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Rita Rosenback

Jan 152017
 

Choosing the school language for a bilingual child – one of the home languages or a third one?

 

Question

Hello,

My daughter is two years old. We live in Beirut, Lebanon. Our community language is Arabic. Our schools provide education either in English or in French. Some schools teach both English and French languages equally. Since birth, my daughter was exposed to both English and Arabic.

At first, I used to speak to her only in Arabic and sing songs and read stories in English. But after she turned 6 months old, I switched to speaking only in English hereby adopting the one parent, one language method (OPOL).

Now it is time to enrol her in a preschool. I am interested to enrol her in a French rather than English preschool to help her acquire a third language at an early age. However, I am not sure if this is the right thing to do.

I would highly appreciate your advice. Thank you in advance

Sincerely,
Zeina

Answer

Dear Zeina

Thank you for your question – your daughter is so lucky to have a mother who helps her learn many languages while growing up! As I understand it, your daughter is currently exposed to English from you and the Arabic exposure comes from the other parent (and maybe the rest of the family?) It is fantastic to have the choice of schools and languages for your daughter’s education.

Many children (including my younger daughter) have successfully grow up trilingual in a similar environment to yours: two languages at home and an third at school. So this setup is definitely possible and in many aspects an ideal scenario.

There are a few things you should take into consideration when deciding which school to enrol your daughter in:

1. Quality, reputation and suitability of the school – when choosing a school the first criterion should always be how good the school is. Are you happy with the standard of the education, the teachers and the ethos of the school? Do you think your child will be happy in the school?

2. Secondary schools – once your daughter has finished her primary education, are there schools where she can continue in the same language? It is a big step were she to have to change her language of education once she goes on to the secondary education. If she were to start her schooling in French, then you would want her to be able to finish her education in the same language. Even if she is learning English from you – there is still a big difference in the level of fluency in everyday situations compared to what is required for school (see this post for a link to an article explaining the difference between BICS and CALP).

If both schools are equally suitable and there is the chance to continue in the same school language, next consider

3. Your own French language skills – will you be able to support her learning throughout school, also when the expectations get higher and homework more complicated? There is of course the option of hiring a tutor to help, if necessary, but this is something you need to also think about when making the school choice.

4. Amount of exposure to English – once your daughter goes to school, how much time will you spend with her? In case she starts a French school, will there be enough continuous exposure to English so your daughter can maintain and develop her English skills alongside learning French? It is vital for all language learning that there is a continued need and opportunity to use and enhance one’s language skills, independent of age, if one wants to maintain fluency in a language.

Take all the above into consideration and make a list of pros and cons with both options and I am sure you will be able to make the best choice for your daughter.

Wishing you a successful bilingual – possibly trilingual – family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin
Jan 122017
 

How to maintain and support minority languages in a multilingual family?

Question

Hello,

I am currently pregnant with our first child and my husband and I are trying to make a family language plan.

I am American so my native language is English, but I also know a good amount of French and a few words and phrases in Ewe. My husband is Togolese and speaks Ewe (a local language) and French (the official language) fluently and has a decent understanding of English, but not as good as my level of French. We converse currently with a combination of English and French.

We would like our children to be able to speak Ewe and be able to read and write in both English and French. We currently live in Togo, but will probably spend some time in the US and will most likely live in a different African francophone country in the future. We are considering the OPOL method with my husband using Ewe and myself using English.

I am wondering how much French we as parents should introduce to our children before they would learn it in school? Should we use primarily French to speak as a couple? Should we read books or show TV and movies in both French and English?

Once our children are in a French school, how can I best teach them to also be able to read and write in English without them just dreading more work (especially as they get older)?

Also, currently the community languages are Ewe and French, but once we leave Togo, how can we encourage the learning and usage of Ewe when our children’s only exposure to it will be from their father?

Finally, if we live in another African country most likely our children’s friends will speak the local language of their country/region. My husband and I will take language lessons in the local language, but our understanding may still be rather elementary. What else can we do to promote our children learning a fourth language other than just allowing them to play with children who speak it?

Thank you for your help!
Hannah

Answer

Dear Hannah

Thank you for your question and well done for thinking about your language plan for your multilingual family – with this many languages in and around your family it is important to think ahead!

Depending on where you are going to live in the future, and of what age your children will be in each country, there are many variables which cannot all be covered in a short Q&A, but I will answer based on the information you have given.

Your plan to use one parent, one language (OPOL) with both of you speaking your native languages: you English and your husband Ewe, is the natural choice. Because you will most likely move away from Togo, the most important thing is to make sure the children get a solid foundation in Ewe. If you live in the US for some time, this will give your children’s English skills a great boost. It is also a lot easier to find resources to support their English, than it will ever be the case for Ewe – this is why the foundation is so important.

You do not mention whether you plan for your children to attend nursery before going to school in Togo, and if you do, in which language. If they were to attend nursery in French, they would pick up the language very quickly from there – the same does apply for school as well. It is however a good idea to discuss this with the school in advance, so you know what their expectations are for the level of French.

Since your husband is not fluent in English, I can imagine that French will be the common language between the two of you for now. This way your children will naturally be exposed to French as well. Of course, once the baby is born, there will be more English in the home as you will be speaking it with your child, so your husband should get more used to it. I would not worry too much about arranging additional exposure to French – I would even choose English TV programs above French-speaking ones, but I would not make that the only criteria. Watch the high-quality programmes that you like, in whatever language they happen to be!

With regards to reading books, I would recommend that you stick to English and Ewe, just to make the use of the languages rooted habits both for yourselves and your children. If your kids attend school in French, this is the language that will become their strongest one and the more used they are to using it at home, the more likely it is that they would prefer French over Ewe or English when speaking with you or their father.

Reading books is also essential for teaching your children to read and write, so this is another reason to stick to your respective languages. Fostering an interest in books paves the road for learning to read and write, and you may find that your children will naturally want to learn. What I would recommend that you do is to look at it as something interesting that opens new avenues: keeping in touch with family and being able to read interesting books. Write messages and letters in English and have your family send them to your kids. Most of all, do not think of learning to read and write English as something that should be dreaded! Our own attitudes matter so much for how our children feel towards something.

Maintaining Ewe after you move away from Togo will take a lot of commitment from your husband, so establishing the foundation while you are in the country is vital. Also, when it is time to move, take with you as many resources, books, DVDs, comics etc. as you can (shipping packages across the world is expensive!) You can also ask other relatives to record songs, rhymes and bedtime stories, and remember to stay in regular contact through on-line video calls. For further ideas on how to maintain those all-important relationships read this post: Bilingual children and long-distance family relationships.  The most important aspect is however the children’s habit to always speak Ewe with their father.

If you were to move to another African country with a new language, what you will most likely find that even if you and your husband were to take lessons in the local language, your children will quickly outshine you when it comes to learning it. Again, how to approach this depends very much on the age of your children, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much for now. Arranging opportunities for the children to be with other kids who speak the language is indeed very effective.

Wishing you a successful, truly multilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin
Jan 082017
 

How to support a small bilingual child with the school languages?

 

Question

Hi

The best way to learn a language? We live in the country (Spain), of course. Well this is our problem:

We have a son who is three and a half. He was born in Barcelona. We have lived here for many years. I’m English and his mother is Danish. We both speak Spanish, but from the very beginning we adopted the OPOL system with good results, he now speaks English very well with an authentic accent, and he also speaks Danish very well but with a slight English accent. So far so good.

He spent 18 months in a nursery where they spoke in Catalan and Spanish, and now he’s started school which has the same policy. He’s extremely sociable and speaks to everyone he meets in school or out, but always in English and generally they’re only too happy to respond likewise. The result is his level of Spanish and Catalan is very low in spite of much prompting from us when we’re with Spanish friends or neighbours.

However, he tells me that he’s sad because he can’t communicate very well with the other kids. The teacher says to just be patient.

Do you have some advice, please?

Steven

Answer

Dear Steven

Thank you for your question on how to support your little son with his third and fourth language. Before I continue, I want you to stop and think about the above – your son is only three and a half, is fluent in two languages and can understand an additional two! You should be so proud of him – most adults can only dream of achieving the same during a life-time, let alone in a couple of years.

Because your son is so sociable, I can understand that he may express sadness about not yet being able to communicate as well in Spanish and Catalan as he can in English and Danish. However, if he is generally happy to go to school and as his teacher is not concerned about his language skills or general progress at school, I would not be too worried at this stage. Keep in mind that presuming you stay in the country, Spanish and/or Catalan will by time become your son’s dominant language(s) and you will have to pay more attention to keeping English and especially Danish going for him.

I do however acknowledge your desire to support your son’s additional languages. By your description, he encounters the same issue as adult English-speakers do when attempting to use a language they are trying to learn: instead of responding in the language, the other person switches to English. I also know how difficult it is to get anyone to change their behaviour when it comes to choosing the language they speak to someone.

As the school he goes to must have many children who also know English, would it be possible to find a playgroup or other activity where the other children are all native Spanish- or Catalan-speakers? You are right in that the best way for your son to start to express himself in the languages is to be in an environment where no one speaks English, so think of different opportunities to immerse him in situations where interaction is needed. Further ideas could be inviting other children to play with him at home or hiring a childminder with strict instructions not to speak English.

You mention that both of you and your wife speak Spanish – when you are with your Spanish-speaking friends, do you speak Spanish? I am asking because as parents we not only pass on our languages, but also act a bilingual role models. If he sees his parents using Spanish more often in others’ company this may have a positive effect on his own willingness to use the language.

Overall I would not be too concerned about the situation. Stay in close contact with the school and remember to praise every effort your son makes to speak either Catalan or Spanish. He is well on his way to turning from bilingual to trilingual and quadrilingual.

Wishing you a successful multilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin
Dec 292016
 

How to introduce two minority languages to your kids?

Question

Hi Rita,

Thank you for the lovely pieces of advice. I am Mongolian and my husband is Italian. We have two kids aged four and and two years. We live in the U.K and we always used English at home. My daughters are absolutely great at talking and expressing themselves in English. Although I tried couple of times teaching my language, I have failed.

Some time ago I made strong decision to teach my language to my kids and be consistent with it. They have shown interest and unexpected improvement. However, my husband still speaks English. Do you thing we should wait to introduce Italian or he should start now?

Also, how can I encourage my husband to speak more Italian? He finds it very difficult to communicate with kids other than English. As their verbal expression is very clear in English and gets bit upset when other language comes along. Is it too late?

Thank you,
 Zoya

Answer

Dear Zoya,

Thank you for your question about teaching your small children two minority languages, Mongolian and Italian. It is not too late!

It is great to hear that you have been able to bring in Mongolian and that your daughters are interested in learning it. Keep going and try to make it as fun and motivating as you can for them. Introduce games, songs and rhymes in Mongolian – you can also give a teddy (or some other toy) a distinct Mongolian name and tell your girls that it only speaks Mongolian. When you do this, you can have a “dialog” with the teddy and model discussions in Mongolian for them.

Many parents have successfully taught their children two minority languages simultaneously (even when they speak the majority language between them), so it is doable. However, as you already have a routine of speaking only English as a family, it does require a firm commitment to introduce the family languages (as you know from your earlier attempts to start speaking Mongolian). Please read my earlier post for further thoughts on when to start with a family language.

When it comes to Italian it is naturally up to your husband to be the person who teaches your daughters the language. I can understand that he finds it difficult to switch from English to Italian, as they can now communicate well in the majority language. Will you have an opportunity to spend any time in Italy as a family? Your husband might find it easier to start with the Italian in an environment where others also speak the language.

Have you discussed the importance of your girls learning to speak Italian? How does your husband feel about it? You can encourage your husband to use Italian with your daughters, but you cannot make the decision on his behalf. He needs to feel motivated and committed to speaking Italian with them, so he can keep this in mind if he struggles to stick to Italian. Read these posts for more advice on how to approach the situation of introducing a language to your kids and some practical tips.

Wishing you a successful trilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin
Dec 222016
 

What to do when a bilingual school-aged child’s minority language might be the stronger one?

 

Question

Hello,

I wonder if you have any recommendations. My daughter is seven and has lived in Italy since she was 8 months old, however she didn’t start going to school till she was 5. At home I (mom) speak to her in English only and everyone else (including dad) speaks to her in Italian only. However, she speaks better English than she does Italian, probably because I talk with her the most. My husband did work from home most of her life but I’ve always been in the primary role. She does spend time with grandparents as they live above us, I just have never been sure she gets enough talking time with speaking Italian.

Now she’s in seconda and I’m concerned that she isn’t relaxed enough in her speaking in Italian. Her teachers mentioned it last year, asking if we only speak English at home. I’ve told my husband she needs more regular speaking time but is there more I can do? I worry that it’s holding her back from making friends, as easily as the other kids. She has friends but her rapport is not as easy, from my observations. I could be wrong but I still think she needs more emphasis on speaking Italian cause English just seems easier for her.

Adrianne

Answer

Dear Adrianne,

Thank you for your question about supporting your daughter’s Italian – which is the majority language where you live. English is her minority language as she on a daily basis only speaks it with you. By your description, I understand that you are happy with her language development and use in English, which seems to be her dominant language, but unsure about her level of Italian, or at least about her confidence in using it.

When her teachers brought this up, did they give you any details about what exactly they were concerned about? It is always good to ask specific questions to understand the exact nature of the concerns. Did it have to do with her general ability to express herself, certain parts of the vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation or something else?

There are many factors that influence a child’s behaviour at school, with other children and how well they make friends, so I would not necessarily put this down to her Italian-skills. Some children (just like adults) make friends more quickly and easily than others. Do you find there is a marked difference when she interacts with English-speaking friends?

You do have a lot of Italian-speaking family around so it is good that you encourage them to speak as much as possible with her. Maybe her grandparents could help for example by reading more to her? Provide them with plenty of interesting reading material so when she comes around they can sit down and enjoy a book or a comic together. I would also speak to them about your concerns and tell them how important they are in their granddaughter’s multilingual upbringing.

Many parents do find it difficult to “just talk” with their children – it is a skill to be able to conjure up a discussion about anything! Think of something that both your daughter and her dad like doing and then encourage your husband to do these activities on his own with her. This could be walks in the park or some game that is played outside, visits to the zoo or an interesting museum, a board game they play together or anything that is fun for both of them. Try to leave them on their own as much as possible in these situations so they naturally talk Italian with each other.

I would also encourage you to arrange more opportunities for your daughter to spend time with her close friends outside of school. If there is someone she gets on specially well with, i.e. feels fully at ease in the other child’s company, why not invite him or her to your home so they can freely play together? Are there any after-school groups she could attend in your area? Using her Italian in different situations would help her overall confidence.

Since her English is developing normally, I would not expect there to be any speech and language related issue, but if you do feel worried, then for peace of mind, please visit a therapist who is used to dealing with bilingual children and who can give you further advice.

Wishing you a continued successful bilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin
Dec 152016
 

Deciding whether to speak a native dialect or an almost native language with a child

 

Question

Hi,

I have been struggling with the decision of which language to speak to my daughter. She is now nine months old. So far I have spoken to her mainly in French.  I am half British and half Moroccan. I grew up speaking English with my mother, Moroccan Arabic mixed with French with my father and French as the main family language. Spoke French/Moroccan Arabic to friends, Moroccan Arabic on the street and to my father’s family. My father speaks French but the rest of my family doesn’t. My education was bilingual French/Arabic until age 12 and then purely French until I left school at 18. My husband is English and speaks no other language so English is our family language.

We live in Norway and our daughter will be going to a Norwegian school I cannot decide whether to speak French or Moroccan Arabic to my daughter or both? Pure French sounds slightly fake as I have not really grown up in a French monolingual setting (makes it feel like school and I think I sound a bit teacher like). I also need to reactivate my French as I have been in a monolingual English environment for the last 14 years.

Moroccan dialect, on the other hand, is only an oral language and cannot really be used to express complex thought (in which case Moroccans would turn to either French or Classical Arabic). The most natural thing would be for me to mix them as I would in Morocco but read books in French. I am worried she would end up with insufficient exposure to either language as I work full time.

What do you think of this? Alternatively, I should work on reactivating my French. I have not forgotten it but just that it makes me pause and think (unlike English). I would struggle to speak purely in Moroccan dialect although I do it when I visit Morocco but as it’s not written it changes fast. Also, I cannot use books/cartoons to pass on vocabulary to my child since they don’t exist. Whereas in French I have access to many books/ nursery rhymes/ playgroups etc. Do you have any suggestions on how to reactivate a language?

Many thanks for your help,
Sophia

Answer

Dear Sophia,

Thank you for your question about choosing the language you should speak with your little girl. I will give you some pointers on what to think about when making your language choice, but in the end, the decision is one you need to make yourself.

Based on your last question and the fact that you have so far spoken mostly French with your daughter, you seem to lean towards choosing French as the main language between you and your daughter. This would give you the chance to use supportive resources which do not exist in the Moroccan dialect.

With regards to the Moroccan dialect – how important do you feel it to be when it comes to the extended family on your father’s side. Would your daughter be able to communicate in French for example with her cousins in a few years’ time?

When it comes to books, many parents translate “on the fly” from books in other language when they are unable to find suitable reading material in their language – so this is something you could try should you decide to speak your Moroccan dialect with your daughter. It is not a straightforward thing to do and does take some time to get used to, so try it out and see how it feels.

You hesitate when it comes to French mainly because you have not grown up in the language and feel that it reminds you of school. This is a completely normal reaction and one which I identify with – I grew up with a Swedish dialect which is very different from the standard Swedish, but I chose not to pass on the dialect but spoke the standard Swedish with my daughters. I remember that it did at first feel exactly as you describe. However, it did not take long for me to get used to it. Had we lived in the area were the dialect was spoken, my decision might have been different though.

It is possible to pass on two minority languages (ref: Time and Place approach) but it is hard work, made even more difficult by the fact that you will be on your own with the Moroccan exposure, with few other resources to help you. I appreciate that you have also thought about how you working full time will affect the situation. Passing on two languages could become an additional stress factor for you, so what you could do is to focus on the French for the time being. However, this should not stop you from using phrases in Moroccan altogether – just don’t set the expectation that she will start speaking it, unless you for example can stay in Morocco for at least some time each year. She will after all also have two other languages, English and Norwegian, in her life.

With regards to reactivating your French, please read my article on boosting your own language skills. One really good idea is to listen to French-speaking radio during your commute (if viable) or in the evening before you go to sleep. I just came across this website where you can tune in to different radio stations across the world.

Wishing you a successful multilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin
Dec 112016
 

How can a majority language parent help a child with two additional family languages?

 

Question

Hello Rita and other coaches!

I’m Italian, my husband is Egyptian and we’re currently living in Italy. We have a 6-month-old baby girl to whom we’re speaking our respective mother languages. I have a few concerns which I’d like to have your suggestion about:

1. ARABIC: My husband is the only Arabic speaker she’s in contact with. I do not speak/understand Arabic. My husband and I speak mostly English (mixed with Italian) one another. I think it would be helpful for me to learn Arabic for encouraging her use of the minority language. Is it necessary? Will it be enough to have a basic knowledge? I will follow anyway the rest of your suggestion I find here in your blog.

2. ENGLISH: I’d like to give my daughter also English as third language, first because we’re using it in the family and then because she will most probably use it at school together with Italian. How can we do? English is not our mother tongue. At the moment I’m just spending some time reading stories in English (almost 15 min in late afternoon). What else can we add?

3. Additional day-carer: What would you suggest choosing an Arabic or English speaker? Please consider that here in Italy bilingual kindergarten are mostly in English/Italian or other European languages. It is hard to find other Egyptian speakers and create an additional language exposure routine.

Thanks in advance for your help, I will appreciate all your suggestions.

Best regards,
Donatella

Answer

Dear Donatella,

Thank you for your question about choosing the languages for your little girl, who I am sure will grow up to be able to communicate in many languages. With regards to your specific questions:

1. Arabic. Whether your daughter will become an active Arabic speaker or not depends on how much time she will be spending with her father or anyone else speaking Arabic. Several other couples are/have been in the same situation as you where only one of the parents speaks one of the family languages, but have still successfully been able to pass on the language to their child. It all depends on the amount of Arabic exposure your daughter will get. To be able to give a more in-depth answer I would need to interview you to get a better picture of your family’s language setup. If you have the time and the energy, by all means, learn some Arabic, but keep in mind that it will take a fair amount of time for you to get up to a level where you can help your daughter with the language. Having even a basic knowledge of Arabic will however be helpful for yourself to be able to follow some of the communication between your husband and your daughter. If you do decide to embark on the Arabic-learning journey, check out these posts on using a non-native language with your child.

2. English. Since you are speaking English with your husband, your daughter will inevitably pick up some of it as well. If you keep up with your English reading routine, this will further help her with the language. However, your daughter will not learn to speak English unless she gets a chance to also interact in the language. Maybe you can find some English-speaking playgroups she could attend when she is big enough for them? You could also incorporate some English songs and rhymes into your daily routine. As you mention, it will not be too difficult to find opportunities for English exposure for her. If you get a place for her in an Italian/English kindergarten, this will be the perfect way for her to learn English as well. By the way, most bilingual kindergartens do not expect that children know both the languages prior to the start.

2. Childcare. If the exposure to Arabic will be very limited and only depending on her father, then it would be beneficial for your daughter to have an Arabic-speaking nanny or au pair, perhaps. I understand that it is difficult to find formal childcare in the language, but if you can arrange for an Arabic-speaker to spend time with her, this would be ideal. I would generally try to put more emphasis on supporting your daughter’s Arabic in any way you can.

Wishing you a successful trilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin
Dec 082016
 

Should a couple switch from English to the majority language as their common language?

 

Question

Hello,

I just ran into your website and I loved it. I have a son who is 1.5 years old. I am Albanian, my husband is Spanish. We want to raise our son bilingual, so our plan is that I speak with him in Albanian only (minority language), and my husband speaks with him in Spanish only (majority language). I do speak Spanish but my husband speaks very little Albanian. When we met I didn’t speak any Spanish so we always communicated in English.

For the time being we live in Santiago, Chile, and my son goes to kindergarten where they speak only Spanish. Due to the nature of the job of my husband, we will not be living in Chile forever, we will move to another country for sure, but for now I don’t know where or when.

My only question mark here is whether we should continue speaking in English with each other in front of our son? I am afraid that if I speak with my husband in Spanish, my son will not feel the need to speak Albanian with me and he will only answer to me in Spanish.

Thanks
Ujvara

Answer

Dear Ujvara

Thank you for your question and your feedback!

Your family language setup is very typical for a couple who initially do not speak each other’s languages – English often becomes the common language. I have been through this same experience myself and although our decision was to drop English at the time, this is not necessarily the best option for every couple.

You are currently using the one parent, one language (OPOL) strategy to pass on Albanian and Spanish, your respective mother tongues to your son, while using English to communicate with each other. Your other choice is Spanish which you have learnt during your stay in Chile.

You do not mention why you are considering switching from English to Spanish as your common language, but if you are afraid it will confuse your son’s language development, please, put those worries aside. Your son will pick up some of the English, but he is unlikely to start speaking it unless he gets some additional exposure from other sources and interacts in it. He will however have a head start if he wants or needs to learn English later on, or indeed, if you move to a country where the language is spoken.

Your son will learn Albanian from you and Spanish from your husband and in the kindergarten. If you stay in Chile, his most dominant language will probably soon be Spanish, so my initial thought would be to keep your language arrangements as they are. If you switch to Spanish as the common language between you and your husband, there will be a lot more Spanish spoken in the house and the inclination for all of you to generally speak Spanish together may well make it a bit more difficult to maintain the Albanian with your son.

This said, if you have some other reason why you are considering switching to Spanish, please let me know through the comments!

Wishing you a successful trilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin
Dec 042016
 

Bilingual parents – how to choose the home language and what to speak with your child?

Question 1

Hello,

I am a bilingual parent (majority English but fluent in Chinese) my wife is majority Chinese but also fluent in English.

We currently speak Chinese at home to our 2-year-old son. Our assumption is that he will learn English naturally thru his environment once he goes to school so we wanted to develop his Chinese at home first. Is this a good idea?

I was suggested to have me speak English to him and my wife Chinese to him. My concern is that English becomes so dominant (especially due to his environment) that he will just only want to speak English even at home. I greatly value his ability to speak Chinese.

Any feedback would be much appreciated!
Thank you,
Quan

Question 2

Hi,

we are expecting our first child in a couple months, we live in Norway, where I am from and my husband is English. He speaks Norwegian really well considering he has only lived here for four years and he is still learning.

Between us we speak English, and to the pets we swap between the languages, depending on what the situation is. I am pretty much as fluent in English as you could get without it being your native tongue. I dream in English, write my own personal notes and diary in English sometimes in Norwegian. My shopping lists are completely mixed, I use whichever word is shorter.

My family has always pressured us to speak Norwegian to each other for my husband to learn better, but it is just too unnatural for us and we prefer to speak English. We live close to my family so I think our children will have a lot of Norwegian exposure, and we are planning on having English as our family language, so I picture speaking English with my child even if we are outside the house and my husband is not there. My family thinks this is really weird.

I also want to read Norwegian stories and sing Norwegian songs, will it be bad if I mainly speak English but also change it up a bit? And what about my husband, can he practise Norwegian around our children or will that be bad? My vocabulary is better than his in both languages, and even though I have some flaws in English, so does he, we kind of correct each other.

Thank you,
Margrethe

Answer

Dear Quan and Margrethe

Thank you for your questions about choosing the languages you speak in your home and with your child – many other bilingual parents grapple with similar questions. I will address the language choice topic in general first and then answer your individual questions.

From both of your messages I can read that you have been given advice by (no doubt well-meaning) relatives and friends who advise you to speak the majority language with your child. Both of you also have misgivings about this advice, and rightfully so. I am happy that you both are standing your ground – the final decision on what languages to use within the family should always be made by the parents themselves.

The best way to ensure that a child’s minority language (i.e. the language which is less spoken in the environment the child grows up) is to establish as solid a foundation in it prior to the child starting daycare or school in the majority language. This is also why the minority language at home (mL@H) approach has been found to be the strategy with the highest success rate. (I however want to point out that this does not mean that every family should follow mL@H, as it does not suit every family’s language combination).

Dear Quan

As you can see from my above comment, I agree with your choice of speaking Chinese with your son. Since you are fluent in the language and, what it sounds like, fully comfortable with speaking Chinese with him, I see no reason to switch to English. It is correct that the more used to speaking a majority language at home a child becomes, the bigger the chance that the child starts to choose it instead of the minority language at home.

You live in an English-speaking environment, so there will probably not be too many chances to arrange additional exposure to Chinese for your son. This makes the need for a solid start in it even more important, so your decision to speak Chinese at home is vital to support him becoming and active speaker of the language from the very start.

Dear Margrethe

By now you and your husband might already be the parents of a little baby boy or daughter – congratulations (or good luck, if you are still expecting)!

I am sorry you have had to deal with pressure from your family with regards to the choice of language with your child. As I said above, this your and your husband’s decision to make, and from what I read you have already made up your minds – and I support it. You should do what feels right. (I would also like to congratulate your husband on getting up to speed with Norwegian so quickly!)

Your question is whether it is okay to “mix it up” a bit and bring in some Norwegian into the home as well. Yes, it is perfectly fine to also use Norwegian – this is what millions of bilingual families have done and continue to do every day. You can read stories and sing songs in Norwegian without confusing your child. You are being their perfect bilingual role model.

Children are very good at distinguishing languages from an early age, and it is fine for your husband to also practice his Norwegian. Your child will know who is the native speaker and will not pick up any mistakes he might make – as a matter of fact it will not take long until he might find himself corrected by his son or daughter!

 

Wishing both of you and your families a successful bilingual journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin
Dec 012016
 

What if a parent does not understand the language a bilingual child learns first?

Question

Hello,

I’m pregnant with our first baby and start to be worried about the future language development of my son. I’m Polish, my fiancé is French and we communicate in English (I can’t speak French and my fiancé can’t speak Polish).

Nevertheless, we live in Poland as my partner works here in a French company. Additionally, both mine and my partner’s English leaves a lot to be desired – we make some grammar mistakes and our vocabulary is rather average then sophisticated.

Of course, we want our baby to speak all three languages but we are scared that it can be very difficult. How can we organize our lives to make it easier for our baby boy to acquire all three languages? Should I talk to him in English when I’m alone with him? I am scared that our son will start to speak Polish only, and that my partner will not be able to understand him.

My fiancé is coming back from work in the late evening and then we are spending time together so we are speaking English. There will be almost no time for him to speak French to our baby. If our son will hear Polish and English more often than French will he be able to acquire also the last language?

Can we wait for him to be 3 years old and send him to a French kindergarten in Poland with a hope that he will not be lost and that he will be able to quickly acquire a new language? I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,
Paula

Answer

Dear Paula

Thank you for your message and your question about raising your son to be trilingual in Polish, French and English.

I can understand that you feel worried about which language your son is going to learn and whether your husband is going to understand what your little one says in case he learns Polish first. However, keep in mind that it will take some time for your son’s language skills to develop and before he starts to talk. During this time your husband will also have time to learn some Polish – as you live in Poland, I presume this is what he would naturally want to do?

My initial thought is that you should both speak your mother tongues with your son and keep English as the common language, using one parent, one language (OPOL). Even if your husband does not get much time to spend with your son during the week, he will still have the weekends to bond, play and interact with your son. Also, even if your son were to say his first words in Polish, your husband will have enough time to catch up with him (and you would be there to bridge any communication gaps).

Since you have the option of putting your son in a French-speaking kindergarten when he turns three, this will be the perfect support for him to catch up with his French and his language skills will develop at a fast pace from then on.

I see that English is also important for you and it will naturally be the language you continue to speak with your husband. However, if you were to choose to speak English also with your son, English would by default become the common language for the whole family. Neither you nor your husband would be speaking your native language with your son. If you speak English with your son, it is very likely that your husband will do so, too.

You mention that neither of you feel fully fluent in English, so this means that your son would hear a very restricted amount of native-level language during his first few years if you were both to speak English with him. It is important that a child gets a solid foundation in at least one language, any language, at an early age – something you need to take into consideration when choosing the language you speak with your son.

What you also need to keep in mind is that once you get used to speaking a certain language with your son, it is not easy to switch, as you have established a communication pattern in the family. When your son grows, his language will soon evolve and your will have deeper discussions with him. Would you feel comfortable in using English in these situations?

As your home language will remain English, your son will naturally pick up some of it. He may not become an active speaker of it early on, but once he starts speaking Polish and French you can for example introduce some family activities that you do in English. The beneficial thing about having English as a minority language is that you will have plenty of resources available to you, both online and perhaps also in the form of playgroups or other kids’ activities.

There are many factors that influence your choices when it comes to the languages your son will learn, so what I have given above is some general advice – for a more in-depth Family Language Plan, I would have to conduct an interview with you and your husband, analysing the language situation, defining your goals and mapping out a plan going forward.

Wishing you a successful trilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin