Question

Hello!

I have a challenge approaching with the birth of my daughter. My partner is Polish and will be speaking to her in Polish. I am half Czech and although was not spoken to as a child managed to learn the language enough to speak and maintain relationships with my relatives there. My partner is keen that our daughter should learn both Slavic languages in addition to English.

The challenge is that my Czech grammar is usually not correct. There are the additional worries that as Czech and Polish are similar, it might be very easy for her to mix up words from each language. Plus, I will not be at home all day, presenting a challenge in terms of giving her time in each language (Czech and English). Windows of opportunity are that my mother would be able to speak correct Czech (although she has expressed a desire not to) and that I could read to my daughter in Czech from story books.

I’d be grateful for any advice for this particular set of circumstances.

Many thanks,
Frank

Answer

Hello Frank,

Thank you for your question and congratulations on the new family member! It is great that you are thinking of the language exposure in advance, so that you can plan how to best pass on your languages to your baby daughter.

Unfortunately, you do not mention where you live, or which language your daughter will do her schooling in, as this has an impact on what I would suggest. In short, if you live in an English-speaking country, then I would recommend that – if you feel comfortable with it – you stick to only using Czech with your little one.

If, as you say, you are not fully fluent in the language, you would need to arrange exposure for her also from native speakers, so she could pick up the right grammar and pronunciation (also read my article on passing on a language you are not fluent in). Your mother sounds like the ideal candidate for this, but of course she has to agree with it. Have you asked your mother why she is reluctant to speak Czech with her granddaughter? She might be persuaded to help if you explain why it is important to you and your wife that your daughter learns the family language.

However, if you were to live in a Czech-speaking community, then your daughter would easily pick up the language at nursery or school and you could concentrate on providing the English exposure. Somehow I have the feeling that this is not the case for you, though. If you live in Poland, then Polish will become your daughter’s majority language, and you will be faced with the challenge of passing on both Czech and English to her. You could try a variation of the time and place approach, where you for example choose to speak Czech during the weekends and English during the week, or you could switch weekly or fortnightly, like my fellow coach Maria. It all depends on how much time you can spend with your daughter in each language.

Reading books in Czech is definitely to be recommended, independent of the scenario – as is reading them in Polish and English as well.

Independent of where you live, I would also look for playgroups in the minority language. If these do not exist, try to find other families with the same languages and same-aged children – maybe you can starta playgroup or arrange playdates.

With regards to Polish and Czech being similar, I would not worry too much about this. Children are good at keeping languages apart, and although there will initially probably be some mixing, keep in mind that this is something most bilingual children do when growing up with more than one language. As long as there is enough exposure to the Czech language, your daughter will learn it.

Please comment below with any further questions and clarifications – I am happy to continue the discussion!

Kind regards
Rita

 

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