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Refuses to speak English..any suggestions?

(25 Posts)
pops79 Sun 10-Feb-08 07:56:04

I am an English mother living in Holland with my Dutch partner. Our oldest son is 4 years old (nearly 5) and he has been exposed since birth to English and Dutch. He has a fluent understanding of English, but he is resistant to speaking it, preferring to answer me in Dutch. This is now becoming a problem when we travel to England to visit family and friends because he cannot communicate easily. I speak to him in English, but he knows that I understand dutch, thus making it easier for him to avoid English. Plus I think he is at the age where he really doesn't want to be any different from his friends at school and so only wants to speak Dutch. Does anyone have any suggestions how I can encourage him to speak more English? Should I pretend to not understand him when he speaks to me in Dutch?

belgo Sun 10-Feb-08 08:03:31

popos79 - I'm in an almost identical situation, I live in Belgium with my flemish dh. I speak flemish reasonably well and always speak english to my two girls. DD1 is nearly four and isn't that great at talking, but flemish is by far her preferred language - she almost never speaks english although she does understand most of it. Even with other bilingual friends her own age she manages to get them all speaking flemish, even when the friends start off speaking english.

My parents almost never understand what she says.

I'm fairly relaxed about all of this, and I occasionally ask her to speak english to her friends, but she doesn't, and I never force the issue. I'm sure that she will speak english when she realises that it is necessary. But at the moment practically her whole world - school, cousins, papa, oma and opa - is flemish - and me speaking english isn't enough to encourage her to speak english.

Just carry on speaking to him in english, regular trips to english speaking countries, read to him in english, and try not to worry too much about itsmile

WelliesAndPyjamas Sun 10-Feb-08 08:06:35

From what I have seen in my own DS (also 4) and from other MNetters experiences, this is quite normal and common.

It may just be a matter or shyness and feeling self-conscious when he goes to England. The worst thing would be to make a fuss of it with him, it'll make him worry more about what he is speaking. I wouldn't pretend not to understand him. He'll know you are pretending. Better to just continue answering him in English because you know he understands you. My DS talks to me mainly in English even though I only talk to him in Welsh. He has worked out that almost everyone he knows speaks English! But if we are sitting quietly together he remembers to talk to me in Welsh. He is quite capable of it when he isn't in a rush to do the next energetic thing!

Does your DS watch English tv? Or have friends in Holland that speak English?

pops79 Sun 10-Feb-08 08:21:51

thanks guys, it is good to know that I am not the only one in the same situation. Funnily enough since he woke up he has been asking me for drinks and food in English! But yes, I agree that to make an issue of it is not a wise idea.

I don't know any other English mums here, so like you said Belgo, his whole world is Dutch. We're off to England in two weeks so I'm interested to see how he interacts with my family this time.

I make sure that he watches English films and I read to him in perhaps there is nothing more I can do at this point, other than be patient...not one of my strong points! ha ha

WelliesAndPyjamas Sun 10-Feb-08 08:31:37

lol that sounds familiar! When DS is after something he butters me up by speaking in welsh!

belgo Sun 10-Feb-08 08:31:57

And also, my dd1 simply isn't very interested in talking in general. She says the bare minimum to be understood, and is far more interested in boisterous play rather then sitting talking to me or anyone else. She hardly ever tells me anything about school, that's just the way she is.

But I am confident that she will start speaking english when it suits her.

chrissi1 Mon 11-Feb-08 10:50:58

Good to hear I´m not alone. I live in Germany and my son is 5 in summer .
He asks me not to speak english and says things like I do this or that only if you speak german.
I told him I will carry on with english and that I always spoke english to him.
We watch as much engl. films as poss.and read books.Even go to a playgroup once a week but a english speaking playmate would be better. His best friend is actually German Enlish but his mum prefers him to speak German so he´ll learn German .
She thinks it´s important for kindergarten ....

kindersurprise Mon 11-Feb-08 11:01:15

Another Mum of a reluctant English-Speaker here.

My DD is almost 6 and has been most resistant to speaking English. I have started making a game out of it, saying the first person to speak German has to give the other person a backrub. She thinks that is funny and does speak more English. Getting satellite TV with English channels definatly helped too. As did a load of new books bought when we were in UK.

DS at 3.5yo is more difficult, although has also improved in the past few months. He speaks more German than DD as she speaks to him in German. I may have to resign myself to the fact that they will always communicate in German.

I agree with the others, don't force it.

Shame that your friend is not speaking English with her DS, he will learn German in Kita anyway. The first few years were crucial for DD, I believe that is why her English is better than DS's.

NicMac Mon 11-Feb-08 11:16:31

I have twin boys who are now 5 and completely French/English bi-lingual. I have to stay that contray to other advice you have recieved I did insist when they were 3 that I didn't understand French anymore to get them to speak to me in English. Their father (french-speaker) was away for three months and so the home was a completely English environment - their school is french. We have English television and I think t his has helped enormously too. I have to say that after 2 weeks they had 'unlocked' all their English and we have never looked back. I really praised them when they spoke English. Now they absoutely hate it when I even mutter a word of French to them! They speak together in both languauges and switch very easily between the two. It sounds harsh but I am really glad I insisted as they are now very proud of their bilingualism as am I!
Good luck, it will come

kindersurprise Mon 11-Feb-08 11:19:45

But how did you manage when you were with other French speakers? Your DCs would see then that you do speak French.

slim22 Mon 11-Feb-08 11:27:29

I'm thinking about the peer effect when they start nursery. If he goes then obviously he wants to speak dutch like others.....
Where are you in Holland?
There are quite a few english speaking playgroups around. Good for them to socialise with kids in english.
Even bilingual schools if you can afford. Thinking of two voices in Amsterdam.
Must be others I'm sure.

NicMac Mon 11-Feb-08 16:49:29

Kinder - they know of course that I speak French but have no inclination to speak in French to me anymore. It was only for a couple of weeks that I had to divert them to English before it became automatic for them. I speak mainly French with my husband but they have crossed the barrier with me and know that we are English speakers together. We have weird mixed conversations at the dinner table but they swap between the two languages depending on the parent. They even mock my French accent! I agree abotu socalising with children in English too, I think this can help at lot

kindersurprise Mon 11-Feb-08 21:10:56

My DD has started correcting my German grammar

cory Wed 13-Feb-08 13:04:57

More embarrassingly, my ds went through a phase at that age when he refused to speak any English *though we live in England*. Which basically meant he only spoke to family, as he went to an English school and all his mates were English.

For him, I think it was about resenting having two identities and having to fit into two cultures. He rejected the English side as that was the one that was putting pressure on him (having to go to CM, about to start school etc). Sweden to him was a holiday paradise where you could swim in the sea every day (ha! he's never seen it in November).

Anyway, like all the other annoying phases (scribbling on the carpet, fussing about his food, not wanting to learn to read), it passed. He is now proud of being bilingual and perfectly competent.

Two things helped:

not overreacting


placing him in situations where he had to speak (i.e. with monolinguals)

cory Wed 13-Feb-08 13:13:47

NicMac on Mon 11-Feb-08 11:16:31
I have twin boys who are now 5 and completely French/English bi-lingual. I have to stay that contray to other advice you have recieved I did insist when they were 3 that I didn't understand French anymore to get them to speak to me in English."


Can I ask how you managed this practically?

At age 3, my dc's were well aware that I had a job, chatted to the neighbours, arranged their playdates for them, took them to the doctor, spoke to their friends when they came round, did the shopping, had a social life- all of which required a good knowledge of the local language. And my dc's were never slow to challenge any parental fibbing!

I can also see my dd (a horribly direct little child!) at that age wanting to know why she had to speak two languages if I could only manage one wink

Or do you mean this was a sort of half-joking fib, like the tooth fairy, with a certain amount of complicity from their side?

NicMac Wed 13-Feb-08 18:21:17


Yes, I mean a half joking fib - gosh I will never go to heaven! I could keep the house exclusively English for three months so this helped too. I just pretended not to understand, honestly it didn't even last two weeks, they very quickly got the hang of it.

cory Fri 15-Feb-08 13:32:07

I think half-joking fibs are great with children; they enjoy being in on the joke. It's like the whinge filters on your ears, they don't believe it, but they get the underlying message and it's a more fun way of telling them than just nag-nag.

chrissi1 Fri 15-Feb-08 18:55:19

Hi Kindersurprise

How did you got English channels.How much does it cost?

Kinderherzen Fri 15-Feb-08 22:06:41

We have a sat dish that picks up both German and British satellites. It is called Technisat Multytenne. It is quite small. We bought it from Amazon.

We had to get someone out to put it up (if we had been able to put it up on the wall of the house, we might have managed it ourselves).

Check out this website, loads of info on there.

We get BBC 1,2,3,4 Cbeebies, CBBC, ITV 1,2,3,4. Film4 and Film24, BBC News, Sky News, all the German sat channels and about 800 other shite channels that noone can possibly need

You can also order a Sky Freeview card (I think it costs about 100 or 150 euros) to get C4. The card itself costs about 30pounds, but you have to be registered to a UK address to get one. There is a company that sells them online, they have some way around this.

chrissi1 Sat 16-Feb-08 08:51:47

Thanks a lot

CeciC Sun 17-Feb-08 19:52:22

Hi to everyone,
I have a 2 dds 7 and 3. I am catalan/spanish living in the UK, and like you, my DH is brittish, so at home we speak english. I do speak to my DDs in catalan (my mother tongue) as I wanted them to at least understand it, so they would be able to communicate with their cousins in Spain. But my solution was for them to spend the summer holidays in Spain with my family. They don't speak english, so they have to speak catalan if they want to communicate. My eldest goes to a summer camp in the mornings so she had to speak it. After 4 years of doing that, now my 7 years old, can swith between english/catalan with no problem, even thought she keeps talking to me in English.

HeidiS Mon 03-Mar-08 07:25:07

I live in Israel and am the only one who speaks English around my four-year old. I try to speak to her in English 100% of the time but it's hard!
Itry to make sure she watches as much Engllish TV/movies as possible and read to her in English almost every night. I must admit, although she understood perfectly - she wasn't speaking more than a word or two in English...then we went to South Africa to visit my family for 6 weeks. the first day or two she tried speaking in hebrew to everyone but she caught on really quickly that no one understood her and she wasn't going to get what she wanted that way. She suddenly started speaking in perfect English. It was all there the whole time.
Now that we're back in Israel and she's back at the Hebrew-speaking day care with all of hubby's family (all talk in Hebrew) she's gone back to talking mostly in Hebrew but she's still chatting to me 'mostly' in English - crossing fingers that it lasts

sakurarose39 Mon 03-Mar-08 07:48:21

Another one here - my two DCs (10 and 8) can understand English but hardly ever speak it, as I am a fairly fluent Japanese speaker. As others have said, they correct my spoken language and tease me when I get pronunciation wrong. Sigh.
My DD (10) can read English quite well, and loves being read to, so we read every night. DS doesn't like books unless they are comics, encyclopedias, or something to do with Doctor Who! So I look at his books with him and explain stuff he doesn't understand in English. He understands some quite complicated stuff when we read it in English, and can translate it into Japanese, so I know he's got the idea, but he ALWAYS talks to me in Japanese anyway.
We always watch DVDs in English, and we are just nearing the end of the second series of Doctor Who on TV, broadcast in English and Japanese - and they can't stand listening to the dubbed voices!
Living on the other side of the globe means trips to the UK are rather scarce - only once every two years or so - but when we do go, they make a great effort to communicate to their cousins etc. in English. It is all in there, I think, just needs motivation to get it out! smile

HeidiS Mon 03-Mar-08 09:30:01

I tell my little one she's special because she can speak 2 langs - and she's even taught the other kids at daycare a word here and there. Makes her feel important and good about English - good motivator wink

mamusia Fri 19-Sep-08 17:41:49

It' s so great to read your messages - it gives me hope - even though i'm in completelty opposite situation - polish mum in england

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