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Rita Rosenback

Jul 272017
 

How far behind can parents expect a bilingual child’s second language to be?

 

Question

Hello,

I have a three-year-old daughter who is bilingual. I speak exclusively English and my husband speaks exclusively Czech to her (since birth). In a typical day, she is exposed to about 70% English and 30% Czech. She listens to music and looks at books in both languages as well as Skypes relatives in Czech each week. She has a tremendous vocabulary in both languages. However, she only speaks sentences in English.

She occasionally uses Czech words to identify things. When her father is speaking to her she understands everything but she does not respond to him in Czech. She has fun translating what she hears from her father into English for me. I am wondering if this is typical progression? How far behind does the second language develop?

If she is at a three-year-old level for English can I expect her to be at a two-year-old level for Czech? Should we be prompting her to speak more Czech (I don’t want to pressure her) and if so, how? We are traveling to the Czech Republic for a month. It is my hope that this immersion will propel her to start speaking more Czech.

I appreciate your expertise and any suggestions you may have for my family.

Thanks in advance!
Kristin

 

Answer

Dear Kristin

Thank you for your question about your little bilingual child’s language development in her two languages, English and Czech.

What you describe sounds like a very typical and to some extent advanced language skills for a 3-year-old. That she has a big vocabulary in both languages at this early age is impressive, and a sign of a normal language development.

The fact that your daughter only speaks in sentences in English is nothing to worry about at this stage. Czech will follow soon, since she gets continuous interactive exposure to the language both from her father and other Czech-speakers via Skype. You mention that the proportion of exposure is 70/30 for English/Czech – based on that ratio, it is perfectly natural that the first language she learns to speak in sentences in is English.

As a couple of months have already passed since you sent in your question (delay is due to the many queries coming in), you will by now have spent a month in the Czech Republic, which will give your little girl’s confidence in expressing herself in Czech a significant boost. You may not notice it at once, but your visit will definitely have a great positive influence on her ability to speak Czech.

You are right in not putting pressure on your daughter to speak – it will happen, and when it does, you will wonder why you were ever worried about it! Just encourage your husband to engage her in conversation as much as possible, e.g. by discussing the story line in books and asking lots of questions.

Every child’s language development is different, independent of how many languages the child learns. Even monolingual children and siblings vary greatly in how quickly they start to understand, say the first word and begin to form sentences. Therefore, I would not want to give you an expected level of fluency for what is now your daughter’s second language.

Like I often mention, patience is a virtue that parents of bilingual children will need to have. It may sometimes take our kids a bit longer to get up to speed with all their languages, but when they do, what a joy for everyone involved!

Wishing you a 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
Jul 132017
 

About language exposure, family language strategy, speaking a non-native language and confusion

 

Question

Hello,

I am Italian but I know English very well so I really want to try to teach it to my one-year-old daughter. I speak English to her since she was three months old. In the beginning I thought to use the OPOL method but it’s really hard for us, because my husband doesn’t speak English at all and I felt I was excluding him.

Now I’m using English with my daughter just when we play and sometimes during the day – is it enough? A part of me is really paranoid because I think I’m not an English mother tongue speaker and I want to use Italian too in my day life, but I love English so much. I really need your advice – what would you do?

I am also really worried of getting my baby confused, because sometimes I switch from Italian to English.

Thanks,
Alice

Answer

Dear Alice

Thank you for your question about speaking English with your daughter to bring her up bilingual in Italian and English.

The one parent, one language method (OPOL) can be hard to implement in a family where one parent does not know the other language at all. That said, in many families the other parent has been able to pick up a lot of the new language just by listening to the other parent using it with the child. Every family should find the best approach for their situation – there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and it is possible to use different approaches successfully. What works in one family does not necessarily work in another, although the circumstances might seem similar. Every family is unique and has its own dynamics.

You are now using a variation of the time and place (T&P) where you speak English with your daughter when you play together and occasionally during the day and wonder whether this exposure will be enough for your daughter to learn English.

There is no hard and fast rule for what is enough language exposure. You may have come across a figure of “a third of a child’s waking hours”, but I have not been able to find any research to support this as the magic number for bringing up a bilingual child. There are simply too many variables – most importantly, it is not all about the quantity, but very much about quality. For example, a child who only hears others speak a language (which counts as exposure), but is rarely spoken to directly, will most likely not learn as quickly as a child who has less exposure but has more direct interaction in the language.

You do not mention how much of the time overall you speak English with your daughter, but whenever you do, try to make these situations as effective as possible by engaging your daughter in communication. One-way-communication such as children’s programmes are not as effective as interactive language use. Read this article for more ideas:
3 ways to intensify the minority language exposure for your bilingual child

Your next concern is about using a language which is not your mother tongue with your child. Many parents have successfully done this to pass on an additional language to their children. There are certain things to keep in mind when raising a child in a non-native language, also called intentional bilingualism, but it is doable.
Please read my three-part series on this topic: Considerations, Family language strategy and Activities.

Thirdly you are worried you might confuse your daughter since you switch between English and Italian. Again, switching between languages is a natural thing for bilingual people to do and this is exactly what happens in all multilingual families.
Read this article for more thoughts of bilingualism and confusion: Bilingual children – no language confusion!

To maximise your daughter’s English exposure, I would recommend that you stick to English as much as possible when you speak to her directly. To reiterate, I am not recommending this because there is a risk for confusion, but to establish the routine and maintain the English exposure and making sure the language becomes an active part of your day-to-day life. It is fine that you speak Italian when you are all together and in other situations where you feel it is called for.

Once your daughter is a bit older, you can look for playgroups in English – being surrounded by other children speaking English is an effective language booster. If you are unable to find a group, maybe you could consider starting one yourself and invite other families to join!

Wishing you a 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
Jul 062017
 

Family language or a third language for a bilingual child’s education?

 

Question

Hello

I would like to ask for your thoughts on our idea to place our 4-and-a-half-year-old in an English-speaking school. We are a French family of four and after living in francophone countries, we moved to Lithuania last Sept.

My son enrolled in the French school and picked up Lithuanian fairly easily due to the following:
– 20 minutes of Lithuanian class per day
– most of his school mates being Lithuanian speaking (and speaking Lithuanian outside the class)
– him coming home every day at 4 and being looked after by our baby’s nanny who speaks Lithuanian. He developed a good relationship with our younger son’s nanny and she tells us that he understands everything she says and responds well.

Considering how well he’s managed to pick on Lithuanian, we would like to take advantage of living abroad to expose him to an additional language, English. Both my husband and I use English at work and in our social lives here so we could easily help with homework. We are thinking of enrolling him there in September but are still very conflicted about this decision for the following reasons:
– When we moved to Lithuania last Sept, we were coming from an island territory in the South pacific and he had to put a lot of effort into getting used to the change of climate, city, school system, house, social network. The first few weeks/months were hard, he did not want to go to school, was playing alone for a long time. He really likes his school and friends now and I wonder if it is not asking too much from him emotionally.
– He has one school year left before starting primary school and I am wondering if learning to read in English would mean that the rest of his primary school should be in English as well. We are planning to stay for the next 2-4 years in Lithuania at a minimum but it could be that we move elsewhere before that.

At first I thought that we could put him back at the French school for the start of Primary school so that he learns to read in French but that means he will only have a year in English and therefore I think it would be requiring a lot of effort for only a year.

I appreciate all the work you are doing to make multilingual parenting easier and more accessible for families like ours. Thank you very, very much in advance for your feedback.

Best wishes
Blandine

Answer

Dear Blandine,

Thank you for your kind feedback and for your question about choosing the school for your bilingual son.

You have the choice of enrolling him in either a French- or English-speaking primary school. His mother tongue is French and by what you write he picked up Lithuanian very quickly once immersed in at school and having his little brother’s nanny to interact with.

Your question has two aspects: on one hand, it is about your son’s language-learning and on the other about him adjusting into a new school. With regards to adding a third language to his repertoire, I don’t think he would have much problem in acquiring English on top of French and Lithuanian. What you would need to do is to make sure that he also gets continued exposure to and interaction in Lithuanian on a regular basis to maintain and develop the language.

I agree that if you choose to put him in an English school, then I would recommend that you continue his education in the same language. One year at that age would give him a certain level of English skills, but to maintain and improve it, you would need to arrange additional exposure after the year if you want him to become fluent in English. I presume you want him to be literate in French as well, so should you choose the English primary school, that responsibility would fall on you and your husband, or you would need to find external tuition for him in French.

Those are the options when we look at the question purely out of a language-learning point of view. However, the choice of a school never is (and never should be) purely dependent on which language a child will learn by attending it. I presume you have considered both schools and found them suitable for your son?

The question is also whether changing schools and friends would be too big an upheaval for your son. Ultimately, only you and your husband can make this decision. I can only highlight the things you need to take into consideration when making it.

You mention that your son initially found it difficult to fit in in his current school, but that he is now happy to attend and has found friends. Any school change is difficult for a child, but adding a new language to the mix does take it to another level. This said, children do normally adjust very quickly – you mention a couple of weeks, possibly months, in your son’s case. He has also already demonstrated his ability to pick up a new language.

Your son will, in any case, move to a new school after a year – if he were to attend the French primary school, will any of his current friends be there? What about the English primary school – if you were to put him in the English one now, would some (or all) of the pupils go on to attend the primary school in English as well?

There is of course one more aspect to think about. You mention that you will most likely move to a different country within 2-4 years – do you have any idea which country this will be and which language options you would have for your son’s education? If you were to move to a francophone country, the best option would be to continue his education in English to maintain that language. However, should you move to a predominantly English-speaking country, then it would probably be beneficial for him to attend a French-speaking school. So when deciding on the primary school, also consider which options you have with regards to school language once you move.

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.

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Jun 292017
 

Should an OPOL parent switch the language spoken with a child depending on who is present?

 

Question

Hi Family Language Coaches!

I wanted to ask if, in an OPOL household, it would be detrimental if a parent spoke “the other parent’s language” to the child in certain public environments.

I live in Germany and speak German natively (and English fluently). Both of my parents speak German natively, and limited English. My partner is originally from Russia, but moved here with his parents as a child. He speaks Russian natively, having always spoken it at home, German fluently, as he spent the largest part of his academic life here, and English fluently, due to school. His mother speaks English and German fluently due to work, whereas his father works at a company were the work floor language is English, so his German is limited.

My partner and I want to have kids somewhere in the next five years, and raise them using OPOL. We will continue to live here, so German will be the majority language. I am studying Russian hard, in order to speak my partner’s native language to him every once in a while, and to speak with his relatives that do not speak much/anything else.

The other day, my parents mentioned they find it rude when people speak a language other than German in public. I didn’t really agree with this, but I chatted about it with my partner during dinner later that night, and we agreed we feel speaking a language people around you do not understand is rude if you are engaged in a social interaction with those people, such as at the dinner table or in a work conference.

But then, he surprised me by saying he intends to speak German to our kids when my parents are around, and expects me to speak Russian to them when his parents are around, in order to enable a group conversation and not be rude.

I do not know how to feel about this. I have learned, reading your site among others, that when using OPOL, the parents should not show the child they speak the “other” language, especially not the minority parent. I am concerned switching when around our respective parents-in-law would cause trouble in the children’s bilingualism (and then I’m not even touching on the oddity of speaking a language we are not native/culturally at home in to our children). However, I understand it is sometimes handier/more polite to do so.

What do you think? Thank you so much for your time!
Mex

Answer

Dear Mex

Thank you for your question about choosing the languages you should speak in different situations with your future kids. I commend you for thinking and discussing about this topic ahead of time, as it will make things so much easier later.

One parent, one language (OPOL) is the obvious choice for you, with you speaking German and your husband speaking Russian with your children. Your setup will be made all the easier by the fact that your husband already knows German and you are picking up Russian, so there will never be a situation where one you would feel left out of the discussion.

I know that some people, just like your parents, can find it odd, or even rude, for others to speak a language other than the community language when in public. I would politely question this thought – if your parents were to go on holiday to Spain, what would they do? Would they stay silent in public as they do not know the country’s language? Of course, it is important to be polite in any social situation, but I can really see no reason for a blanket ban on speaking different languages in the public.

In other social situations, where there are people present who do not know the language you speak with your child, my recommendation is to stick to your language as far as possible and translate for others when necessary. However, you will be the best judge for what is the best approach in each situation, as this will be different depending on who is present.

The stick-to-your-language rule is more important for the minority language parent, in your case your husband, as the need for consistency is higher the less exposure a child has to a language. Further reading: 5 thoughts about consistency when using OPOL.

All this said, it is natural for a bilingual person to switch between languages, and it is not possible, nor recommendable for a parent to try to hide that they know a certain language – you will be found out, by the latest when you answer a phone call in that language in the presence of your child! The best way to ensure that a language stays as the main language between a child and a parent is to establish a habit of consistently speaking it, not trying to force your child to use it.

I can understand your husband’s wish for everyone to speak the same language, i.e. Russian when his parents are present and German when yours are. However, what will you do when both sets of grandparents (or other relatives) are present? What I am saying is that there will always have to be compromises and the best way to avoid tricky situations is to discuss this in advance with both sides of the family.

Explain how important it is for you that your children learn both languages and that you will always translate when necessary, but that they should not feel offended by your use of language. When you do have children, you can demonstrate this by recapping your discussion with your child in the other language for the benefit of other people present. However, there is no need to completely avoid using “the other” language with your children (should you want to), they will not get confused.

Wishing you a 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
Jun 222017
 

How to choose a child’s school and parents’ common language in a family on the move?

 

Question

Hello!

I am currently pregnant with my first child (boy) and due to give birth in two months. I come from Pakistan and my husband is German. My mother tongue is Urdu whilst my husband’s is German. English is the common language at home with my husband and also the community language as we live in London.

I have been learning German for the past few years and my current level is intermediate. I understand German better than I can speak (whilst I can understand a lot when I hear native speakers, I can only hold simple conversations in German myself). I will be at home taking care of our son for the first year whilst my husband works full time. He works long hours during the week so will mostly be home late in the evenings after our son has probably gone to bed. Weekends are the only time he will be able to speak German to our son.

We would like our son to be fluent in Urdu, German and English. For Urdu, I am only planning to teach him how to speak and not read and write. It’s more important that he is fully fluent in both German and English. I am wondering what is the best way to structure the languages we speak at home?

My main dilemma is that currently we plan to stay in London but may potentially move to Germany in a few years. If we end up staying in London when our son starts nursery/school, then we have not decided whether we will be sending him to a normal British school (where English is the dominant language) or a German school (where all subjects will be taught in German).

Given this situation, how would you recommend we structure the languages we speak at home that would work if we stay in London or move to Germany?

I would really appreciate your advice in this matter and look forward to hear from you

Best,
Mariya

Answer

Dear Mariya

Congratulations on the new addition to the family! Thank you for your question about which languages you should speak with your son to make sure he grows up becoming trilingual in Urdu, German and English, independent of where you decide to live in the UK or Germany.

To start with the obvious choice, you will be speaking Urdu with your son to pass on your mother tongue to him. You do not mention if you have family members of other Urdu-speakers who your son can also spend time with to increase the amount of exposure to the language. If you are the sole source of Urdu, the importance of being consistent in using the language with you son is crucial. If he gets used to speaking English with you, it may become more difficult for you to keep the Urdu going with him.

Due to your husband’s work, your son’s exposure to German will be restricted to the weekends. Even then, the amount of time when your son will be spending alone time with his father will most likely to be limited, so it would be important to increase the German exposure if possible.

Since you understand German, what your husband could do is to stick to German independent of whether he is speaking with you or your son. It is fine for you to answer in English, if you do not feel comfortable to use German. It may initially feel strange to communicate in different languages, but you can get used to it. What will happen is that your German skills will improve as well!

If you stay in the UK and find a suitable German school, this would be an excellent way to ensure that your son becomes fluent in German. Should you choose and English school, then the importance of the German exposure at home will be crucial. You would be in a situation where you need to maintain two minority languages at home while your son is immersed in English at school, from the surroundings and the media.

Should you decide to move to Germany, I would suggest the reverse if possible, i.e. choose a good English school for your son. Depending on your son’s level of German fluency when you move, you can choose which language you speak together. If your son is still learning German, you can continue the same way as described above – again, this would also be beneficial for your own German skills.

If your son is already chatting away in German when you move, you could decide to make English the home language for when you are all together. Should you decide to go for a German school, then this would definitely be the choice to make sure to maintain your son’s English skills.

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
Jun 182017
 

Three languages and sign language – too much for a two-year old?

 

Question

Hello

Looking for a suggestion for introducing my second languages to my toddler. My husband and I are native English speakers. I was a Spanish teacher for five years, so I speak it well, but I’m definitely missing lots of cultural background and seriously lacking in the nursery rhyme department. I opted to use my native language in my daughter’s first two years, as it was good for our relationship and I learned that OPOL would not likely be successful since I’m not native.

I do know I need to start soon and I know I want to use time & place. To complicate matters, I am moderately good in mandarin since I lived in China for two years, and I would love to introduce that to my two-year-old as well. Do you recommend one at a time? Will there be too much confusion if I split my day in three time segments, using Spanish in the morning, English in the afternoon, and Chinese in the evening?

I would start slowly, for only an hour in morning and evening, and probably repeating myself in English to help her get the idea at first, before moving to target language only. Eventually I would like to split my day in thirds. Not sure if this is too distressing for a very bright 2-year-old who already speaks English a lot and knows a good bit of sign language?

I plan to continue using sign (we are already learning that together, as daddy knows it) as I speak to help comprehension. Am I crazy? 🙂 Daddy is home during the mornings and works evenings, speaking some Spanish but not a lot. I think he would be supportive of learning with our daughter.

I stay home with her and plan to homeschool in the future so it could continue. Any suggestions for a family language plan? We do have some Spanish and Chinese friends where I could grow relationships, even though we aren’t close right now. This is a very multicultural area although majority English without seeking out the minority subcommunities.

We can’t really afford immersion school or a nanny right now. I’m afraid if I choose different language days, it might be harder for my husband and not consistent enough for language acquisition.

Thoughts please?
Amber

Answer

Dear Amber

Thank you for your question about raising your daughter to become multilingual in English, Spanish, Chinese and sign language. I love your enthusiasm and engagement in giving your daughter the gift of several languages!

Talking with your child in a language which is not a native one for you is always a big challenge and commitment. This said, many parents opt to do so and I would not categorically say that the one parent, one language OPOL approach is bound to fail if one parent is not speaking their mother tongue. Yes, it is not easy, but also not impossible. Never underestimate the power of a committed parent!

Whatever you decide to do, it is important that you discuss and agree the plan with your husband. You mention that you think he would be supportive of learning Spanish alongside your daughter, but since he has only limited time with your daughter, during that time he should feel comfortable in communicating with her. Would your husband be fine with the main language spoken during the mornings being Spanish?

Using sign language alongside spoken languages is a great way of making sure that you daughter can communicate even if she were not to know the words for what she wants to say. The fact that your husband also knows sign language is even better! Instead of repeating a word or phrase in English, I would as far as possible use sign language to clarify the meaning of any new vocabulary.

I know it is very easy to be ambitious about the languages we want to teach our kids, but it is important to be realistic as well. Communication is the main purpose of languages, and learning more of them should never come in the way of being able to communicate with the people around you. I would not introduce more than one additional language at a time and I would start with Spanish – this will give you a good insight into how it will all work out and what to focus on.

A variation of the time and place (T&P) would indeed be a good way to do this. One approach you could take is to speak Spanish with your daughter when you are alone with her and stick to English when your husband is around. As mentioned, discuss this with him to get his point of view – you need his support and backing for whatever you do. If you can find some Spanish-speaking families whose children your daughter could play with, this would be a great additional source of exposure to the language.

You mention that you still need to catch up with regards to culture, nursery rhymes etc in Spanish – this is another reason to focus on Spanish to start with. If you were to introduce Chinese alongside it, it would put a considerable amount of additional pressure on you to keep up with both. It might feel okay to do it now, at your daughter’s current level of communication, but keep in mind that the discussions and topics are only going to get more intricate and require more vocabulary and cultural knowledge as her language skills evolve.

As you are planning to homeschool you are in a great position to introduce Chinese later as part of the curriculum. You can even start before that by singing some songs and reading children’s rhymes in Chinese. Should you find a playgroup in Chinese, this would also be a great for her to get a feel for the language. Once you have introduced Spanish, you will know better what approach to take.

In a short Q&A, I can only give you general advice and some suggestions on how to proceed with your plan. To be able to put together a detailed Family Language Plan for you, I would need to conduct an in-depth interview and catch up with you face-to-face (either online or in person). Please get in touch with me if you are interested in this option.

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
Jun 152017
 

How many languages can/should parents introduce to a baby?

 

Question

Hello

My wife and I are expecting and starting to think about how many languages we want teach our kids. Basically, our question boils down to, is it unrealistic to try for Bulgarian, English, Spanish, & Mandarin fluency, or should we just try for Bulgarian/English/Spanish?

Our circumstances are as follows:
1. We live in the USA.
2. My wife is a native Bulgarian and wants the kids to speak her heritage language which I very much support. In addition to Bulgarian and English she speaks advanced-intermediate Russian, and Spanish/German to a lesser extent.
3. I am a native English speaker and am advanced-intermediate in Spanish. My wife makes me look bad!
4. My parents will likely babysit often (2-3 days/week) for the first 1-2 years and only speak English.
5. Her family lives in Bulgaria and we plan to visit them regularly which will help reinforce Bulgarian.
6. I have numerous cousins that live in Latin America and we plan to visit them periodically and to vacation in Latin America which will help reinforce Spanish.
7. My wife and I both work full time and we are fortunate that time is a bigger constraint than cost.

We are happy to pay for a language nanny in Spanish or Mandarin or both. In terms of school options, there is a Spanish 50/50 immersion elementary school nearby we are considering, and a Spanish immersion pre-school option. There are some formal options for Mandarin, but they are far more limited in scope. We are willing to pursue more informal options, but we still need to learn more about what options are out there. Any advice? Thoughts?

We would love to add Mandarin to our language plan, but as you can see it will take significant extra effort relative to the first three. We are willing to put in effort, but don’t want it to be in vain. We’re also curious about timing the introduction of the languages, i.e. start with all 3 or 4 immediately at birth, or add them over time as the infant grows from baby to toddler to young child.

Thanks so much in advance.
Best, Reid

Answer

Dear Reid,

Thank you for your question about raising your little one to become fluent in several languages: Bulgarian, English, Spanish and Mandarin. Thank you also for giving detailed background information about your family’s language situation.

It is true that children can acquire many languages simultaneously while growing up – however, there are certain things that should be considered when planning a child’s multilingualism. While it is great for children to learn many languages, the process should not incur additional strain on the child and the rest of the family.

Creating an optimal but natural environment in which the child gets exposed to the different languages is the best way forward. Parents should be flexible and adjust the plan to support the child’s learning whenever necessary and not set unrealistic expectation on the level of fluency a child can reach with limited opportunities to interact in a language.

Next, I will comment separately on each language:

Bulgarian

Bulgarian is your wife’s mother tongue and you both agree that this is the language your wife should speak with your child. If you want your little one to learn Bulgarian, there needs to be enough varied exposure to the language. You mention that your wife works full-time, so she will need to maximise the interactive time with your child by speaking Bulgarian as much as possible. I would also try to find other families where Bulgarian is one of the family languages and look for playdate opportunities.

It is not easy to be the only language source, so it is important that you prepare by gathering Bulgarian resources, making sure you know songs and children’s rhymes etc. Ask relatives from Bulgaria to help you with this, and during visits, shop along and bring back books, games and other Bulgarian related resources.

Visits to Bulgaria will be even more important in a few years as it will be the best booster for your child’s Bulgarian skill. As reported by many parents of multilingual children, being fully immersed in a language, seeing other people, especially children, speak it as their main language, hearing it in the community and on media is very effective as a motivator.

Spanish

Spanish is spoken by extended family and it is also your second language. You do not mention whether you have considered speaking Spanish with your little one. If you do, read my post about considerations with regards to speaking a non-native language with your child. You should feel totally comfortable about the idea before you decide to go for that option.

Hiring a Spanish-speaking full-time nanny would give your child enough exposure to Spanish to pick up the language at an early age. Being able visit family in Latin America is again an excellent booster and will help him/her to maintain the language when growing up. If you decide to speak English with your child, then to maintain Spanish the best option would be to choose either a dual-language or immersion school for your child. However, only choose one which also meets your expectations with regards to the standard of teaching and other criteria.

English

Since you live in the US and your English-speaking parents will be caring for their grandchild many days a week, your little one will learn English – independent of which language you decide to speak. Even if your child was to become fluent in Bulgarian and Spanish first, English will soon follow and before long become his/her dominant language.

Mandarin

You do not mention the reasons why you would like your child to become fluent in Mandarin. As I understand it, it is not a family language, nor one that neither you nor your wife have any experience of, so I presume your preference for it comes from the fact that it is indeed a very useful language in today’s world. Keeping in mind that you are already committed to supporting two minority languages, Bulgarian and Spanish, you have to be very realistic with what you are capable of coping with as a family unit.

My recommendation would be to start with Bulgarian, Spanish and English and see how it goes for a few years. Hiring a Mandarin-speaking nanny from the start would compete with the exposure time for Spanish, so my thought would be to look for a Spanish-speaking nanny. Presuming you manage to create an environment where your child picks up the first three languages – which is perfectly doable – then you can consider whether you want to add Mandarin to the mix.

Obviously, you will need external help for this, so you should see which playful tuition options are available at that point. I would try it out and see if your child enjoys learning an additional language, and only continue with the tuition if the answer to that question is yes. Learning the basics will not take that long, but if you are looking for fluency in the language, this is a long-term commitment to an increasing amount of time spent on continued learning and maintaining the language.

Whichever languages you decide to choose, keep an eye on the progress and don’t hesitate to change strategy if you find that the languages you find more important need more support. With a trilingual base, your child will be in an excellent place to learn more languages, should he or she want to.

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
Jun 112017
 

How to maintain a family language once a bilingual child gets immersed in the majority language?

 

Question

Hello

We are a family who lives in Catalonia, Spain, we speak to our 2-year-old son in French because before he was even born we already spoke in French since we met up in Switzerland, even though any of us is French, we feel totally confident with it.

My worries are that my son will attend a Catalan school which means that even though at the moment he says more words in French than in Catalan, the moment he starts school, except from his dad and me, he’ll communicate with everyone in Catalan.

Will he still speak in French to us and get to the same level as in Catalan? He now already understands Catalan because everyone in the family speaks to him in this language.

Does every child get to the point of refusing the minority language during the teenage years? How to avoid that happening?

Really looking forward to your kind reply which will be of great help to me.
Roser

Answer

Dear Roser,

Thank you for your question about maintaining your son’s French as he grows up and gets more exposed to the majority language, Catalan.

It is true that your son will become fluent in Catalan very soon once he starts attending school. In a couple of years Catalan will most likely also  become his dominant language. However, this does not mean that he will automatically reject your home language, French. The important thing is to establish a solid routine of always speaking French as a family. Doing this as a young age is the best guarantee that he will maintain his French.

Once he starts school, there may come situations where he comes home and prefers to talk to you in Catalan. This is normal behaviour after having spent a whole day immersed in the language – don’t take it to heart, it is not a “rebellion” against French or you, just stick to French and do not respond in Catalan, even if your son were to speak it with you. Children are pragmatic and naturally use the language they feel most comfortable in – read my post: When your bilingual child goes to school for more ideas on how to prepare for this phase.

While I can understand your concerns, keep in mind that you are in a great position in that you only speak French at home. This means there is no question about choosing which language to speak – in contrast to families where only one parent speaks a minority language.

You are all already accustomed to using French at home – build on this by introducing games and other activities where your son will have to use his French in different ways. Consciously introduce new vocabulary though fun activities. Speak while you go about your everyday lives, describing what you do – it may feel strange, but just remember why you are doing it!

Check in your area if there are other French-speaking families with same-aged children and see if you could arrange playdates for your son. Maybe you could even start a group for parents who want to immerse their children in French?

If/When your son watches children’s programs, make sure most of them are in French – I always recommend that parents watch together with their children and discuss the characters and what happened in the story. I know this is not always possible, so should he watch on his own, be interested in what he has just watched and ask him to tell you what he just saw.

Read lots of books in French – be articulate and engage your son in the story. Make it interactive by occasionally putting the book down and asking, “What do you think happened next?” The important thing is to create situations where your son wants to express himself, and there should be a need for him to use French in these situations.

When your son grows older, change the activities accordingly – he will get new interests and want different activities and games. Foster any relationships you have with French-speaking families where there are children of the same age as your son. Should you not find these in your area, could you connect him with children in Switzerland?

If you can, arrange frequent visits to places where French is spoken as the majority language. Being fully immersed in the language, not only via the immediate family, but everyone in the community, media and art is the most effective language booster for a child of any age. When he is a bit older, maybe you could send him to a summer camp in Switzerland or France?

I have full confidence in that you will succeed in raising your son to become fluent in both in your family language and the community language and that French will remain as the common language for all of you.

Wishing you a 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
Jun 042017
 

How to choose the main school language for a trilingual child?

 

Question

Dear all,

we are a bilingual family. My husband speaks English to our 3-year-old son, I speak German to him. My husband and I speak English at home, our son speaks German to me and English to my husband. We live in the Netherlands. At daycare our son speaks English and Dutch.

Our son will go to school soon and we can choose for the English or the German section of the European school. The section would represent the first language and after two years a second language (German or English) will be taught. We are now discussing about the best choice for our son to keep all three languages. After school activities are mostly offered in English.

We are both very strong on our points of which section our son should go to, so are looking for some convincing, sound advice from an expert in this area. The school leaves it completely up to us, so not much of an advice there. My arguments are, that German is the more difficult language to acquire, so it should be the section language. We have more family in Germany and I will mostly be involved in school activities and socialising with parents, which still after so many years abroad feels more natural and easier to do in ‘my’ language. Additionally, I think it is easier to reach a very high level of English than it is for German.

My husband however argues, that English is very important all around the world and that it will be more beneficial for our son to speak English at an excellent level. We are very strict in separating languages – our son has started to ask questions in either language and does not accept the ‘other’ parent to answer this question. Even if it is in our own language…

What would your advice be?

Thank you!
Kind regards,
Esther

Answer

Dear Esther,

Thank you for your question about choosing the school language for your son. You are fortunate to have a choice between German and English, which are the mother tongues of you and your husband.

To start with, I would like to address two things in your message: Firstly, the way children learn to speak a language, or more correctly, acquire it, no language is more difficult than any other for them. The amount of interactive exposure to a language is important, but not the “difficulty” of it as perceived by an adult. Secondly, choosing one or the other of the languages to be the section language does not automatically mean that your son will not reach a high level of fluency in the other.

I understand your preference for German as the section language as you would feel more comfortable in using your mother tongue with other parents and teachers – I however don’t think this should be a factor that weighs too heavily in your decision-making. Likewise, the number of relatives speaking either language is as such not relevant, because your son will no doubt be able to speak the languages of both sides of his extended family.

Based on what you describe, out of the two languages, your son currently gets exposed to German only from you. He uses English with his dad and hears it when you are all together – English is your home language. English is also one of the languages at daycare, so he is probably hearing more English than German at this point.

Should you put him in the English section of the school, his English exposure would increase, and as I understand it, he would not receive any tuition in German until his third year. Any extra-curricular activities would also probably be in English. Keep in mind that his Dutch exposure will also increase over time.

If you want your son to achieve a high fluency in both German and English (and Dutch), then based on the above, it may be more beneficial for him to attend the German section for now, since the balance would tip quite heavily towards English should you choose the English one.

However, you do not mention the level of tuition the children get in the second language. There is a big difference between it being taught as a “foreign” language for couple of hours per week or a more comprehensive teaching approach with, for example, certain subjects taught in it. If the school offers comprehensive tuition also for the second language, then the choice of section is not as important.

What I would recommend you to do is to find out what other options there are for arranging additional varied exposure to the other language. Can you find hobbies or clubs in German for him to attend, should you choose English? What about the media – which language is dominant there? Which language will he most likely have more friends in?

Ultimately it is your choice and you need to decide together which language section you should put your son in. Try not to make this a discussion where you and your husband pitch your own mother tongues against each other, but consider what is the best way for your son to become a fluent speaker of both.

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
May 282017
 

Should parents expose a trilingual-to-be baby to all languages from the start?

 

Question

Hello!

My husband and I are expecting our first child, a boy, in June. My husband is Scottish, I am German and we live in rural Japan working at an international university. We only moved here last year and cannot really speak Japanese, although we have started to learn it (I speak a tiny bit, my husband basically nothing). We speak in English together, and our social circle is recruited from the university where everyone speaks English.

I am actually half-Japanese but grew up in Germany and my parents did not raise me bilingually, something that I always regretted. So I am very happy to think of my boy as learning all three languages. Plan is that my husband will speak English to him, me German, and my husband and me will speak in English. My husband speaks neither German nor Japanese. The surroundings will be entirely Japanese. I am a bit concerned for two reasons.

First, none of us can speak the language he will be immersed in in his social context. We were considering to have a nanny for a few afternoons a week from three months onwards, but if me and my husband already speak different languages to him and the nanny then immediately a third, will that be too much at such early age? Unfortunately, where we live there are literally zero non-Japanese care/nursery/school options we can choose from.

Second, will it be possible for my son to learn German? Is the one-parent-one language enough if he has no other exposure at all? Even when we go back to Europe, we do not really spend much time around German speakers since we speak English with all our common friends and I usually only go and see old friends/mother and brother for xmas.

I was just wondering what you make of this. Should we at least wait with the Japanese exposure until he goes to the nursery (10 months or maybe one year)? Any good advice about German? I know the best thing would be for us to learn fluent Japanese asap and for my husband to learn German as well, but let’s be realistic, we have very demanding academic jobs and that won’t happen in any near future (although of course we try as best as we can with Japanese at least).

I am really not sure how to go about this, so any advice would be great.

Thanks! 
Akiko

Answer

Dear Akiko

Congratulations on your soon-to-be occasion of becoming a family of three with the addition of your baby son! Thank you for your question on how to best raise him to be trilingual in your family languages: German, English and Japanese.

I would like to reassure you that there are many children growing up with three languages, and that they can cope just fine. Your little one will do so, too! You have the benefit of having a clear structure with the languages: German from you, English from your husband and as a home language, as well as Japanese from the environment and possibly from a nanny and later nursery and school.

You are right about having to be realistic and not counting on neither your husband learning German nor either of you quickly reaching a level of fluency in Japanese which would make you feel comfortable to speak the language with your son. Moreover, this is also not necessary for your son to become trilingual – both of you sticking to your languages is much more important for his language learning.

I agree with your plan of using the one parent, one language (OPOL) approach where both you and your husband speak your mother tongue with your son – you would speak German and your husband English. In addition, as the language you speak at home and in your social circles is mostly English, your son will get exposure to the language from different sources.

Your first concern is about when your son will learn Japanese and that neither you or your husband (yet) know the language. It will not be too much for your baby son to hear three different languages, so please do not let this concern stop you from hiring a Japanese-speaking nanny for your son. On the contrary, it could be beneficial for your son to get used to Japanese in anticipation of starting nursery where he will be immersed in the language.

On the other hand, should you decide to wait with the Japanese exposure, this will also be okay. Children do pick up a language at an amazing pace when fully immersed in it. What you might want to do is to visit the potential nurseries in advance and discuss the situation with them – find the one that is most open to bilingual children. Ask what their expectations are when it comes to language skills and how they can support your son. As I understand it, there can be big differences in the attitudes to multilingualism between different educational institutions in Japan.

With regards to you and your husband not speaking Japanese yet, keep in mind that you do still have quite a few years before there will be an active need for you to support your son with homework or the like. Also, should there come a time when you feel that your Japanese-skills are not enough to support him, you can always find a tutor to assist both you and your son.

Secondly you question whether it will be enough for your son to learn German as you will be the main and only source of German for him. In many (if not most) OPOL families one parent is in a very similar situation to yours. Based on experience, these parents would tell you that it works, but that it does require commitment and determination from you.

Get used to talking with your son – a lot! Keep a running commentary on what you are doing when you are with him – be it when bathing or feeding him, take him to the park or doing chores. You might feel a bit self-conscious about it to start with (it might feel like you are talking to yourself), but remember why you are doing it! Prepare yourself by ensuring you have access to German books, toys and later media that can help you with the German exposure. I would also try to arrange on-line calls with German-speaking family and friends to have regular contact with others who talk the language. It will be a while before your son can actively participates in the calls, but it is good to get into a routine!

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