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Children picking up the local language - what are your experiences?

(23 Posts)
geebie Wed 04-Feb-15 20:26:26

Asking purely out of interest, cos I'm a languages geek and a nosy bugger smile
If your DC are growing up in a country where their mother tongue isn't the main language spoken 'out and about', what were their experiences of picking it up?

DH and I are English speakers living in Sweden. I speak basic, jolty conversation Swedish and DH knows a little bit. I'm a SAHM and often go with DD to playgroup so she hears Swedish for a couple of hours at least three times a week, plus in shops etc.

She seems to realise in some way that she often hears something different to what she hears at home, and can say a few Swedish words that we have 'imported' into our day to day English. If I throw a few Swedish sentences at her she seems to get the gist, especially if they contain a familiar sounding word eg Klappa händerna.

She can also (sometimes, if she's in the mood!) say some of the words from the Swedish songs we sing at playgroup.

I am so intrigued to know what she makes of it all! What goes on in her head, what will happen next, what does she think when I speak Swedish to her for fun.

No 'point' to this thread as I say, just interested to hear about others' experiences as I find it a fascinating process to watch as a parent!

HerRoyalNotness Wed 04-Feb-15 20:32:04

DC1 was exposed to 'French' in Canada. I incorporated the words that I knew into every day language to help him, but I am rubbish with sentence structure in French, so I had a Franglish kind of thing going on.

He went to a preschool where they did lessons in French. At end of Pre-K they said he totally understood the language and by the end of Kinder he'd be speaking it. Well Kinder was a complete disaster. He had a rotten year and we thought all sorts of things were wrong with him. Extremely bad behaviour and his teacher gave up on him. It transpires, when he was a little older and able to verbalise his thoughts on Kinder, he COULD NOT understand a word the teacher was saying!

And that was in the English school system. And a classic reason why our company should have put the expat kids in private english school. The first three years were immersion french, the school provided zero help for him, and they themselves didn't even realise that he couldn't understand his teacher. He left there not knowing how to read, limited maths, and an almost hatred of school. I feel so sorry that we let him down in what should have been the most fun year at school.

geebie Wed 04-Feb-15 20:38:24

Wow that's awful HerRoyal, sorry your DS went through that. I hope he is thriving and happier now.

SuisseRomandeMaman Wed 04-Feb-15 20:38:50

DD is 5 and is in her first year at a local school. She is only 1 of 2 foreigners in the class so has to speak the local language. We only speak English at home but she watches some TV in French.

Anyway the other day i found something out quite funny. DD has been receiving French lessons two times a week since Sept but i only found out when her French teacher approached me in the playground. She had never mentioned it because, i think, she never knew she was being taught it. So goodness know how they are teaching her.

And the other day her main teacher approached us at lunchtime pick up and had a conversation with DD. It must have consisted of about 50 words. I was so impressed with DD's French and when her teacher left i asked her what her teacher had said and what she had said and she replied "i don't know how to say it in English".

geebie Wed 04-Feb-15 20:40:21

That's really interesting Suisse!! Or maybe she didn't want to tell you wink

GlowWine Wed 04-Feb-15 20:49:02

Hmm different from my experience: born to a 100% German background into french-speaking country. Must add that my parents spoke it perfectly well, having lived there for many years already. I started picking it up with the neighbours kids as soon as I was old enough to play out with them (and in the 70s I guess that was about 3or 4) we spoke some sort of hands and foot pidgin french, but i also had german friemds. I then went to a state maternelle/nursery preschool for a couple of yeards and mudled through. At primary then switched to German school which included daily lessons in French. I can't recall ever feeling lost or otherwise, and we sort of learned to read and write in parallel I'm both languages but of course my memory is hazy. I grew up bilingual and now I'm nearly English monolingual...

All kids are different and exposing them to additional languages is normally always a benefit. But it sounds like you got a bit of a rough deal from the school! I'd rather blame the teachers/education system than the principle of immersion language learning.

tomandizzymum Wed 04-Feb-15 20:50:45

We moved back here when the older two were well established in school in the UK (both juniors) and spoke 0 Portuguese and understood maybe 15% of the language, as they moved to the UK at 3 and 1 and DH always spoke English. Younger ones were not a problem but the older two struggled with homework, a normal 30 minute piece of homework took 1.5 hours, but day by day that got less. Poor little mites were shattered by the end of the day. Luckily they don't get homework on the weekend's and school is only half days so despite working hard, they still had more free time than in the UK and have come out of the other side with better study skills.
Also I have noticed lately that my 8 year old asks the meanings of English words that an 8 year old living in the UK might know. Like yesterday I said the new playground was more stimulating and she didn't know what I meant.

GlowWine Wed 04-Feb-15 20:51:28

Ohh apologies for atrocious typing/spelling! Well I am a foreigner grin

LillianGish Wed 04-Feb-15 22:15:12

Both Dcs were born in France. Dd went to French nursery from about 18 months dd started in maternelle aged two-and-a-half when she left aged nearly four she spoke French even though we only ever spoke English at home. Moved to Germany, put dd in a French school and ds with a German child minder (he was about 18 months). Dd carried on speaking French at school, but also learned to German - mainly because that's what was spoken in the playground and also because extra-curricular stuff was in German. She picked it up so quickly that within a year and a half she was in the German mother-tongue group for German lessons at school. Ds was speaking German with child minder, then at 2-and-a-half started at French school where he said nothing at all for the first year! Then started speaking French and German like his sister. Both DCs were fluent in both languages when we left Germany. Moved to London, dd started at French school couldn't get a place for ds straight away so put him in bilingual nursery (though he was five) til he got a place. Went to pick him up one day after a couple of months to be told "He understands everything in English, but he doesn't say anything yet!" They had no idea he was English - he thought he was at school so he had to speak French! The dcs stayed in French school so kept up their French while in London (but lost their German as with no reason to speak it they just didn't bother to do so.) Back in France now and both are firmly bilingual. Dd learning German at school and is top of the class.
My experience is that if they are young enough and they have to speak it they will learn the language - but basically they are lazy, if they think they can speak English they will (they can't see any point speaking anything other than English to an English speaker). They don't do it because they think it is clever or because they can in anyway see it might be useful to them in the future they do it because they have to. Mine picked up two languages with ease - when we moved back to Britain they couldn't understand why everyone was speaking English because that was so alien to their experience. I realised that until that point they thought English was a slightly obscure language spoken by our family at home. They stopped speaking German because they no longer had to.
Like you I find all this endlessly fascinating. I think if you stay in Sweden and your dd carries on at playgroup and school she will speak Swedish. I think when you speak Swedish to her she thinks "Why are you speaking Swedish - we can speak in English?!" You don't need to do anything except keep on speaking English to her - she will learn faultless Swedish for herself (lucky her!)

LillianGish Wed 04-Feb-15 22:16:01

Sorry - that was a bit of an essay blush

Nolim Wed 04-Feb-15 22:23:27

I just want to brag that my 21 month old knows 3 words in 2 languages! And more words in at least one language.

GlowWine Thu 05-Feb-15 12:15:58

Lillan I love that story - well done you and your kids. Mine are now firmly English, me being the only German speaker around them, and we're in the UK. DD1 (10) understands German pretty well but will not speak it I think because she's a perfectionist. DD2 (7) speaks mix and match German to me, and occasionally amazes me with correct grammar... They both speak English to me as I was never strict enough to 'ignore' them if addressed in English. And I also speak English to DH (who does not really know german) so it was a bit of an impossible task.

Both have an english accent - think of drei(3) / dry. They could NOT do it, we had fun trying over and over while on some car journey...

castlesintheair Thu 05-Feb-15 13:43:30

" ... but basically they are lazy, if they think they can speak English they will (they can't see any point speaking anything other than English to an English speaker)." This is so true LillianGish! I thought my 2 youngest were having problems with the language as every time English DH or Greek FIL (who speaks English fluently) spoke French to them they would go a bit rabbit caught in the headlights and maybe mumble something. It was only when I went to collect them from a friend's house recently and heard them babbling away to her, that I realised they do actually speak French. That and they are managing to do pretty well at school.

So for us, with total immersion in french schools but only english at home, it has taken DS (13) 16 months to become very nearly fluent and for DD1 (11) and DD2 (8) to be not far behind.

MrTumblesBavarianFanbase Thu 05-Feb-15 13:52:02

We moved to Germany when DD was 18 months. DH is German but had never spoken German to her when we lived in the UK (as he "felt silly"). We spoke (and still speak, nearly 8 years on) English as a family language and it was her only language then. Her llanguage was advanced compared to my friends from antenatal group's friends and her brothers born since - she was speaking in reasonably grammatical sentences4, 5,6 word sentences at 18 months.

I made a big effort to mix in exclusively German company with DD as our move is permanent but I spoke next to no German when we moved. We went to a group or played in the thankfully well used village playground every single day without fail.

MrTumblesBavarianFanbase Thu 05-Feb-15 13:58:42

Oops - anyway, she asked "why does the little boy say Ente for duck?" the 1st playgroup session and was saying "noch einmal" by the end of the session to say she wanted another go on the slide. She could communicate in German within 6 months and spoke better German than our monolingual same age neighbor child by 2.5. She didn't go to any Form of child care til age 3, but when she did start she was eager to translate what her teachers said for me grin By 5 German speakers couldn't tell she wasn't monolingual German but her English remained native speaker (proud).

Her brothers have been bilingual from birth but dd has been from about a year in I'd say.

MrTumblesBavarianFanbase Thu 05-Feb-15 14:08:10

I never, ever speak German to my kids (9, 7, 3) and they never mix languages - they only have German friends and we only speak English as a family (plus TV and books). I read to them in English every night - one story each, takes about 45 mins. I don't respond except to tell them to speak English if they speak to me in German though, which nobody approves of but they accept and wouldn't yet dream of refusing to speak English. A lot of their monolingual friends now understand a lot of English although I do speak German to them (and my kids correct my grammar and pronunciation).

geebie Thu 05-Feb-15 14:11:21

Grüß dich Mr Tumble smile That sounds similar-ish to our situation so I hope our DD takes to the new language as well as yours did! I love Bavaria btw!!

fussychica Thu 05-Feb-15 14:44:50

DS was 10 when we moved to Spain, so pretty old compared to others on here. He went to state school so had to get on with it. He picked it up fairly quickly and in the end locals thought he was Spanish. Fortunately he also kept up his English to a high standard. He is now in his final year studying two additional languages at Uni in the UK and is intending to teach Spanish & French. proud mum emoticon

MrTumblesBavarianFanbase Thu 05-Feb-15 14:57:56

Good luck geebie ! For what it's worth I absolutely would not speak Swedish to her yourself - it's much easier for toddlers to have either person or location to "pin" the languages on - if you mix just for fun you end up with kids who speak a miss mash and can only make themselves understood to other speakers of both, and they don't get the native accent. It probably sorts itself out in the long run, but must be frustrating when other kids don't understand them when they think they are speaking the community language (and I have met "native English speaker" kids who sound very German here despite 2 American/ British/ Australien parents, and yet also need the catch up classes for foreign kids at school, because the whole family speak Denglish.

thanksamillion Fri 06-Feb-15 10:31:29

We moved to a Romanian speaking country when DD1 was 2.5 and DS was 8 months. We lived in a village with no other English speakers and had a very open house so lots of local kids in and out. DD picked it up pretty quickly and for a while it was their language of play (even though otherwise we spoke English at home).

When they were 5 and 3 we came back to the UK for 3 months while I had DD2. Within a week of starting pre-school here they stopped speaking Romanian to each other sad When we went back DD1 picked it up fairly quickly but DS had completely lost it and it took him a good year to get back to where he'd been before.

We then moved to another village where there were fewer children around and it took DD2 a really long time to pick up anything. We moved back to the UK in August when she was 4.5 and she could understand but only speak very little (she'd been in Kindergarten there for a year). DD1 (9yo) is very fluent (reads/writes/speaks without an accent) and sometimes translated when we had UK visitors, DS is fairly fluent and can read/write a bit too. They were both in local schools.

I'm desperately trying to keep their skills alive now we're back in the UK but it's an uphill struggle. My Romanian is conversational and picked up rather than learnt so my grammar isn't great and I don't want them to pick up my bad habits. I'm currently frequently car washes and the one Romanian shop in our town to keep practising!

jenpetronus Sat 07-Feb-15 14:36:22

DS1 was 2 when we arrived in France, now 13, DS2 born here. Only English spoken at home, films in whatever the original language was, don't really watch much tv. Had a meeting with DS1's French teacher a week or ago who was astonished we spoke English at home, she had no idea he wasn't from a French speaking house - all down to the school/friends etc not us at all. He's also doing well with latin. (not so good at anything else though wink ) DS2 is only 6, haven't seen any sign of language problems so far, but then you worry less 2nd time round anyway. I too find it endlessly fascinating, but they don't really do they? They just do what they have to to get on with friends etc - agree when someone posted earlier they are lazy and if they don't have to speak a language to communicate, they simply won't bother!

Alligatorpie Sun 08-Feb-15 02:01:07

Dd2 (2) was learning Arabic at daycare while she was learning English, so for a while she could speak both the same. Neither dh or I speak more than survival Arabic. Now we live in china and she is at a fully bilingual school. She says the odd word to me, but speaks more Chinese at school and to our ayi.
Dd1 (9) has a 45 minute CSL class at school everyday - she is doing amazing. Most of her friends are Chinese speakers and dh speaks pretty good Chinese and she is really trying. She was in regular Arabic classes (with fluent speakers ) for 3 years and never learned anything.

mmgirish Fri 13-Feb-15 22:56:31

My son was born in a country in SE Asia and although she could speak English really well, his nanny often spoke to him in the local language.

When he was 17 months we moved to another SE Asian country and his nanny again could speak English well but she taught him a few key phrases like hello and thank you. (We thought)

He is nearly 3 now we have recently gotten a new nanny who doesn't speak that much English and we have discovered that our son speaks a lot more of the local language than we thought. He can understand quite a lot, can count and have a very basic conversation in the local language.

I guess the nannies all speak their own language when they are together so the children pick it up that way too. We have a 5 month old and the nanny and other nannies he meets speaks to him exclusively in the local language.

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