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Panicking re bringing up children bilingually.. please reassure me!

(10 Posts)
nopainnogain Mon 15-Sep-08 21:30:42

We´re bringing up our dc bilingually in a 3rd language country (no effort made to communicate in the third language) and I´m starting to worry about whether this is a good idea. DD1´s mother tongue is probably dominant but she goes to nursery school in her father´s language. She has no real contact with any other English speakers and we don´t have the option to improve on this. She´s not interested in listening to stories (and stories for her age seem for too advanced for her) and isn´t even very keen on watching English DVDs (which in any case I am uneasy about.. does watching TV really help develop language skills?) On the rare occasions I´ve listened to monolingual English children her age they seem vastly more articulate. After many years abroad I know I´ve dumbed down my own English to suit non-native speakers so am hardly a great role model myself My concern I guess is that DD is not going to learn any language proficiently. What can I do to improve the situation? Pease, any ideas or stories of older bilingual children?

Essie3 Mon 15-Sep-08 21:46:46

Ok, to start with - good decision. Bilingualism is a gift.
Now, I'm a bit confused (not because I was brought up with English as a second language hopefully grin), so you might need to clarify for me.
You're speaking English at home.
Father speaks X language.
Country is Y language, not spoken at home.

Is DD's mother tongue English, X or Y? If English, then it is a dominant language. If Y, no problem, she'll be proficient in it once she goes to school.

Anyhow, I don't think the situation is bad - in fact, I think it's great. She will probably be fine in all 3 languages. She will be great in Y because it's spoken all around her; X will be fine because of the nursery; and if you speak English, she'll be fine at that too. She'll most likely be average in each (as in, not worse than average; if she's bright, she may be above average in all three!) and proficient. Otherwise, she might 'drop' one language of her own accord, although that's rare. It might be the case that she drops one as she gets to adulthood.
I can tell you that the dropped language won't be English, though! English takes care of itself, really it does.

Finally, it's a mistake to compare her with monolingual children. Of course they're more She has three languages - and will be articulate in all three! So she'll catch up. Often, bilingual children are slower acquiring language than monolingual ones, but it's nothing to worry about.

I think you have your solution - you're doing everything right. smile She'll be a good linguist, adaptable, and also quick to learn other things (music, perhaps).

I'm bilingual and very much older! smile I hardly had any English at home, and some at school, but I learnt it quickly enough - I'm totally bilingual. And I wrote my Oxford PhD thesis in English.

Essie3 Mon 15-Sep-08 21:52:33

More - sorry, as if I hadn't said enough! (My bilingualism doesn't make me concise, then!)

Watching TV is how I learnt English. And I was fluent by the time I started school despite not having any English at home. So yes, TV is fine in moderation etc etc - it's only a problem when nobody talks at all to a child in any language. In my case, nobody spoke to me in English, but I got a lot from television which was then improved as I got older and learnt to read etc.
How old is she? It might be that she's just a bit tired and doesn't want to watch a DVD or have stories in any language! If she's been at nursery and had storytime and play etc, she might just be too tired for more 'work'. Being little is quite tiring it seems. smile

nopainnogain Mon 15-Sep-08 22:15:46

Thanks Essie3! I speak English with DD and she is 4. We live in an expat environment so contact with the community language is minimal - she can say hello/bye/thanks and that´s about it - and doesn´t need much more either... There is hardly any native English speakers around and you are right, she is too tired to be bothered with stories after school or anything more than vegetating in fromnt of tv. Her nursery class is very small with other bilingual children so except for the teacher input to her second language is quite limited too. DH does not spend a lot of time with her (at work).

Having said al this DD does speak well and clearly in both languages and doesn´t mix languages. Her vocabularý is just very limited.

You are right about English looking after itself, it´s unfortunate people here don´t use it so much. But I´m also concerned abou the cultural side of things. In a third language area DD has no home culture to ground at least one of her languages in. I don´t want her to feel lost as she gets older.

Also worried that DD2, baby, will find things even more difficult. Doesn´t a second child have worse outcome re bilingualism?

-so, outpour of worry over. Impossible to know how things will turn out I guess. Any tips on specific games etc. to improve vocabulary welcome!

Essie3 Mon 15-Sep-08 22:27:31

Again, I wouldn't worry too much about vocabulary. It will come; she's learning twice as much as monolingual children (2 words for everything!). For vocabulary, games like snap, matching things etc are good. And picture books - I had a great one in my mother tongue which had very detailed pictures - eg a busy bathroom with lots of objects, and you had to find a little duck. A bit like Where's Wally (?).

Not sure what to suggest about the cultural aspect. Nothing annoys me more than people reminiscing about Winnie the Pooh and Mr Benn. I didn't read English books for young children, and didn't watch tv programmes like Mr Ben because they were too hard for me! I'm not entirely sure I understand that bit though.

Second child: only personal experience here. I have a younger sister, and she wasn't as good at our first language as I was, but then she's not a linguist, and she grew out of it. My brother, the youngest, was fine. I think it might be harder to 'work' on the second child with other demands on time etc!

nopainnogain Mon 15-Sep-08 22:34:13

Hi again, not quite sure what my real issue is now. I guess I think it´s time we moved to one of our home countries and that it´s somehow not healthy to bring up kids away from home. Then the language problem would be solved. I just want DDs to have a clear dominant language in the end rather than potentially 2 underdeveloped ones. Making the language choice for schooling is also very difficult... Thanks again.

mumonthenet Mon 15-Sep-08 23:05:06

my 3 dc's are now 17, 14 & 12.

They are all totally bilingual. Their Dad is Portuguese and speaks only his language to them. I speak only English. All their education is in Portuguese.

To top up their english when they were tiny I used to give them English story tapes at bedtime. Once they started school (and English lessons) I gave them anything that they liked in English: comics, magazines, dvd's - story books, word puzzles - suited to their ages or maybe a little younger so that it wasn't too much like work.

They have no problem at all with either language.

The only other tip which people say is important: Be consistent: if you speak English to them and your dh/dp speaks language X to them try to keep it that way as much as's much easier for them. YOu could even introduce two more languages on that basis and they would learn them!

...lots of my kids' friends are bilingual - some are trilingual.
They all do really well at school.

Your dd might be slightly behind in vocab now but she'll catch up (and overtake!) the monolingual children.

MmeLindt Mon 15-Sep-08 23:17:38

At the moment we live in Germany, DH German, I am Scottish so our children speak German and English reasonably fluently. DD speaks better English that DS as she was at home wiht me alone for the first few years and heard mainly English.

I am not so consequent with sticking to English as I perhaps should be. We are fairly relaxed about which language we are using. DD is 6yo and has recently started correcting my German so I will stick to English in future

Both DD and 4yo DS spoke later than other children of the same age. My paediatrician said that bilingual children learn double the amount of vocabulary so they take longer to learn.

I can advise you to try and read with your DCs. A really good book is the Puffin Book of First Poems, lots of short and funny little poems. Make it a part of her bedtime routine to read just one poem.

We have a sat dish so that we can watch BBC and the DCs get to watch Cbeebies sometimes. I do think that their language skills have improved since we got the sat dish.

We are moving to Geneva next week so they will have a 3rd language, but will be going to a local school.

Don't give up, it is a wonderful gift to your children. I hate it when other people say that, as if it is easy. It is not, I find it bloody hard to stick to it sometimes and it is hard work for the DCs but it is absolutely worth it.

nopainnogain Tue 16-Sep-08 20:15:07

ok.. I´ll try and keep the panic under control! Nice to read about your situations!

cory Fri 19-Sep-08 11:57:13

I think possibly your worries are more about your general situation- where are you going to live in the future, what culture is dd going to be rooted in etc. In a sense, bilingualism is probably the least of your worries. Can't really advise- it's something you and your dh are going to need to talk about.

(Am in a very different situation since my dc's are living in their father's country and will either stay there or move to my country. As we have close family in both, I feel they have both those cultures anyway.)

The suggestion to read aloud is good anyway. Make it part of bedtime, so it is not conflicting with other activities that she may prefer and don't give a second thought to what books other children are into- find something that will suit her!

I was taught/taught myself English from the age of 5, despite having no contact with native speakers until much later. I was about 10 when I got to Winnie-the-Pooh; still enjoyed it just as much. Good books are still good whatever your age. If your Dd enjoys picture books for smaller children, there is nothing wrong with that. There are loads of amazingly good English children's books for the 2-4 age range. Treat yourself to a trawl through Amazon. The more you enjoy exploring your culture through her eyes, the more she will enjoy it.

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