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Parents who speak the minority language to dc - do you switch to the majority language at the park / in front of your dcs' friends?

(72 Posts)
pispirispis Fri 02-Oct-09 15:12:23

Hello all,

I was wondering, those of you who speak to your dc in your own native language in a country where a different language is spoken, do you switch to the majority language when speaking to your dcs in front of their friends/at the park?

I'm a native English speaking mum in Spain. I have a 17 month old dd and I speak to her in English. Dp speaks to her in Spanish and only knows very basic English. Dp and I speak Spanish to each other. Dd is with me all day and also spends quite a bit of time with English speaking family and friends, so at the moment English is very much the dominant language. I'm aware this will change when she goes to nursery at 3 and also life outside the front door is all in Spanish.

The problem is, when I talk to dd at the park the other children (and parents) can't understand, and I'm not sure if that's the right thing to do... I spend an awful lot of time saying "Say hello/bye bye to the little girl/boy" and so on, which her little playmates don't understand, (although the parents often do grin )whereas if I said ¡Dile hola/adiós a la nena/al nene! everyone would understand. Plus maybe it's a good idea for dd to learn hola/adiós to interact with the other toddlers. And as she gets older we'll need more than just hola/adiós... In fact she's already making an attempt to say "hola" (oooaa!) but not hello, which surprised me, but then I realised she must hear me say it 10 times a day!

And then there's all the talking you do to your toddler at the park for politeness' sake, like, "No darling, that's not your trike, look, your car is over here" and "Let the little girl past so she can go down the slide" that is as much for the benefit of the other child/parents as for your dc. Wouldn't it be better to say all that in the language the people in the park can understand?

And then what about when she is at school and has friends home for tea? What language should I speak to her in then?? I had planned on English but now I'm not so sure...

Since dd was born I have been very careful to make it clear that daddy speaks Spanish and mummy speaks English. I don't want to confuse dd or send out the message later on that it's ok for her to speak to me in Spanish. In fact I had decided I wasn't going to speak any Spanish at all to dd under any circumstances, to "defend" her English, but now I'm not sure about this at all! Any advice from those of you in a similar situation?

cory Fri 02-Oct-09 16:02:02

I switch languages in situations where anyone might feel excluded. When they have friends round, you often need to speak to the group as a whole ('you boys, stop that ghastly noise!'/'anyone for cookies?'/'I don't care who did that- stop it NOW!'). I want dcs friends to see me as approachable, and they do have a very good social life.

In situations of damage limitation round the park, I would definitely feel the need to speak the majority language (English, in my case).

Also, mine have health problems so I have spent a lot of time with them at the doctor's/hospital, where you need to communicate with the doctor and the child at the same time and the doctor needs to speak to the child. I have also done most of the communications with dcs' schools. And all our friends here are English speakers: I am not prepared to cut myself off from a social life, just so dcs don't hear me speak English. (they must know I can do it anyway: I have a job!)

Hasn't confused mine at all. They are now 9 and 12 and seem just as happy to speak either language. I think the reason is that I talk an awful lot so I get enough Swedish in anyway wink And we make full use of other sources of Swedish: films, books (my 9yo still gets a goodnight story), visits to Sweden, phone calls to relatives, internet forums, penfriends.

As far as my children are concerned, it is ok to speak to me in English: I may be the family Swedish speaker, but I am also the person who usually helps them with the homework, listens to them reading (well, not any more, but when they were that age) and knows about English literature and history far more than (English) dh does. We've never had any rules on the subject except the basic one that noone must feel excluded. If they came sobbing out of school because something had happened and started telling me about it, I wouldn't have the heart to tell them off for using the wrong language. But I do speak Swedish a lot to them, so I suppose in a more gentle way I am giving them the message that on the whole this is what I expect.

Though just at the moment, ds has devised a rule of his own which is that I am only allowed to speak Swedish when walking him to school in the mornings, as otherwise people might understand what I am saying "and that would embarrass me". Thanks a bundle, darling; 9 is such a charming age angry

I did find when they were little that they would mix languages, but I think that's just a part of normal language development in bilingual children (like experimenting with grammar in monolingual children), not a sign that everything's going pearshaped and they are going to end up permanently confused. Anything they learn in any language is a positive step forward, not some kind of contamination that you must guard against.

The one important thing with the minority language imho is to keep at it, to have lots of it and to make it fun, not something you stress about.

Bucharest Fri 02-Oct-09 16:11:22

(sorry to be brief, am dashing out of the door)
I would only not speak to dd in English if, as sometimes happens for example, her little Italian friend comes round to play and would be excluded.
Adults, relations etc can like it or lump it.
As Cory says, it sort of just clicks anyway, ddd knows I will speak to her teachers, her doctor, heck, her father even grin in Italian, but in English to her.
They grow up with that being normal for them, so it doesn't bring any confusion with it.

slng Fri 02-Oct-09 20:47:10

I always speak Chinese to my children, everywhere. But I translate if there are other people around. When little friends come to play and I have to address everybody I say it in English first and then in Chinese to my children... I know it's a bit cumbersome but I'm used to it now (and I suspect they switch off unless I address them in Chinese).

In any case I don't think it would confuse them. These kids are pretty crafty themselves.

Pitchounette Fri 02-Oct-09 21:16:35

Message withdrawn

moondog Sat 03-Oct-09 00:03:41

No, otherwise it becomes a slippery slope and where does it end?We speak the language we do and that is that. We did the same with my father.

mamas12 Sat 03-Oct-09 00:16:43

Aw ppp you sound stressed. Don't, you need to speak to your dd in whatever language YOU feel comfortable to speak in at any given time.
Your dc will learn both languages in her own time, but for heavens sake don't feel that there is a wrong language to speak in at all.
Language is just one of our communication skills, along with facial expression and body language and you are giving her and extra one!
I made the mistake with firstborn of never trying to speak to her in english (my first language) but it was so ridiculous in the end I found I waasn't really talking or sharing or anything natural. So I aimed for as much as I could do and both dcs are totally fulent in both languages now.
Just enjoy the lovely little things

cory Sat 03-Oct-09 08:50:54

mamas says it much better than I could
anything about your dd's linguistic development is positive
children are usually very flexible

tbh I never bothered with OP/OL at all: I speak both languages to mine and dh speaks both languages too; our only firm rule is that we talk to them about languages and that the needs of outsiders are catered for

they have to speak Swedish to my extended family; they have to speak English to their friends and teachers; but within the family unit, our family language is code-switching; we quite often switch languages 3 or 4 times within a conversation (but try to avoid switching mid-sentence)

have to say I have never noticed this supposedly slippery slope; I know that I have enough incentive to carry on speaking Swedish to them even if I also use English at times

but being part of the (English-speaking) comunity around me and letting my children see that I am part of the community (helping a sick neighbour, having their friends round, getting involved in the school fair) is very, very important to me.

I wanted to bring them up bilingual and they are. But bringing them up as active members of the community, through my example, was always the most important.

pispirispis Sat 03-Oct-09 22:51:27

O wow, what great answers you've all kindly taken the time to write to me - thank you!

Yes, I think you're right cory and mamas, I should relax about it all and just do what feels right for each situation. I want the balance to be right between communicating with my dd in English most of the time, and making sure she feels part of the community. This is especially important for us as my dp is from Argentina so neither of us are Spanish.

I speak to her in English all the time, and she now understands loads, whereas I think she only knows a few words in Spanish. I also nearly always speak to her in English in front of her dad, even though he understands very little of it, and luckily he's very supportive and is proud that his little girl is learning two languages.

I think I'll take your advice and relax about it all and keep speaking to her in Spanish in the park when other kids are involved. She has already started saying "o'aa!" to other toddlers, which is really cute. She also knows "daddy" obviously but calls dp both "daee" and "papa" which I find amazing. Apart from those "words" she says loads of other "words" like "baa" for bath and "tee" for teeth and tree and so on, so we must be doing something right. grin

Children are amazing, aren't they!? <<soppy emoticon>>

Catitainahatita Sat 03-Oct-09 23:36:30

Hello (or should that be "hola ¿qué onda guapa?)

I'm in the exact same position to you, except that I live in Mexico not in Spain, but the language thing is exactly my situation. My DS is 22 month old.

I'm firmly in the speaking a bit of Spanish in social situations will not confuse your child greatly catagory. In fact, I think wee toddlers are much more adaptable than we tend to give tham credit for. I speak English to DS when it's just us two, in the house or street etc. But if he is with other children or I'm with other Mums I always speak in Spanish if what I am saying concerns them at all. If I'm just speaking to DS ("Stop it" "no! not in your mouth!")I'll switch back to English.

DS can understand both languages very well (which surprises the hell out of everyone for some reason). He has a mix of vocabulary saying somethings in Spanish ("más"; "papi"; "ahí viene"; "¿dónde está?"( and some in English ("bath"; "tea"; "story"; "ta")and somethings in both (he'll say "no, me yo me yo" for example if he wants to do it himself or "tú you" to refer to me or his papi. He goes to nursery which helps his Spanish language.

In all, I reckon he'll learn bit by bit which language to use when. I'm sure your DD will too. I would say don't stress as well. I don't reckon there is one right way and a wrong way to do anything, and this is no exception.

ChilloHippi Sat 03-Oct-09 23:44:05

My mother is a German speaker in England. When I was growing up she spoke German to me (although, oddly, not to my elder brother) at home, but in public we spoke English.

LilianGish Sat 03-Oct-09 23:52:43

I would only ever speak to my children in English. I might then translate for the benefit of other children, but my instinct is to only speak English to them. We have lived in France and Germany and the children are fluent in both languages. We are currently in the UK, but the children are in a French school so French is still very much a dominant language for them. My children expect me to speak in English to them and would only ever speak to me in English - translating themselves if they feel their friends need to understand. I think if you want them to speak good English - especially if living in a country where English isn't spoken it is important to do that. Several of my children's friends speak poor English, in spite of having an English parent, a combination of hearing the non-native English speaker speaking to them in English and replying in French to the English parent.

cory Sun 04-Oct-09 10:21:49

The method you describe is one method that works, Lilian; it's not the only one. As my children show, it is possible to become a fluent speaker in other ways too. If the children of your friends speak poor English, it is likely to be because they have not had enough English input, not because their parents occasionally dropped into another language.

For my dd I am her source of Swedish and I take that very seriously, but I am also her route into the English educational system, because I happen to know it better than dh, I am the person who will read English poetry with her, or take the supporting part when she is preparing a piece of drama for recitation, or give her friends a helping hand with their projects. I am also her gateway into the local community: the person who knows the neighbours and can relay local gossip. Our local community has gone through quite a few upheavals and sad events over the last few years: I don't want dcs friends to feel that I am a distant person they can only approach through a translator, I want them to know that I am there for them if they need me. Dd expects me to explain Swedish culture to her, but she also expects me to explain English culture: she knows I spend my working day with people who deal with exactly the kind of things she needs to know for school; it would seem very stingy to deny her access to that knowledge just because it is the "wrong" culture.

annamama Sun 04-Oct-09 14:02:40

Interesting thread... I guess everyone has to do what they feel comfortable with. As for me I'm still working it out, but I tend to stick to the minority language unless I specifically want someone else to understand. That might change when DD is older. Interesting to read what everyone is doing!

belgo Sun 04-Oct-09 14:09:53

I speak english to my children and mainly speak english with them when we are out, but if other children join in the conversation (which they often do, at their school for example), I then switch to flemish.

It has been very hard to 'defend' my children's english - flemish is by far their preferred language - it didn't help that dd1 had a hearing problem and speech delay and I was just so grateful that she started speaking at all, so I never insisted that she speak english. She is now five and a half and speaks basic English and understands everything. My dd2 is four and mixes up the two languages in the same sentence to comic effect.

This morning in the street she randomly asked me 'wie noemt de purple one?'

'Tinky Winky' I replied, and she was satisfied.

mamas12 Sun 04-Oct-09 23:12:15

Oh I love the interlanguage thing it's so cute.

Don't worry they will sort it out in time.

Babies brains are like sponges and it comes so naturally to them.
Mine switched from one language to another depending on the person they're conversing with.

As I've said before don't worry about the which language they talk in yet it's the communicating that is important. (although I have become a bit of a pedant since insisting that they both speak well in both languages)

slng Mon 05-Oct-09 14:03:23

I also rather enjoy the interchanging of languages. And resulting misunderstandings. Mostly quite hilarious. I'm a bit more relaxed now that I can see they (the DC) know what they are doing... But I still don't speak English to them ... And I want them to read and write in both languages ...

pispirispis Mon 05-Oct-09 14:29:36

I was actually really astounded the first time dd said "oo'aa!" for hola. I thought, where on earth could she have picked that up from?? grin Err, maybe it's because I live in Spain...?!

Because I speak to her in English and so far all her words had been in English, I wasn't really expecting her to come out with anything Spanish yet. And then when she said both "da'ee" and "papa" I thought, child genius! grin (pfb)

My aunties at home in Ireland keep frowing and saying, but won't she get confused, poor thing?

I'm really looking forward to hearing more words.

Catitainahatita Mon 05-Oct-09 18:08:16

It's a common misconception that children will get confused by having two (or more!) languages spoken to them at once. As I said, most people seem amazed that DS understands me and them. They ask me if he understands Spanish or English, but seem to take it for granted he'll only understand one. It really surprises them when he shows that he understands me one minute in English and tham a minute later in Spanish.

I think my pfb is genius too, being able to say "bye bye" to me and "adiós" to his papi. I think, however, that it's just the amazing nature of children's brains.... grin

slng Mon 05-Oct-09 18:17:13

What I usually get is "Ooo! Do they understand Chinese?", to which I reply "Of course!" politely but one day I will say "No I just like the sound of my own voice".

Othersideofthechannel Mon 05-Oct-09 18:18:32

Same as Belgo.

English unless someone is going to feel excluded.

At grandparents, park etc, we speak in English but if another person comes to join in the conversation/game we switch to French.

Pitchounette Mon 05-Oct-09 19:52:54

Message withdrawn

BonsoirAnna Mon 05-Oct-09 19:57:05

No, I never speak anything to DD other than English. But since she is at a bilingual school, all her friends either speak English or are learning it, at great expense to their parents. So I kind of presume that their parents are happy for me to speak English in front of their children! It would seem rather rude and condescending to switch to French.

I speak English to my ds when we are at home or out and about (alone), but in any situation where there are other people present, I switch to German. I would find it very bizarre to continue speaking to my ds in English and then to everyone else in German, and I'm not sure what it would actually achieve.

I do have some English-speaking friends here who do the OPOL thing and I find it more confusing then anything else tbh, when we are eg eating out together and they address their dc in English, then comunicate that to the waiter in German, then back to English with dc etc. It never really occured to me to do that. However, our home language is also English (even though my dh is German), so even when ds starts Kindergarten and is even more immersed in the German language, he will still be hearing (and hopefully speaking) English at home.

I think it's most important to feel comfortable with what you're doing , and of course to make sure that there is lots of the minority language available (books, films, friends etc).

I was brought up bilingually too, my parents both not being English, and we did it like that too, no rules about when to speak what, very much a similar situation to cory's: we had to communicate with our grandparents and family in Croatian, but obviously had to talk to everyone else in English - but within our family, either language was fine!
Both my sister and I are still fluent in the minority language, btw.

I always find it very interesting to hear how other bilingual families are doing it. There really doesn't seem to be a right or wrong way as such. What works for one family might not work in another.

Feierabend Mon 05-Oct-09 20:31:09

Interesting thread. DD1 (2.6) and I often have a conversation that goes like this:

DD1: I want my coat off.
Me: Du willst Deine Jacke ausziehen?
DD1: It's a coat.
Me: Mama sagt Jacke dazu.
DD1: Papa says coat. I say coat.

I think she's trying to tell me that she doesn't want to learn German hmm

I often wonder what to do - I try to switch to English ONLY if I think people around us need to understand what I am saying (e.g. I am asking her to do something and need DH to know that I've asked her - his German isn't very good). Or I'll say it in German first, then repeat in English. But I don't think anyone has ever felt offended if I used German only. Why would they?

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