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Native languange only at home - will he have problems when he starts to learn English ?

(13 Posts)
karaj Fri 04-Feb-05 09:29:49

Hello I have a DS now over 7 months old. We live in London. I am fully bilingual (in English and my native language).

DH and I (and my mother) only speak to DS in our native language hoping that he will become bilingual quite easily. We have very few friends or relatives in the UK who can speak to our DS. So we are doing our best to give him as much exposure to our language as possible while he is at home.

I don't wish to introduce him to English myself because of the danger that he will no longer associate our home with our native tongue. This is what the bilingual experts say and indeed it is what happened to my sisters 3 children. She and her DH did not consistently speak to their children in our native tongue and as a result (all 3 were born in the UK), none of them now speaks or understands our native language. I wish to avoid this situation at all costs.

My question is this, has anyone done the same (i.e. spoken exclusivley in their native tongue at home), and their child then found he was isolated or afraid to attend a nursery because he didn't speak the community language (in this case English) ? I worry about this quite alot as I don't wish DS to be bullied or harrassed once he is surrounded by English-speaking children.

Any advice would be appreciated !

misdee Fri 04-Feb-05 09:32:04

did you see the Child of our times programme recently about starting school. Het, one of the girls, only spoke her native language at home, altho her father tried to speak english with her, but when she started school, after a silent start where she refused to speak at all, she soon started chatting in english.

karaj Fri 04-Feb-05 09:39:25

Thanks misdee - No I didn't see that programme. But the same thing happened to me when I came to the UK aged 9. I went through the "silent period" simply beacuse I couldn't reply back in English. But I was bullied and isolated for months and used to come home in tears until I learned to speak English fluently.

My school mates (and this was a private school) used to make fun of my "foreign accent" until I learned to speak English like a native. This is what I worry about.

Or am I too worried, because DS is much younger and will be learning English much sooner, i.e. around 2 or 3 yo when he starts nursery, so will not have the same horrible experinece as me ?

misdee Fri 04-Feb-05 09:42:53

younger children pick up languages easdily. io think if you want to speak at home in your native language then go for it, i think its wonderful. altho we are english and only speak english (have a smattering of french and german from secondry school) dh is keen for the children to learn a 2nd language from a young age as we both feel it'll be easier. tho we'd have to have lessons ourselves.

GRMUM Fri 04-Feb-05 09:54:46

I think ds will have an easier experience than you due to his younger age.I would imagine that he already hears english spoken by others anyway unless he only ever sees you, dh and your mother? So really it is completely different to your situation (I think?)and he is already taking in 2 languages (even if your language is more dominant at the moment)
There are lots of discussions on bringing up children bi-lingually here on mumsnet. FWIW I think you are doing the right thing - it is a great gift to your son that he will be bi-lingual.

Kelly1978 Fri 04-Feb-05 09:55:32

I agree, it is def easier when the kids are younger. My psrtner could only speak gujarati when he went to school, and he soon picked up english. Ny daughter goes to a culturally diverse school, and they are speaking all different languages with their parents, but they all speak english at school.
We're expectging twins in March, and really want them to learn gujarati, but it will be hard as I don't speak it yet. If you've got the chance to let your children become bilingual I would go for it.

Megali Fri 04-Feb-05 10:00:46

We have friends who brought up their 4 children speaking their native language at home. When they started school, none of them spoke English but picked it up very quickly and integrated well. The oldest child is now doing GCSEs and got top marks in her native language.

Before the kids went to school and we visited, we used to speak to them in English and they would answer in their native language - it was amazing.

I think it is great to be able to speak 2 or more language fluently.

Shimmy21 Fri 04-Feb-05 10:18:55

Go for it Karaj - we're a bilingual family too (my dh's 1st language is not English but mine is but I speak his language too) but sadly we have lapsed into an English-only household mainly because my dh found it hard to speak his own language consistently with all the English around (exactly what you fear). I thought bilingualism would come naturally for our kids because we are but I was so wrong. You have a much better chance as you are speaking your home language consistently and bilingualism is a great gift to be able to give your ds. I'm sure you know the studies which show how beneficial it can be.
I also think you're right to be concerned about the isolation issue. I taught in some very multicultural schools in London where we often had new children who didn't speak any English on arrival. Within 6 months they would be chatting away merrily. But school in particular is a massive, strange and scary step for any child, let alone a child who doesn't understand what people are saying. I think you would be helping your ds enormously if you prepare him for school by ensuring he speaks English by the time he goes. He will learn quite naturally at toddler groups, play groups or nursery or a child minder's without you needing to switch languages at home. If he starts nursery between 2 or 3 I am sure he wont be bullied for not speaking English. At that stage children tend to accept all each other's differences as normal and in fact you'll probably find that lots of the English speaking kids haven't got a great deal of language themselves so they'll all be learning together. Good luck and enjoy!

lailag Fri 04-Feb-05 12:38:08

my mum spoke exclusively her own language to my (older) 2 sisters as she hadn't learned the community language at the time, so they didn't really get exposed to community language til kindergarten. They had NO problems whatsoever.
When I was born my siblings would speak to me in community language but I still used to speak in my mother's language to her, never was a problem.

LipstickMum Fri 04-Feb-05 12:53:46

Karaj, you must go for it, make sure you, dh and your mum speak in your native tongue to your ds. Being bilingual is a fabulous gift and if I could wish anything it would be that I had that ability.

I don't have any personal experince with bilingualism, but know people who have. I used to work in a nursery where many of the children were bilingual. I found that if one parent was an English speaker and the other something else, then each parent would speak to the child in their native tongue, whether it be at home or not. This is especially useful if the (usually) English speaker doesn't speak the native tongue - yet!!

There was one remarkable family at this nursery, mother French, father Italian. All 4 children spoke 3 languages!! I babysat for them a few times and it was incredible to see them watching a video in French, then going off to answer the phone and chatting in Italian, then calling their sister in English!!

I think if you expose your son to lots of groups outside the home, he should be happy to speak English and not find it a frightening experince, but something completely natural.

Perhaps try and get some advice from a professional (not anecdotal like mine!!), I really just wanted to add my support and encouragement. For example, do you always have to speak in your native tongue to him, or can you use English outside the home? Not forgetting that in those social situations you will be speaking English to other people.

Good luck with it all

milward Fri 04-Feb-05 13:12:38

Kee doing what works for you at home. Your ds will pick up the language at school quickly and you will be able to communicate with his teachers perfectly. Perhaps your ds will be surprised to hear you talk in english at school! Your family language is so important and your ds will really benefit from being bilingual. Lots of best wishes.

albert Fri 04-Feb-05 13:34:46

Karaj, you are doing absolutley the right thing IMO. At home DH and I only speak our mother tongues to DS (age 4) (DH is Brazilian, I'm English). We live in Italy and never speak Italian to DS although he goes to an Italian nursery. When he started he couldn't speak a word but now he is fluent. It took him an amazingly short time to learn the basics. His teacher has assured me there are no language problems at all and he is totally integrated. All his friends are Italian natives and he loves going there, has never been afraid or bullied and can't wait for holidays to end so that he can go back. But also when we visit our familes in England or Brazil he fits in no problem and soon finds 'friends' to play with which he couldn't do if he didn't speak the language. Being bi/tri-lingual is such a fantastic gift. I struggle with Italian and Portugues but since DS grew up with this it has never been a problem. Keep up the good work, the benefits are countless.

karaj Fri 04-Feb-05 13:41:41

Thanks to everyone so far for their support and encouragement so far. I certainly wish to have a well-integrated child, as the UK is his home and I would like him to have lots of English friends. But I also want him to be proud of his own unique culture.

Shimmy21, I really like your suggestion that DS should learn English before school to avoid isolation. I will have to make sure that he learns English from other children and adults, i.e. our friends and playgroups, etc. I think that would really help him.

I also hadn't realised that smaller children (pre-school) tend to be kinder when it comes to language ability. I guess, as you say, even English speaking kids don't have much English at that stage and they won't therefore notice that another child speaks even less English than they do that is an excellent point !

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