we understand each other a lot more.

He will soon be going to nursery PT which is also English so his language will be developing and I'm scared he will never speak or understand my language and won't be able to communicate with his extended family in the future (none of them speak English).

Is there a way to overcome this and break through that barrier and start speaking to him in my native language? Even if it feels very forced and unnatural?

Guiltybystander Tue 26-Sep-17 13:46:20

The only way to do it is to speak to him in that language on a daily basis. Either you or someone else (au pair). You can also make him interested in songs, films, nursery rhymes in your native language.
I know parents who are both from the same country (e.g. Portugal) yet their children either don't speak the parents' language or only on a basic level. Sad.
It is down to the parents to actively encourage the children to practice a second language. It hinges on you.

TanteRose Tue 26-Sep-17 13:51:21

Read to him in your native language - every day, without fail.
Then you naturally talk about what you're reading.
Makes a huge difference

thedinosaur Tue 26-Sep-17 13:54:04

I think if DP spoke my language it would obviously be a lot easier.

The struggle is that my native language isn't my main language anymore. I can read, write and speak both without any trouble but I find English a lot easier to express myself with.

And it doesn't feel natural speaking to DS in my language then "switching" to English when DP comes home.

Nadinexo1 Tue 26-Sep-17 13:59:31

the only way is to keep speaking in your native language to him.
I only spoke in native language with first child and he didn't speak English until nursery but now only speaks English regardless of how much I speak in my native language but fully understands what im saying and is now actually ahead of his peers in English which is techinially his second language.
With second child I also spoke native language, however because sibling spoke English and husband is English DC2 had never really spoken in my native language although fully understands it.

allegretto Tue 26-Sep-17 14:03:03

You say you would love him to speak your language but he's not going to unless you speak it. Trust me! At 2 you still have time, my children are 7 and will probably never be fluent because I was like you. Don't make the same mistake.

Andromache77 Tue 26-Sep-17 14:14:25

I'm not a native English speaker and neither do I currently live in an English-speaking country but I'm nearly bilingual (technically, a very proficient polyglot). When I was pregnant with my DD my DH and I jointly decided that I would speak to her in English and so as soon as she was placed on my chest after giving birth to her, that's what I did.

My mum finds it odd and it did feel a bit funny at first but I just kept going, and I talked to her incessantly, about everything and anything; I even translate/read her books for her if I cannot buy them in English. Now I have to catch myself before I talk to other children because my go-to language with little humans is English (I already got a request from a mum-friend to talk to her son in English to reinforce his language classes and I'm happy to oblige).

It takes some discipline and yours being the minority language, also time for them to be equally proficient than in their main language but it's a treasure for them in terms of family relations and cognitive development. Every time you doubt yourself, think of the extra "brain gymnastics" that you're providing your child with. It's totally worth it.

Besides, my mum now marvels at my 3yo DD talking "funny" and also translating my instructions to her. Just a while ago I told her to thank grandma, in English, so she turned around and thanked her but in her grandma's language. It might seem like a silly little thing but as you already know, the ability to switch between languages is no laughing matter.

Andromache77 Tue 26-Sep-17 14:20:11

As for switching back and forth, I do it all the time, and so does she. My mum doesn't understand English so I just explain what I just said, then I keep talking to my DD in English. To her it's just normal.

kirsty75005 Tue 26-Sep-17 14:26:59

If you really want them to speak your language, you'll have to be disciplined about only talking to them in your language. I had to do the same thing and it felt very odd at first but you get used to it.

I have several acquantainces where the minority language speaker hasn't been strict about this and in all those cases the children haven't grow up fully bilingual.

Later on, you have to strict about them having to talk to you in your own language.

I seem to remember from reading about this when my kids were little that it take about 30% exposure to the minority language to reliably produce bilingual children (ie children that also speak the minority language themselves). I might have misremembered.

DaisysStew Tue 26-Sep-17 14:27:10

If you speak your language while it's just the two of you he will absolutely pick it up, they're like little sponges at this age and will be much easier than waiting until he's older.

My DSs dad isn't English and I don't speak the language. We've been separated since DS was born and despite only spending 2 hours a week with his dad (and sporadically at that) he is not only picking it up, but seems to understand that that's "his and daddy's" language.

Just make sure that from now on you speak solely in your language to him when it's the two of you. You could even do it all the time, lots of families do the OPOL (one parent one language) thing and find it works really well in establishing fluency.

viques Tue 26-Sep-17 14:43:04

The problem is that your child is not hearing adult talk in your first language, and is there fore not exposed to the higher level language skills and vocabularies that you need to speak a language fluently, to read it with understanding and to use it for learning. He is hearing English spoken in so many different contexts, eg between you and your husband, at nursery or school, on the radio, on TV, in movies, on games, in shops, in the street, on the bus....... But the only experience of your first language is when you speak to him, it is always going to be a deficit model unless you can put him into situations regularly when all he hears is your first language, with friends, for example or relatives , and even then it will be a struggle because his default language is going to be English.

I have worked with many bilingual learners, and one of the hardest things is making sure that the mother tongue language develops into a mature language with a wide vocabulary and mature grammatical structures and does not get stuck at a much younger model. Unless your child experiences hearing both languages spoken at a mature level then one language will always be structurally and grammatically weaker and will in effect be impractical for all but very basic use.

thedinosaur Tue 26-Sep-17 19:20:24

Thank you for all the replies I'm taking everything in.

@viques he does hear adult talk in my native language. I visit my parents once a week for about 4-5hrs where we speak exclusively in my mother tongue. Every other week I also Skype with my DGPs and DS gets involved.

Thistly Thu 28-Sep-17 21:17:57

Pp mentioned OPOL. Another methodology is minority language at home. mLAH. This works better when both partners speak the minority language though. The theoryis, that it helps if there is an environment that a child gets immersed in the language regularly.

Personally I think that a few hours a week will often not be enough. Children are like sponges and they notice that everyone can speak the majority language, and if they are not inclined to speak in the minority language, they won't.

I speak as someone in a family where 3 generations have failed to bring up their children bilingually. But as adults so far, we have mostly learned second languages fluently, so I think that exposure can open pathways which can be built on as adults.

Good luck, op, and try not to be sad about it. Do what you can, and accept that bilingualism doesn't work out for everyone.

Liara Thu 28-Sep-17 21:26:54

I'm in the same situation as you, OP, apart from the fact that on top of it all we live in a country where a third language is spoken.

I just found it too unnatural to speak to dc in a different language from what I speak with dh. Our family language is English, and that is what felt natural to me. I wanted them to have a really solid mother tongue too, and was worried that because of where we live otherwise they wouldn't.

So we spoke to them in English and started teaching them my MT more or less formally from about the age of 5. We did an average of 10 minutes a day.

Ds1 is now 10 and can happily hold long conversations with my family in our language. Ds2 is 7 and can chat about some things but not everything.

Funny thing is, my other siblings' children, who were exposed to OPOL don't have very different language levels. They were certainly better until about age 6, but then ours caught up.

And this is with none of my family speaking to them in our MT until they could hold their own (my family all manage fine in English).

So don't despair, you can make it work any number of ways. It just takes sticking with it.

noramum Fri 29-Sep-17 10:05:26

Don't forget, apart from just the language you also teach your child your culture. Lots of things from your country may not exist in the UK and understanding them means being able to read about it/participate in it in your language.

DD was 4 before she actively used German and only because we started putting her in situations where German was required - visits to Germany during the holidays, extended family visits with family members who don't speak English. With 2 we were glad to see how much passive understanding she had.

Also consequent usage of media, books, DVDs, audio CDs. Not just translations of what she knows from here but actively using the ones which are set in Germany so she learned about the country and traditions. We also went back to what DH and I read/watched in our childhood.

I personally think teaching it formally at a later age can backfire, we struggle teaching DD to write as there is just no time with work, school, hobbies and especially as she had to be secure in the school language first in our opinion.

aurelieb Sat 07-Oct-17 15:04:49

I agree with most comments, you need to maximise the amount of your native language he hears (TV /radio /book /friends etc...)

You can be sure he'll talk English so you only need to worry about reinforcing your native language.

I am also trying to launch a website that would enable bilingual families to find others near them who speak the same language (and kids of similar age). It would allow you to organise playdates for your DS with kids who speak your native language.

More details here:, feel free to circulate!

Maya12 Thu 23-Nov-17 01:09:39

I was the same, had been here for such a long time English was easier and more natural. Glad I forced myself. It felt odd for a bit but then I got used to it. I was never a disciplined 100% native language mum. We switch languages a lot as it's just hard work and feels unnatural for me to insist that he tells me about school in my native language for example, when he's not got that vocabulary. But at 5, whilst he's slightly more comfortable in English he's completely fluent in my native language too. Worth it for me, but only you can make that judgement. Don't do it if it creates barriers between you, but maybe it's just getting into the habit?

Mamabear12 Wed 24-Jan-18 09:25:49

Where there is a will, there is a way. I get so frustrated when I see parents, who are able to speak a second language, but don't make the effort! I wanted my kids to speak a second language, and unfortunately, I only speak English. I decided to learn with them and I put loads of effort in using the basic words I learned. At first I would forget and of course found it difficult...but slowly it started to work. Within months, my daughter knew over 200 words in French by heart. I used flash cards, found youtube videos etc. If I can do it with not even speaking the language, someone fluent can surely make the effort if it was important enough. Luckily, after a few months of me putting all the effort, we managed to get my dd in French bilingual school. She is now fluent and just because she is in the school, I don't sit back and relax. I still make a HUGE effort. I buy loads of French books, search for French cartoons, fine French au pairs to help with the home work and pronunciation. Of course I know not everyone is able to do this, but I would not have to, if I spoke the second language myself....because I would be able to talk to the kids, read them books myself. Heck, I could just use the English books and make up the words to make it French. There are so many things you can do. Its not too late. At first it might not seem natural, but within a few days/weeks it will come naturally.

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