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Bilingualism - have I left it too late??

(8 Posts)
jennijones Wed 14-Oct-09 11:17:53

Hi all

I am a mum of 3 children, aged 9, 4 and 9 weeks. I'm originally from Germany but have lived in Wales now for almost 11 years. The problem is that as a family we have always spoken english and so as they were getting older my first two children learned hardly any german. I know I should have just spoken german to them when they were babies but for some reason I just didn't.
The thing is, all my family still live in Germany and we go and see them about twice a year. During those visits, my parents and siblings usually speak english to my children, as otherwise my girls just wouldn't understand them.
The problem is that these days it really bothers me that I didn't teach them to speak my native language. Maybe it is because I am getting older and over the years have become more aware of the importance of my roots, I'm not sure...
Since my baby boy was born 9 weeks ago I have tried to speak only german with him, hoping that at least he will be able to speak it wehen he gets older. But my older children just find it confusing now, especially my four year old. This is also not helped by the fact that my husband is Welsh and we live in Wales, so she is currently in the process of learning Welsh through school and my husbands family.
I am wondering if it would be worth just sticking to German from now on and speak it to all the children and eventually they might just pick it up and go with the flow, especially if their youngest sibling will hopefully speak it fluently. But it's difficult and feels weird, especially as I have quite complex conversations with my 9 year old now and so it's just not always feasible to speak to her in a language she hardly understands.
And: would my older children feel excluded if my youngest was able to speak in a language with me which they are not fluent in?
Also, my husband doesn't speak german, so I feel weird speaking german in family situations, as he would be totally excluded from conversations.
I know it is my own fault but I would really appreciate any advice I could get in the matter. I so regret not teaching my children when they were babies...!
Jen xx

ZZZenAgain Wed 14-Oct-09 11:21:39

It's not too late for the 4 year old and of course the baby, it will feel weird to suddenly start speaking German at home to them since you have not been doing this. That's the only problem I see. The 4 year old might need some additional input if that is at all feasible (German TV - kika?)

I'm not an expert on this but my guess is the 9 year old would find it hard to adjust to you speaking to her in German and might since she is not in a German speaking country now need to learn German as a foreign language.

However I think with visiting family, having you as a model, she would learn it faster than a non-native speaking child ordinarily would.

annasmami Wed 14-Oct-09 15:04:47

Hello! I'm also German but have been living in the UK for the past 17 years.
No, I don't think you've left it too late, certainly not for your baby and possibly not for your 4 & 9 year olds. I agree with ZZZ that the hardest thing will be for you - getting used to 'associating' German with your children - that will be difficult at first, but I think if you stick to it, it will feel very natural after a while.
I have spoken maily German to my now 7 and 5 year olds and it feels 'unnatural' if I address them in English, which I sometimes have to when they have friends over, for example.
My two also go to German Saturday School, which reinforces their German. Is there anything similar near you in Wales? Do they have German at school? Also, lots of German tv, dvds, books and holidays to Germany/Austria will help. Do give it a try - your new baby is a great opportunity!

OrangeFish Wed 14-Oct-09 15:11:26

I think it may be a bit too late for the 9 year old, but definitively not for the other ones. I talked to DS mostly in my language until he was almost 5, then stopped for a few months as he was going through a rhough time and found it easier to communicate in English. I took it up when he was about 5.5 years old no problem, but reverted to English as I kept forgetting. I'm trying to go back to speaking only in my language with him now that he is about seven and I can see him getting very frustrated. Obviously his language skills in English have developed a lot in the last year, and his toddler level other language is proving not good enough to communicate the complexity of his thoughts now that he is a bit older.

I'm still trying, and plan to talk just in my language for a couple of months and then asking him not to use English with me. But he may need a bit of a few weeks immersion session back in my country to get him to really use it.

belgo Wed 14-Oct-09 15:14:29

No you haven't left it too late.

Just because your dh (darling husband) doesn't speak german is not a good reason to not teach your children german - far from it. Your dh needs to get himself some german classes, and also for your oldest two children.

Please speak to them in german, if necessary repeat what you say in english afterwards. You will be doing them a huge favour by bringing them up to speak two languages!

MIFLAW Thu 15-Oct-09 14:08:55

I don't know the answer to this but I do think a lot of these conversations get polarised.

It is, I think, unlikely that your 9yo will now ever be as good at German as your 4yo, and it is unlikely the 4yo will be as good as the baby. But so what? Surely the real question is, will all three of them be better at German if you start speaking it at home now than if you never do? And the answer is an almost guaranteed, "yes - a lot!"

As for your husband, it is something you will need his "buy-in" for, and you may have to use "coping strategies" at first (eg speaking simpler German in front of him so he can get the gist) but the bottom line is, he can learn if he wants, and he might even like doing so!

Definitely worth a try, at least, surely?

Good luck!

frakula Sat 17-Oct-09 15:05:39

I also agree it's defininitely worth trying. Your 9yo may never be fully bi (tri?) lingual but will at least be able to understand and communicate fluently in your family's language, which will be a massive asset anyway and you'll be including all your children in the German learning process.

Go for it

jennijones Fri 23-Oct-09 18:36:07

Thanks everyone!
I've been talking to DH and DD1&2 and to my surprise everyone in the family was really keen to actively try and incorporate german into our dayly life. We've been giving it a go over the past week or so and after the initial day or so it was surprisingly easy. See how it goes, I guess... will keep you up to date on our progress!

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