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Marianna Du Bosq

Sep 072017
 

How to prioritise between several family languages for your multilingual child?

 

Question

Dear Sir/Madam

Our daughter is almost 15 months old and we are seeking your advice on how to work on her languages.

Here is the situation in our family: My native languages are Turkish and Russian. My husband’s native language is English. We currently live in Mozambique, so she hears a lot of Portuguese and my husband speaks good Portuguese.

We would like her to learn all these languages, though Turkish and English are a higher priority than Russian and Portuguese. At present, I speak mainly in Turkish, while my husband mixes English and Portuguese. My husband and I speak English to each other.

We’d be grateful for your advice on the best way to introduce different languages.

Many thanks,
Jeyran and Callum

Answer

Thank you for submitting your question Jeyran and Callum!

Your daughter is already a lucky gal! She will be exposed to so many great languages but more importantly, you are planning ahead and laying out some priorities. That is always one of the first steps I encourage multilingual families to consider.

Let’s just do a quick review of the needed ingredients for a bilingualism. You need exposure to the target language or in your case languages. Children need to be presented with quality language interactions to acquire the language. They also must feel the need to use the language. They can be exposed to it all day long but if they do not feel the need to use the language then you will likely not get the results you are hoping for.

With that said, I would suggest you both get together and really think through how much exposure and need can realistically be provided for each language. It may help you to narrow down your choices once you know how much time can be dedicated to each one. There are a lot of percentages thrown around as to what the magic number is to achieve fluency in a language. However, those claims are questionable. I say that, so you don’t fret too much about how you much exposure and need you should strive to provide. Instead, I want you to use it as a diagnostic so you can make some decisions.

I would also encourage you to think through what you would like your daughter to be able to achieve for each of these languages. Do you just want her to be able to feel comfortable in family gathers with the extended family? Or do you also want her to be able to work in these languages when she is older? Take some time to think these over so you can make a sound decision!

Now that we have laid the groundwork and reviewed the main elements of bilingualism, let’s go into the specifics of your situation.

You mention that Turkish and English are a priority for you. With that piece of information, I may suggest you do the following. Mom, continue to speak Turkish to your little girl since you have pointed out that is what you are already doing. It is important that we feel natural and comfortable with the language choices we are making since communication with our children is important and should come with ease. You also mentioned that English is your husband’s native language. Dad, it may also seem like a natural fit that you speak that to your daughter. As a family, you can use the one person, one language strategy to achieve this combination.

Since you live in Mozambique I would encourage you to let community take care of the Portuguese acquisition. The community language is powerful and you may find you have to work a little less than expected in that area because she will be flooded with it.

We have taken care of three, that leaves Russian! You mentioned you would like her to have exposure to all four languages so we cannot forget about Russian. However, we do want to manage expectations on need and exposure.

If you focus on Turkish since that is your priority, her Russian exposure and need will be naturally lower. You must decide if you are okay with that or if you want to split your time between Russian and Turkish. That is a choice that only you will know. Splitting your time is doable, however, it does take a lot of mental gymnastics that you should be comfortable performing.

You may find that Russian will be the language that your family manages through some more relaxed interactions such as audio books, videos and occasional bedtime reading. The choice is up to you, you can make any of these combinations work – it will just depend on what works best for your family.

Best of luck, and have a blast exploring these languages,

Marianna


Marianna Du Bosq

MariannaMarianna Du Bosq was born in Caracas, Venezuela where she spent the majority of her childhood as a monolingual speaking only Spanish. Until one day, right before her thirteen birthday, her family moved to the United States and her adventure and passion for language learning began! Her love for languages started with her own experience and grew into a desire for teaching others leading her to spend several years in the classroom teaching dual language learners. She is now facing the most challenging yet rewarding facet of her life, that of a multilingual parent with a mix of English, Spanish and German! Marianna is the blogger and podcast host at Bilingual Avenue where she interviews multilingual parents sharing their best practices along with experts in the field of multilingualism providing actionable tips and strategy. She has a Master’s in Education with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction.
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Oct 022016
 

How to deal with several family languages for a child with speech delay?

Question

Hi,

thanks for sharing important information on your website and being a reference for the parents who are lost in the sea of advice…

We have a very specific question regarding our first daughter, who has some speech delay and is exposed to three languages. We need to take an important decision regarding our multilingualism and school and we are confused because of different therapists’ advice.

My husband and I are Italians. Our first daughter was born in France, where we spent her first year of life before moving to the U.S. She was at that time mainly exposed to Italian (she wasn’t enrolled in a daycare) and a little French (playgroups, environment). When we moved to the U.S. she attended a daycare and then a pre-school, and learnt English. By her first year we noticed that she had some difficulties with language and the paediatrician suggested to consult a speech and language therapist.

After bouncing from one structure to another (in the meantime her English improved a lot and became her primary language), she had been diagnosed with some speech delay as well as Sensory Processing Disorder form a developmental paediatrician who prescribed speech therapy, psychological therapy and occupational therapy. She received the first two for a year, but not speech therapy as the waiting list was huge and she finally got a spot when it was time to move again. She had a couple of sessions and another evaluation before leaving and again she was found to have delay and in need to do therapy.

When we moved back to France (after living in the U.S. for four years), we enrolled her in a bilingual school to help smoothing the transition to French. We spoke Italian and English at home. During the last year both our first daughter and her younger sister, who was born in the US, started switching from English to Italian and learning French as well.

We are now facing the dilemma of what language we should speak to them (especially our firstborn) and if we should or should not eliminate one language as suggested by the speech and language therapist that recently evaluated her.

We are also very confused regarding the school choice, since some professionals have recommended a 100% French environment, others 100% English or bilingual one. Since she is now entering the primary school this is a very important decision. We know we’re going to stay in France for 5 years but don’t know if we’re going to stay here after that or move somewhere else, and if we need to stick with a bilingual school just in case we move again to an English-speaking country or rather focus on French and then either move to a French-speaking country or have her/them go to a French school for the rest of their lives.

So our questions are: Is it better to get rid of one language in order to help her in the other two because two languages are the maximum a child with language delays or disorder can process? If so, how can we decide which one we should eliminate? If we use the logic that would mean English since it’s hard to get rid of your mother tongue or the environment language…

But would that be the best choice if English was until a few months ago her “primary” language and it may be easier for her to learn to read and write in English since Italian is not an option in school? Should we therefore choose a fully French school or a bilingual school?

Our last question is: what about our second daughter who was born in the US and who wants to keep speaking English, is it possible to speak English to one kid and another language to the other?

Thank you so much in advance for you time and help.

Best regards,
Silvia

Answer

Hi Silvia,

Thank you for writing to the Multilingual Parenting Family Language Coaching team!

I wanted to start off by congratulating you on your commitment to multilingualism. It is evident from your question that you and your family really value languages as a gift to your children. You present some excellent questions that we can address one by one.

You are first wondering if you should eliminate a language to help your daughter manage her speech and language delays, so let’s talk a bit about this topic as a whole.

When a child is learning two or more languages simultaneously parents, teachers and even paediatricians sometimes worry that this may lead to language delays in children. Yet the good news is that is just not the case! Researchers have observed children across the spectrum and have found that being multilingual does not cause additional delays or difficulties.

Children that are bilingual and do in fact demonstrate a speech or language problem, will show these same problems. Time and time again, the consensus has been that these speech problems are not caused by learning more than one language so introducing your daughter to two or more languages is not going to impact the delays she is currently exhibiting.

It sounds like, unfortunately, this is the advice that you may have gotten from the individuals that are currently working with your daughter. Misconceptions about multilingualism still exist even within the speech language pathologist community. Often times, the advice parents receive is that if a child is facing some difficulty in their speech and language development, dropping to one language is the best course of action. Yet, as I pointed out earlier, research has proven that exposure to more than one language does not cause speech or language delays.

Ideally, families like yourself in need of speech and language therapy should work with a multilingual clinician who can support the languages the child is exposed to throughout the day. If this is not an option, see if you can continue to work with a therapist who is respectful of your family’s language approach and has experience working with multilingual individuals. It is essential that the selected clinician is willing to at the very least problem-solve and try different strategies until one is identified that best suits the needs of your child.

To continue to support your multilingual goals, I would encourage you to play an active role throughout the therapy process. If the clinician you ended up working with is monolingual, he or she can work in French during the sessions and you can practice the same concepts and strategies at home in the target languages you settle on. I encourage you to keep an open line of communication with the therapist and ensure that you are in agreement with the approach and methodology used during sessions.

Now as far as whether or not you should eliminate a language I would not recommend that you do so if the only reason is concerns about impacting language delays. If you think that you can continue to manage the current languages as a family, then feel free to proceed. The last thing I want is for you to receive misguided information, from albeit well-meaning individuals, that will the cause you to make a decision you may later regret.

Regarding your school choices, I am always in favor of quality language schools as I feel that they can support the family goals in an academic environment. They also tend to understand the challenges and benefits of raising a bilingual child so the staff at a multilingual school is likely going to be more understanding of what you are dealing with at home.

I do, however, want to point out that not all language schools are created equal. There are some great language schools and there are some not so great language schools. If you are trying to evaluate a particular school, you may find this podcast episode I did with Dr. Ingrid Piller particularly helpful. She discusses the hallmarks of a good language program.

And last but certainly not least, let’s talk about your second daughter and your language choice when speaking to her. Through my time working with multilingual families, I have seen many different variations for language policies. I have in fact come across families that speak one language to one child and a completely different one to another child for a variety of reasons. It works really well in some families and not as well in others. It really depends on the dynamics of each family.

There is really only way to find out how it plays out in your family and that is to give it a try. Test it out for a bit, and if you do in fact decide to limit the number of languages you speak to your oldest daughter and if it feels like it flows, then keep it going. I am going to be perfectly honest, it is going to be more difficult than if you just spoke the same language to both children but it does not mean it cannot be done!

If you do decide to try it, make sure to check in and let us know how it went!

Best of luck on your language journey!

Marianna


Marianna Du Bosq

MariannaMarianna Du Bosq was born in Caracas, Venezuela where she spent the majority of her childhood as a monolingual speaking only Spanish. Until one day, right before her thirteen birthday, her family moved to the United States and her adventure and passion for language learning began! Her love for languages started with her own experience and grew into a desire for teaching others leading her to spend several years in the classroom teaching dual language learners. She is now facing the most challenging yet rewarding facet of her life, that of a multilingual parent with a mix of English, Spanish and German! Marianna is the blogger and podcast host at Bilingual Avenue where she interviews multilingual parents sharing their best practices along with experts in the field of multilingualism providing actionable tips and strategy. She has a Master’s in Education with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction.
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Jun 192016
 

What to do when it does not feel right to speak one's mother tongue with a baby?

Question

Hello!

I just found your site, so first of all congratulations, it is incredibly useful!

I was trying to find out what method to use with our future kids, I’m Hungarian native, my husband is Italian and we live in Italy. I speak Italian like a native and I also speak English and Spanish fluently, I work with languages.

The problem is that I find it hard to speak my mother tongue in family. My husband speaks some Hungarian but I’m just not able to speak to him in Hungarian, we have always used Italian between us. Now that we are trying to have a baby I was thinking, what if I won’t speak Hungarian to him or her right after birth? I could introduce the language later with songs, fairy tales and games. I used to teach Italian to three and four-year-old foreign kids like this and by the end of the school year they were fluent.

My husband agrees with me, but I was wondering if this could work or should I force myself to speak to our child in Hungarian. Also, I’d be happy if our kids could benefit from the fact that we speak so many languages in family and that we are international. My sister-in-law is Spanish and they already have a son. So our Italian-Hungarian child is going to have an Italian-Spanish cousin.

We would be grateful for some advice. Thank you very much in advance!

Best regards,
Anna

Answer

Hello Anna,

Thank you for submitting your question to the Multilingual Parenting Family Coaching Team.

That’s wonderful that you speak so many language and what a great advantage when it comes to raising multilingual children.

What you are describing in your question is not uncommon. Many people, typically adults, feel very strange changing the language they speak to a given person after they have grown accustomed to speaking another language.

You do not necessarily have to change the language you use to communicate to your husband once your little ones are born. You can still continue to speak to them in Italian! Many families speak different languages to different family members. It sounds so strange when you are first starting out but I promise you, it can certainly be done. In my home, I speak Spanish to my children and English to my husband.

To answer your question, introducing your children to Hungarian at a later age could work. Your children could become fluent if you introduce it later on in life as long as you provide them with the right amount of exposure and they feel the need to communicate in Hungarian. You can certainly start at age three and four since as you mentioned in your question you have experience with that age group.

Yet I would suggest that you do in fact commit to speaking Hungarian to your babies from birth!

You will likely find that it is much easier to start right from the beginning if you can make that happen.

The beauty of starting from birth is that you can start the transition as a family slowly and work your way to more involved linguistic exchanges as your children grow. Life with a new baby will bring many changes and language can be one of them!

Research has shown that the earliest form of language learning begins in utero when the fetus can start to recognize the sound of his mother’s voice. A mother’s voice can have a calming effect on the fetus as early as seven months into a pregnancy and a baby’s heart rate slows down with just the sound of mama’s voice. As a fellow mom, that just makes my heart melt!

After birth, infants technically start their language journey around four months of age as they begin to engage in babbling. Those that are exposed to more than one language from birth can start distinguishing speech from an astonishing young age.

In fact, research has shown that after only six months, they can tell the difference between languages. For languages that tend to have similar intonation, tone, stress and rhythm it may take a little longer. Yet even then, most children can start detecting the difference just a few months later.

I share this with you to encourage you to give it a shot from the early stages. Many parents feel that baby talk comes easier in one language versus the other. Even those that are native speakers of a language but have been around a community language for years, feel a little strange in the early days. However, most of the ones that commit to sticking to their mother tongue for the first few months eventually make the full transition and few, if any, end up regretting it.

You can always try it for a bit and if it does not feel natural within your family dynamics, make the switch back to Italian.

Best of luck, Anna. with the arrival of your future children! It sounds like despite which path you choose, languages are going to be a big part of their life! May you all enjoy the ride together.

Kind regards,
Marianna

 


Marianna Du Bosq

MariannaMarianna Du Bosq was born in Caracas, Venezuela where she spent the majority of her childhood as a monolingual speaking only Spanish. Until one day, right before her thirteen birthday, her family moved to the United States and her adventure and passion for language learning began! Her love for languages started with her own experience and grew into a desire for teaching others leading her to spend several years in the classroom teaching dual language learners. She is now facing the most challenging yet rewarding facet of her life, that of a multilingual parent with a mix of English, Spanish and German! Marianna is the blogger and podcast host at Bilingual Avenue where she interviews multilingual parents sharing their best practices along with experts in the field of multilingualism providing actionable tips and strategy. She has a Master’s in Education with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction.
 

 

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May 192016
 

How to encourage a reluctant child to use the minority langauge?

Question

Hello,

We are a Spanish couple living in a bilingual area where Spanish and Valencian are spoken equally. Our son is 3.5 years old. I have always talked to him in English since he was born. His father has talked Spanish to him. And he has been exposed to Valencian since he was 2 years old, first at nursery school and now at school.

He understands everything I tell him in English but only on rare occasions does he answer me back in English. He says some words in English, but he’s hardly never able to build simple sentences spontaneously. I have used different strategies when he answers me back in Spanish. I usually repeat the sentence in English and then he says “yes”, but he doesn’t repeat them in English.

In the last days I pretended not to understand what he was saying in Spanish to see if I could “force” him to speak English to me. But then he went to talk to his father and asked him the question in Spanish. Sometimes I think he is not getting enough exposure to English. He is at school from 9 to 5 and some days I only see him in the evening for dinner. There the vehicular language is Valencian and he gets two hours per week in English.

My husband is also fluent in English and sometimes he speaks English to him at home. Should he start speaking English to him now regularly? At home or everywhere? Since both of us are Spanish it is a bit weird to speak English with each other. I teach English in a local high school and I feel confident with it, but I’m not sure if my husband could do the same.

Our son has a good attitude towards learning and speaking English. His tales, cartoons and films are always in English and his bedtime stories too. We have planned a summer school in English for him to foster his exposure to English. During the last Easter holidays in which we spent more time together he started to say some short sentences in English such as “I’m ready” or “I don’t know”, etc. but now that he’s back to school he answers me back in Spanish again. Sometimes I feel like quitting speaking English to him, but I’m afraid he’ll lose all that he’s already learned.

What can we do?
Gloria

Answer

Dear Gloria,

Thank you for submitting your question to the Multilingual Parenting Family Language Coaching Team.

Keep up the great work raising a multilingual son. You are clearly committed to the journey so let’s dig into some strategies to get your son to speak more English.

Let’s start with what you can do to help you manage his reluctance to speak the minority language, English.

The best strategy is going to really depend on your parenting style and your son’s temperament so it’s hard to generalize as to which one to use. To help you choose, you can check out this podcast episode where I share seven different things you can do when your son answers you in Spanish. You are likely to find one that you think will fit within your family dynamics.

One interesting thing to keep in mind is that research has shown that one of the best way to boost your child’s vocabulary in the target language is to react positively even if your child is not answering in the target language. You can then model the “correct” response in the language you are working on with him which in your case would be in English.

Managing his reluctance to speak is one part of the problem but what I would really encourage you to do instead is to get to the root of the problem. Why is he not speaking English to you in the first place?

It does sound like your son could benefit from additional exposure to English. Exposure is what is going to allow him to expand his vocabulary and learn the words he needs in order to communicate in English.

There are many things you can do to address exposure. For some inspiration, you can check out this podcast episode where I share several ways to increase exposure at home and throughout the community.

But remember that exposure is only half of the puzzle. We also have to make him feel the need to use English. Need is just as important as exposure and is an element often overlooked on the language journey.

You mentioned that you have only spoken to him in English since he was born but he is still communicating in Spanish to you. We ultimately want him to be able to speak to you in English but in the meantime, we may need to create that need elsewhere. You can check out that same podcast episode where I also talk about how to create a need to use the target language.

Now, you did mention that your husband is also a fluent English speaker. If your husband is willing to make the shift to English instead of communicating to your son in Spanish, you are going to be able to increase both his exposure and his need to use English.

He will no longer be able to just go to your husband and ask for what he wants in Spanish. He is going to really need to use his English skills to get what he wants.

If you do decide to switch your family language policy, I would caution that you do it gradually and that your son is aware of the transition.

Remember that language is just one element of parenting and we ultimately want our children to feel comfortable in their home environment and around their loved ones.

Whether your husband makes the switch or not, I encourage you to continue to increase the exposure and need to use English. Challenge yourself to expand on these two elements and you will see results.

Keep up the great work you are doing with your son and make sure to stay motivated. You and your family can achieve your multilingual goals!

Best of luck!
Marianna



Marianna Du Bosq

MariannaMarianna Du Bosq was born in Caracas, Venezuela where she spent the majority of her childhood as a monolingual speaking only Spanish. Until one day, right before her thirteen birthday, her family moved to the United States and her adventure and passion for language learning began! Her love for languages started with her own experience and grew into a desire for teaching others leading her to spend several years in the classroom teaching dual language learners. She is now facing the most challenging yet rewarding facet of her life, that of a multilingual parent with a mix of English, Spanish and German! Marianna is the blogger and podcast host at Bilingual Avenue where she interviews multilingual parents sharing their best practices along with experts in the field of multilingualism providing actionable tips and strategy. She has a Master’s in Education with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction.
 

 

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Mar 102016
 

Question

Hello!

I would very much appreciate your advice on the following situation in our family. My husband and I live in England with our 1-month old son. My mother tongue is Polish, and my husband’s is French. Since our baby’s birth we have been following the OPOL strategy, but now we are planning to hire a nanny to look after our son when I return to work full-time – he will be 3 months old then.

However, we are not sure whether we should choose a nanny who is a native English speaker or it does not matter at this age. As we are planning to send our child to an English nursery at around one year of age, my husband thinks that it is not important at this stage which language the nanny speaks as long as it is a good nanny because our baby is very young and the exposure to the nanny’s language will only last for several months (before he can speak).
What do you think?

We would be very grateful for your advice.

Kind regards,
Beata

Answer

Thank you for your submitting your question to the Multilingual Parenting Language Coaching Team!

Congratulations on your new baby. He’s a lucky little boy to be surrounded by so many beautiful languages. I commend you for taking the time to think about your son’s first year and what his exposure to the home languages will be like.

Based on your question, it seems that you are wondering how your son’s language will be influenced in those early months. I am glad you asked this question because as parents we do not always have insights into how our children’s language is developing before they start producing those first few words.

I often say that if you can, you should strive to expose your child to as much of your target language as you can from an early age. But I know that is not always possible.

I also often say that it is never too late to start learning a language. I did not speak any English really until right before my 13th birthday.

The fact that you will likely need to have a nanny that only speaks your community language, English, is not going be detrimental for your son’s language development. There are still plenty of things that she can do to help his progress along!

What I’d like to do is share with you what is happening developmentally for your son during these early months. I will also share with you how an English speaking nanny can help you with his language development.

Let’s start with the really early months, the 0-6 month range, which are often referred to as the “pre-babble” stage.

There are two key elements that I would like you to focus on before your son turns 6 months.

Stimulate vowel sounds

Babies begin to talk by making vowel sounds regardless of which languages are around them. You can hear these little vowel sounds really early when your son squeals in delight as you play with them. You can ask your nanny to attempt at stimulating these vowel sounds during the day while they spend time together.

Some fun ways of doing so is by:

  • Making playful vowel sounds in the mirror with your baby or
  • Associating certain sounds with certain actions. For example, always saying “Oooh” when giving your baby a hug.

Making funny noises

After producing vowel sounds children typically progress to making noises. A common baby noise you may have heard in the past is “grrr.” Before six months, it can be very beneficial for parents and caretakers to encourage our littlest ones to produce their own noises.

Playing peekaboo for example can be particularly helpful. If you do this activity over and over, your child can eventually join in the fun by saying “booo!”

It may seem silly but just as children cannot run without learning to walk first, they cannot talk without going through the vowels and noises stage.

Speakers of any language can work with your son on vowels and noises so capitalize on this opportunity.

Now let’s talk about the babble phase and identify what your nanny can help you with to promote language development as a whole.

Let me give you a glimpse into all the things that your will learn to do in the 6 to 12 month age range. Most children exhibiting normal development will learn during this time period to babble, listen, nod, wave, clap, point, sign, understand what others are communicating to him just to name a few exciting milestones!

These may sound like simple concepts but these are a big deal for little minds.

Here are some things you and your child’s caretaker can do to stimulate these important building blocks for language development:

  • Encourage your child to babble by repeating with delight the noises he is making.
  • Enhance his listening skills by making lots of noises when you play together.
  • Work on gestures like pointing, waving and bye-bye by modeling them over and over.
  • Consider introducing sign language. It can give babies a head start in learning how to intentionally communicate.
  • Develop his understanding of what is said to him by using repetitive language and using a predictable routine.
  • Read lots and lots of books together

One word of caution is that I am not by any means implying that your caretaker should be silent around your child and only work on the skills listed above. On the contrary!

But my goal here is to show you that language development is much more than just hearing and producing words. Instead there are many building blocks that must come before your son can begin to communicate and your caretaker can help you facilitate that process regardless of the language he or she speaks to your son!

Best of luck on the road ahead. You certainly have some really fun months ahead of you!

Kind regards,
Marianna

 

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Feb 042016
 

Question

Hi,

I am Brazilian and my husband is German. We live in Germany and raise our almost two years old son bilingual. We do OPOL with our son and our common language is mostly German. My husband speaks Portuguese but not so well. At the moment my son attends a German daycare in the mornings and I spend the afternoons with him. He understands both languages and speaks less Portuguese than German.

In April (after our holidays in Brazil) that will change, and our son will start also in the afternoons in the daycare, being thus much less exposed to Portuguese. I do not think mL@H is for my family, but I am thinking that if it could be a good idea to start to speak Portuguese in some specific family occasions like during the meals.

Thank you,
Elisa

Answer

Hi Elisa,

Thank you for submitting your question to the Multilingual Parenting Family Language Coaching Team.

I commend you on thinking ahead and realizing that the shift in your son’s school situation will have an impact on the exposure he receives in his German and Portuguese. You are clearly being very intentional about his language journey and your proactive mindset will be a helpful asset for your family.

From reading your situation I have a few thoughts to share with you:

The first thing that caught my eye is that you will be in Brazil right before your son’s transition. I would dedicate some time during your holiday to look for resources in Portuguese that either you or your husband can use with your son. Books are always helpful but make sure you get books that you can use with your son now but also some that you can use a little later as he grows older.

A real bonus would be if you can get your hands on some audio books! This way you are not the only source of Portuguese in your home. Your son can hear stories and other native speakers besides just you!

You can also make your own audio books. Ask as many family members and friends to record themselves reading a book in Portuguese. This can be a really special way to bond with family overseas and make them feel less far away than they really are.

So now let’s see what you can do once you are back home and your son starts spending more time in the German-speaking daycare.

Whenever families are considering a switch to their language policy, I recommend that you switch to something where all parties are feeling comfortable. You acknowledge that a full switch to a minority language at home model is likely not a good fit. Being honest with yourself and your partner is important so now we know we can cross that off the list.

It does sound like you are more open to a variation of the time and place policy where you dedicate specific times of your day or family gatherings to just speaking Portuguese. This strategy can be very beneficial to some families.

Designating specific times of the day or the week to speak as a family in a language can be a very fruitful exercise. Here are five tips I would encourage you to consider to get the most out of this policy:

Communicate the boundaries.  Make sure that your son is aware of when you will be speaking Portuguese as a family. Your son is only 2 so he should be fairly flexible with the policy change. Take advantage of the fact that he is young to set the right set of expectations for him.  The more he understands when to speak Portuguese specifically to you, the more you will get him to participate!

Be consistent. Once you have set those boundaries, stick to the plan. The last thing you want to do is confuse your child by changing things up on him all the time. You can be flexible at the beginning until you find an approach that works, but after you do try hard to hold yourselves accountable to the plan.

Find optimal times. In your email you suggest shifting to speaking Portuguese during meal times. This may be a great time since you are all together but it may also be a difficult time of the day. How does your son do with food? Is he a picky eater? Are you having to argue with him about eating? Or is he tired around dinner time because it is almost time for bed?

You want to set yourself up for success so you want to make sure those interactions are when he is well rested and you can focus on being intentional about what Portuguese vocabulary you want to infuse into his every day. I often find that meals can be distracting.  The conversations at the table when our kids are little are often shallow because we are focused on so many things.

Leverage playtime. Playing with your child is one of the best things you can do for their overall development. Language is really no exception. If you can dedicate anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes a day playing in Portuguese, you are likely to have some great results.

I can share two great podcast episodes from Bilingual Avenue that provide some useful insights as to how to get the most out of play time with your children. Episode 17 and Episode 89 are loaded with language strategies that you can put into place right away!

Keep working at it.  Parenting in general is full of changes.  Some of those are easier than others.  For some families, switching their language strategy can be a difficult time.  However, it is something you can do if you keep working at it.

You may find that you need to tweak your approach a few times until you find something that feels right for everyone involved. The main thing to remember is that this is a marathon and not a sprint. Keep an open communication with your husband and eventually you will all find your rhythm!

I hope you find these five tips helpful.  I know that the extra exposure to Portuguese will be helpful to your son!

Best of luck on your journey!

Marianna

UPDATE: Marianna’s answer is now also available as a podcast on Bilingual Avenue!

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Dec 032015
 

Question

Hello,

I’m looking for some advice on how to raise a bilingual child when one of the parents is against it. We are a mixed family. I’m Polish and my partner is English. We have a two-year-old son and live in the UK.

It is very important for me to teach my son to understand and speak Polish as I would like for him to be able to communicate with my family in Poland and know the culture there etc. However, my partner is against it. He thinks that I’m confusing him and delaying his speech development and he wants me to teach our son English first and later on Polish. But I know once my son goes to school and have English all around him, he might not want to learn Polish at all and it will be harder to encourage him to do so especially when English will be his language at school and at home.

I prefer he gets used to both languages from early childhood and I would like for me to be able to speak to him in Polish at home, however, my partner is not allowing me to do so. He wants me to talk to our son only in English when we are all together which means the only opportunity for me to speak to my son in my language are two days in a week as I work part time (3 days).

His English grandma is looking after him when I’m at work. We have recently moved to a new area and I don’t have other Polish friends with kids nearby, therefore, quite often we are attending English toddler groups or other English activities. This means that our child doesn’t have much contact with Polish people, however I’m trying to talk to him in my language as much as I can when we are only both together at home. However, as a result I noticed that I mix both languages because I talk to him in Polish, when we are on our own in the room and 3-5 min later I talk to him in English, once my partner enters the room.

Am I doing the right thing? Or I’m confusing my son more by speaking to him in both languages? Please can you give me some advice what can I do in such a situation?

Kind regards,
Patrycja

Answer

Patrycja,

Thank you very much for contacting the Multilingual Parenting Family Language Coaching Team.

You are facing a pretty common dilemma for families where both parents do not speak the same languages. I am sorry to hear that you and your husband are not currently on the same page when it comes to what languages to speak to your son. However, I think with some communication you may be able to come to an agreement that works for all of you.

What I have found in working with multilingual families is that parents or loved ones usually resist the introduction of a new language because they may have some misconceptions about multilingualism. That seems to be the case in your situation since you mentioned that your husband is afraid that it may delay your son’s speech development. Luckily for you, there is quite a bit of research available that disproves this claim! In fact, you can check out this interview with Dr. Brenda Gorman, a bilingual speech-language pathology, where she describes in detail how introducing a second language does not cause any speech delays. She also dispels other language acquisition myths that may be of interest to you.

Going forward, my first recommendation for you would be to consider having an honest conversation with your husband and address what exactly is making him uneasy or anxious about your preference to speak exclusively in Polish to your son. Go into the conversation with an open mind and attentively listen to his concerns. Sometimes just letting the other person vent can make a difference.

I would also encourage you to voice why it is important for you that your son learn Polish. If you find that it simply becomes more natural for you to speak to your son in your mother tongue, then explain that to your partner. You may also find this episode helpful  as I share some tips on how to communicate with others who may be skeptical about your multilingual decision.

My second recommendation for you would be to turn its problem on its head and approach it from a different angle. Once you have given your husband the chance to voice his concerns, share with him the benefits that your son will likely gain from speaking more than one language.

Start by sharing some of the better-known benefits, in other words, the ones he probably already knew. Even though he may be familiar with these, they are still worth keeping in mind as they may help paint the bigger picture when it comes to multilingualism. Some of the benefits your son may have from learning Polish include:

Greater understanding of culture

Learning a second language can provide one with an opportunity to appreciate the world from a new perspective. By speaking more than one language, your son will have an open the door to the Polish culture and connect with others that he may not even have a chance to know.

Increased ability to learn words in another language

The jury is still out on whether or not being multilingual can help an individual learn an additional language quicker. However, once you know one language, finding common words while learning another can help the learning experience.

More marketable in the workforce

We live in an increasing globalized society and the need to speak two or more languages for specific jobs or professions seems to be increasing. It is quite common for employers to see language skills as a benefit when looking for prospective employees. This is not just limited to jobs that already have a language requirement. Even employers that are looking to hire individuals for monolingual job openings tend to see proficiency and especially fluency in another language as a positive attribute that can help one stand out from the crowd.

Easier time when traveling

Nowadays it feels like almost every touristy attraction is full of English speakers that can help you meet your needs with just basic sentences. But this is not the case everywhere. Travel just a little bit deeper from the main attractions and the need for speaking the local language increases exponentially.

A sense of connection with your heritage

Some families are attracted to multilingualism as it provides them with a closer connection to their heritage, history, culture and family traditions and it sounds like that is also true in your case. For many, passing on a second or a third language also means giving your children an ability to communicate to their extended family. This connection not only facilitates interactions with others but it can also provide the individual with a sense of pride.

As if these benefits were not enough, here are some additional less known benefits that may also help you demonstrate to your husband that teaching your son Polish really is a worthy task!

Enhanced ability to problem solve

An unexpected benefit derived from multilingualism is that it can enhance our ability to problem solve. The overall mental alertness that is required to switch between languages develops others skills and other types of thinking.

Delay the onset of dementia

Probably one of the most exciting discoveries about multilingualism is that it can delay of onset of dementia. The initial studies conducted in this field have indicated that monolingual adults start showing the first signs of dementia at age 71.4 while on average multilingual individuals are showing these same signs at the age of 75.5. Therefore, concluding that the delay can be as much as four years.

Better ability to focus on relevant information

Since multilinguals are constantly switching between languages, we have to filter out the word in the language we are not using and select the word in the language we are using to communicate at that moment. This skill is not limited to language but also transfers to other aspects of our communication and everyday life.

These are just some of the bilingual advantages that you can share during your family conversations. I hope some of these can help build your case when communicating the value of incorporating Polish as a family language.
In your question, you also shared that you currently switch between English and Polish with your son and wondered if that would lead to confusion. Surprisingly, children are able to differentiate languages from quite a young age. However, I always encourage parents to set boundaries around languages either through the individual speaking each language or through set intervals of time. This will ensure that the child is provided with continuity and an appropriate amount of exposure to the language.

Patrycja, I hope you found the answer helpful and wish you the best of luck as your family decides which path to take going forward.

Marianna

You can now also listen to Marianna’s answer on her podcast.

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Nov 052015
 

Question

Hello,

How strict should you be when your child answers in the wrong language? My almost two year old is learning Spanish, Catalan and English. Spanish and Catalan from nursery (we live in Spain). Spanish from mum and English from dad (native) and English is spoken when we are all together. I know my daughter is only two but I get frustrated when she answers me in Spanish. I correct her many times but still answers in Spanish. I’m patient and repeat the English over and over but sometimes I feel I should be more strict and tell her off otherwise she will answer how she wants.

Thoughts?
Trent

Answer

Thank you, Trent, for submitting your question to the Multilingual Parenting Language Coaching Team!

One of the most common obstacles I hear from multilingual parents is exactly what you have described here. You are working really hard to pass on a specific language to your child and even though they show that they are understanding what is being said to them they answer in another language. Typically, they answer in the community language which is what you are describing here, your daughter is answering back in Spanish.

How you manage these obstacles will be a very personal choice, however, you certainly have a few options and I will break those down for your below:

Incomprehension. When applying this approach you are pretending that you do not understand your child when she is speaking to you in Spanish. This one may be harder to pull off if your children see you out in the community interacting in Spanish.

Stop your child. Some parents choose to stop their child midsentence and ask them to express themselves in the “correct” language in your case English.

Questioning. In this case, you may ask your daughter a question about what she is saying in English to either give her the words she will need to communicate in English and/or to encourage her to switch from Spanish to English.

Mommy words vs Daddy words. On an interview with Susanne Dopke, a highly regarded speech and language pathologist, she shared with me that children that are 24 months or older understand the differences between mommy words and daddy words. Just like they understand that mommy has certain shoes that she wears and they are different from daddy’s, they also understand who uses which types of words and, therefore, who uses which language.

Repeat. You also have the option of repeating what your daughter has just said in Spanish but in English. Again, this gives her the opportunity to hear the words she would be using to communicate if she chooses to do so in English. Based on your question, it sounds like this is the strategy you have already implemented in your home.

Pretend that nothing happened. Some parents simply let their children speak in the language they prefer but they continue to respond in the target language.

Switch to Spanish. The most extreme option you have at your disposal is to simply switch to Spanish when your daughter speaks to you Spanish.

As you can see, there are several strategies that you can implement, and they really cover the entire spectrum. You can be as stern as you like or as flexible as you would like, and they will likely all yield different outcomes.

I can tell you that in our home, we use the mommy words vs daddy words strategy and it has worked very well for us so far. My daughter is 34 months and I speak to her exclusively in Spanish. Let’s say that we are talking and she says a word in English, I will say something along the lines of “That’s how Daddy says it, how does mommy say it?” If she knows the word in Spanish, she immediately switches. If she does not know the word, she may not respond or she repeats the word in English.

I point out the difference in her behavior based on whether or not she knows the word because it is of relevance to this topic. Often times when our multilingual children answer in a language other than the one we are speaking to them, it is because they simply do not have the words they need to communicate in that language at their disposal. They may have the best intentions but the words may simply come easier in another language, typically the community language since they are much more exposed to it. The best way to address this issue is by increasing the amount of exposure. This is, of course, easier said than done and in fact you are probably already doing plenty to provide your daughter with exposure in English. Here are some additional ideas to help you think outside of the box and create engaging activities for her.

In your question you did ask how strict you should be and again I think that comes down to a personal choice. I can tell you, however, about a recent conversation I had with Annabelle Humanes, a researcher in language acquisition. Through her research on this very topic, she found that parents who responded positively when their child responded in the “wrong language” and then just modeled the word in the “right language” provided the greatest boost in the child’s vocabulary.

This sounds very similar to what you are doing. Perhaps you can take it a step further and after repeating yourself in English, engage in a conversation with her that then encourages her to use the words you just repeated in English. For example, if she is telling you about an experience at the park, you may repeat what she is saying in English and then ask her what she would like to do at the park next time she goes. You are essentially giving her an opportunity to talk about exactly what you just said in English.

Start off simple with words that she finds easier in English and then continue to build on it. Keep in mind that research has shown that how much you speak with your child does make a difference in how much they learn. Therefore, do not hold back and chat away with your daughter as much as you possibly can in English and treat your daughter like a conversational partner because how you say things also matters!

Above all, keep it positive. You do not want your bilingual daughter to start resenting English or have a negative associations. Keep providing her with memorable experiences in English, increase the amount of exposure she is getting in the language and most importantly do not give up! You will look back later and be glad that you worked through this hiccup.

Kind regards
Marianna

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Sep 172015
 

Question

My husband and I are Russians but currently leave in England. Both of us use Russian at home, and since we have been in UK for over 10 years, we are fluent in English. We have a small baby and wish our baby to speak both languages.

We are not going to place the child at nursery as we wish and believe that the best is to educate child at home. My husband wants our child to be native in Russian: to be able to read, write and speak fluently, therefore, we are going to speak and teach him Russian as the main language. But I worry that it is going to cause some problems when the child goes to English school when he will grow up.

I like to plan things ahead. What is the best way to teach both languages? We have lots of English friends, will our child get confused hearing us speak different language? We are planning to go to different child social clubs like mother and baby classes, etc. Will I need to translate and communicate in Russian or is it OK to use English in classes?

Please give us your advise.

Marika

Answer

Thank you for submitting your question to the Multilingual Parenting Family Language Coaching Team. Your question is a common dilemma that parents face who have chosen the minority language at home strategy.

To begin, I congratulate you on setting very clear language goals. You mentioned in your question that your husband would like your child to be able to read, write and speak Russian fluently. Defining your language goals early on the language journey can really help to guide your way forward. It sounds from your note that you have chosen to homeschool your child in the early years yet eventually transition to school in English. I am going to assume that you are planning to make the transition in Kindergarten since you only mentioned that you do not want your child to attend nursery in English.

There are a few questions here and so I will break them down so that I can cover them all.

You ask will my child get confused hearing us speaking different language?

You will be relieved to hear that “No, your child will absolutely not be confused!” In fact, you will be amazed at how well your child will be able to discern when you use English and when you use Russian. You may also find that he or she is able to also figure out when to use one language versus when to use the other. Since English is your community language, you are likely going to have to use English in front of your child at different times but you can relax and know that this will not lead to any confusion language confusion.

You also ask what is the best way is to teach both languages?

For this question, I want to revisit your goals. You want your child to be able to read, write and speak Russian and English fluently. The way I see it you have two main choices. You can either take on the responsibility of teaching both languages or you can solicit the help of the community to teach your child English.

Let’s take a look at both scenarios. If you choose to introduce English in the home you have a few strategies at your disposal. You can either implement the One Parent, One Language (OPOL) strategy and either you or your husband speak exclusively to your child in English while the other parent speaks exclusively in Russian. This will allow your child to learn the two languages simultaneously assuming that an equal amount of language exposure is provided by each respective parent.

If neither parent feels comfortable making the switch from Russian to English, you can choose a strategy called Language Time (aka Time and Place). When using this strategy, you can determine specific times to use English and specific times to speak Russian. You can divide your time in several ways. Maybe you want to dedicate only one hour a day to English, for example. It can be an hour after your child naps and then the rest of the day is done in Russian. You can also be much more diligent and speak English for two weeks and then switch to speaking Russian for another two weeks. Maria at trilingualmama.com has implemented this approach with her family and had great success.

Many families around the world have used these strategies and achieved success but I do caution you that by choosing to split your time you are going to decrease the amount of exposure your child will get in Russian. Keep in mind that once he or she starts school your son/daughter will be bombarded with English and your child’s exposure to Russian will decrease.

Now let’s talk about your second choice which is to allow your child to learn English through the community. In many instances, reading and writing will be taught in Kindergarten and in the follow on school years. (There are of course plenty of exceptions and some children are able to decode and blend during their preschool years. Some children may also be able to write some letters and even their names). For the most part, however, reading and writing is more common in the elementary school years. With that being said, I would encourage you not to worry all that much about having to teach your child to read and write in your community language, English. I would let the school take care of that. It may just make it more manageable for you. You will of course want to complement what he is learning in school at home but you can let his teacher and the school environment take the lead for these skills.

And now let’s address your last concern, you are worried that because you will be focusing mostly on Russian at home, your child may have trouble when he enters school in English. I have good news for you here as well. What you will find is that your child will most likely be able to transfer much of what he has learned with you in Russian and over time transfer those skills to English. If you want to know more about how this many unfold in the early years, you may find this post particularly helpful.

Regardless of what approach you choose, I do want to leave you with some general thoughts on how to promote language development for your child in any language.

In the early months –
– Narrate what you are doing for your child
– Talk about what your child is doing or experiencing
– Repeat yourself often!

When babbling starts –
– Pretend to have conversations with your baby
– Encourage him/her to imitate your sounds
– Copy the sounds he or she makes

Once your child starts producing single words –
– Expand on the few words he or she is producing by adding one more related word
– Describe what your child is seeing so that you can provide the words needed to understand more of the context around him or her
– Take the time to incorporate pretend play

Once your child is making two word phrases –
– Encourage your child to elongate his sentences by giving them more and more words to use
– Ask questions about what your child is doing or experiencing to encourage communication
– Pause from time to time when talking to your child to give him or her a chance to communicate

Marika, thank you again for sending your question to the Multilingual Parenting Family Language Coaching Team. I wish you the best for the arrival of your little one and over the next few years as your child blossoms into a little linguist!

Marianna

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Aug 272015
 

Question

Hello,

I am so glad I found this website, I just realized I did a big disservice to my kids. I am Italian, live in the States, my husband is American, both of our kids were born and raised here, I have lived here for 12 years now.

In the beginning I was speaking Italian to my first son, now 11, but slowly but surely I dropped Italian and only spoke English (I am not sure why, I feel like I didn’t want to have an accent and possibly was little disappointed with my country). Now my older son is in Italy with my parents for the summer and I realize the mistake I have made in not keeping up with Italian! My parents can’t communicate with my kids!

Even though now he is picking it up and working really hard to learn as much as he can. My youngest one is 6 and I have, for the past 3 weeks, switched to speaking only or almost only Italian at home and sometimes when we are out and about. He doesn’t seem to mind and have asked me how to say things in Italian, it looks like I might be still in time to teach them my language and hopefully my culture (which I have in a way, I am a chef and food is always a great way to pass on a culture).

What I am wondering is if my approach is correct? What I am doing is, speaking mostly Italian, but since he doesn’t know nearly enough words to understand a full or complicated sentence, I say it in Italian, try again, then explain in English and repeat in Italian a couple of times, is this a good efficient way to proceed?

Reading your site, I have finally realized that if my parents were bilingual and didn’t teach me the second language, I would be furious at them now, I don’t want my kids to feel the same, or my parents to be so upset (at me of course) because their only grandkids, can’t speak their language.

Thank you so much
Hopeful mum

Answer

Hi Hopeful Mum!

Thank you for submitting your question to the Multilingual Parenting family language coaching team. You are right to be hopeful! I can tell you from personal experience that it is not too late for your children to learn Italian. I did not learn English until I was 13 years old so I promise you, it can be done.

I can tell that you already have a huge advantage on your side, and that is that both of your children seem interested in learning the language so that alone can go a long way. Just because they are older does not mean that they will not be able to pick it up. In fact, in some cases, they will have an advantage because they will already have an entire language system, English, that they can use to reference when their Italian.

I like the approach you are currently using especially since your children seem to be taking to it. By speaking to them in Italian, you are slowly increasing the amount of rich vocabulary that is presented to them on a daily basis. Yet you are also pausing to explain what you are saying and providing them with context in English. Also by regularly speaking to them, you are modeling the intonation and pronunciation of the language (even if they are not able to imitate it just yet).

Last but certainly not least, by speaking to them in full sentences you are also modeling the Italian grammatical structure. I have talked about the six principles that foster language development and one very important one is that vocabulary and language are learned together.

Overall, I would say your current approach seems like a good way for you to start. Just make sure to monitor how they are feeling about this shift in your family language policy. Since they are older, check in with them from time to time and make sure that they are still comfortable.

Now let’s talk about some additional things that you can do to support their language learning journey. The first thing I would advise is to develop some language goals for each of your boys. The more aggressive those goals are the harder you will have to work to achieve them. However, this is an important step because it will help guide you in future decisions.

In reading through the Multilingual Parenting blog, you may have come across the two key ingredients to learning a language, providing plenty of exposure and creating a need to use the language. You can find a list of ideas on how to create exposure to Italian here but let me give you some additional ideas for older children:

Incorporate vocabulary that is relevant to your boys. They are going to learn the language differently than they would if they were babies so make it appealing it to them. Try to incorporate words in your conversations that they will be able to actually use when they try to communicate.

Leverage technology. If your children watch TV, for example, identify some shows that children their age are watching in Italy. They will be age appropriate and they will also have vocabulary that is relevant to what they find interesting (like mentioned above).

Enroll them in a language class. It is great that they are getting to hear you speak Italian but enlisting the help of a professional may also be beneficial. If you are not able to find them a class or an instructor in your community, no problem. We live in the digital age and you can find one-on-one classes online through tools like Skype or you can go the more traditional route and use a language software. (I am personally a fan of Fluenz).

Find a penpal. This tip may be more practical for your older son, however, do not underestimate the power of writing. Your son may not yet have a lot of vocabulary and the idea of writing a letter in Italian may seem daunting, but you can start out with really simple sentences. This is something you can work on together in the beginning. As he gets more comfortable and has more vocabulary, he can start doing it on his own. Now as far as finding a penpal, you may not have to look too hard. Your own parents may love the opportunity.

Live the language! You mention that you are a chef so cook together while practicing your Italian. Write down some recipes in Italian and make them together. There is lots of vocabulary you can include like ingredients, action verbs, numbers, etc. These types of experiences will allow your children to associate Italian with having a good time.

Leverage your family members. Your family in Italy will surely love the fact that you are committed to them learning their own language. Be up front with them about your goals and think of ways that they can help you along the way. They will likely be your greatest allies.

That should give you a good idea of the types of things you can do to increase the exposure. Just remember that you will also have to find a way for them to feel the need to use the language.

I wish you the best of luck, keep the momentum going and remember that your own enthusiasm will matter too!

Marianna

Marianna’s answer is now also available as a podcast on Bilingual Avenue!

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