Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

Rita Rosenback

Mar 262017
 

How to introduce an additional family language to a 4-year-old?

 

Question

Hello,

I am after some advice. I am Lithuanian, my husband English. Our son is 4 1/2 years old. My aim was to bring him up as bilingual but somehow it didn’t happen. I spoke to him in my native language but not consistently enough. He doesn’t really understand it apart of a few words/phrases that I use with him. I really want to change this.

I want my son to speak my language so he can have a relationship with my family back in Lithuania. Could you please give me some advice of how do I start this process? My dilemma is whether I go cold turkey and speak to him ONLY in Lithuanian (although it will cause him distress I’m sure) or I choose an hour or so a day only to start with.

Any advice/tips would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you very much in advance.
Lauryna

Answer

Dear Lauryna,

Thank you for your question on how to reintroduce another family language, your mother tongue Lithuanian, to your little son. I am happy that you have decided to do this now, because it is indeed easier to do this the younger he is.

You are considering whether to go “cold turkey”, i.e. to completely switch to Lithuanian from one day to another, would be the way to start this process. I agree with you, that it would be a very big and sudden change so I recommend a more gradual transition. As I have been through the process of switching the language I spoke with my own daughter when she was five years old, I know it is not a straight-forward change.

With a 4-year-old I would try different approaches to slowly bring in Lithuanian to your communication – see what works. Dedicating an hour a day may not be conducive to getting him interested. Instead, you could make it a game by using Lithuanian words in familiar situations – it should be clear from the context what a word means. For example, do this at meal times (not if you have a rushed breakfast, but when you have more time) by introducing words for cup, spoon, plate, water, cereal, milk, juice and so on. Then expand by using simple sentences: Do you want juice? – lift the juice box and offer to pour some. Give me your plate! – reach out with your hand towards his plate. Another great situations are when you are putting clothes on or going shopping. The more familiar the situation, the better.

The best way is to play on your son’s interests and then weave in Lithuanian in the situation. You can engage in his favourite game, but do it Latvian. Find a simple cartoon, fun songs and rhymes to watch, sing and recite them in Lithuanian. I love the concept of monolingual toys to bring in a language to a child’s life.

Introducing a language to a small child is a topic that comes up quite often, and I have already written some articles which relate to it, so I will list them here

Bilingual children – (re)introducing a family language

5 practical tips for (re)introducing a minority language

Since your son already has some knowledge of Lithuanian, it should be an easier start, put please don’t push him too hard – instead work on further ways to motivate him – find more ideas in these post:

Top tips for motivating bilingual children to speak their languages

3 ways to intensify the minority language exposure for your bilingual child.

Wishing you a successful bilingual family journey – please let us know how it goes!

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
Mar 232017
 

Is it okay to have a third language as OPOL parents' common language?

 

Question

Hello,

I would like to validate our family approach and maybe get some tips to improve on our current strategy. Our little one is 3 years old. We live in Austria and he is already in the kindergarten so picking up his German skills slowly but surely. My wife is Austrian so she is consistent with her German, I am Argentinian (have not been consistent with my Spanish but being 100% consistent over the past weeks after researching) and we both communicate in English.

Question – is it okay that we keep communicating in English ourselves, my wife in German with him and me Spanish with him?

Many thanks for your advice & tips!
Daniel & Anita

Answer

Dear Daniel and Anita,

Thank you for your question about whether it is fine that you and your wife speak English between you while your son is learning German from mum and Spanish from dad – so you are using the one parent, one language (OPOL) strategy to raise your son to speak your languages.

I am pleased to hear that he is already picking up German and especially that you have decided to be more consistent with your Spanish. As I presume that you will be his main (only?) source for Spanish exposure it is particularly important that you stick to Spanish with him, because very soon German will take over as his dominant language. The less exposure a child gets to a language the greater the importance of staying consistent in the use of it.

Many other multilingual families have a very similar language setup to yours, i.e. parents who both speak their respective mother tongues with a child use a third language as the common language between them. What happens is that your son will after some time learn to understand English if he hears enough of it, he will become a receptive bilingual in English. This means that he will understand the language but not speak it unless he gets a chance to interact in it. His understanding of English will however stand him in good stead if/when he starts to learn the language at school.

This is a normal multilingual family language situation and you can continue using English between the two of you. The thing that you need to keep an eye on is that your son gets enough exposure in Spanish, so make sure you have enough books for him, sing songs, read children’s rhymes and watch Spanish children’s programmes together. Arrange regular Skype calls with your Spanish-speaking relatives and friends together with your son so he can hear the language spoken by others as well. Being immersed in a language is highly effective as a booster, so visits to Argentina would be very beneficial for your son’s Spanish. If your wife knows some Spanish, you could perhaps occasionally do something in Spanish together as a family.

In a way, it can be beneficial to keep English (instead of German) as the common language between you and your wife, as this means that the majority language will not get as much of a stronghold as a family language.

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
Mar 192017
 

How to support a bilingual 3-year-old learning a third language?

 

Question

Hi!

I’m German, my wife is Greek, we live in Greece. Our daughter is 3 1/2 years old. I speak only German to her (and she responds in German). My wife and everybody else speak only Greek to her (and she responds in Greek). My daughter’s Greek is amazingly good for this age. Her German is good, not perfect (as I work outside of Greece, I am absent about 120 days of the year).

My wife and I communicate mostly in English. Sometimes also in Greek. My Greek is ok, my wife understands German quite well and speaks a bit. Until now, it seems that our daughter doesn’t understand English. She sometimes complains that we shouldn’t speak English to each other 😉 For some weeks, she has some English lessons in Kindergarten (in a fun way). Now she starts to repeat some things that we say, she asks how do you say this and that in English and so on. She seems to be interested in and talented with languages.

Now, we are wondering what is the best way to give here the chance to learn English? Will she learn it anyway? Should we send her to some lessons (we have a friend who is a teacher) so she can make the first steps there? Or should we stop to talk in English to each other? We don’t want to push her, we just want to give her opportunities, especially as she seems to be fond of languages. As our neighbour is a teacher for French and has a daughter in the same age, we were even considering to ask her to teach the kids once a week some French.

Looking forward for your advice! Thank you very much for your answer!

Best regards
Christoph

Answer

Dear Christoph

Thank you for your question about how to support your little bilingual daughter with learning a third language. She is doing really well using the right languages with you at such a young age. I am happy to hear that she is inquisitive and wants to learn more!

Since your daughter hears English at home when you and your wife speak it together and also has some lessons in Kindergarten she will by time gain some understanding of the language, i.e. she will become a receptive bilingual. For her to start actively speaking it she would need to have more exposure to it and, most importantly, get a chance to regularly interact in it.

However, she is only three and still learning her two main languages, Greek and German, so for the moment, I would just continue what you are doing and exposing her to English at home and Kindergarten. Do answer her questions about how to say something in English when she is interested – you can also introduce songs and rhymes in English, but you are right in saying that you should not push her. A child learns best when they have a desire to learn. At some point you can then look for a playgroup in English or English-speaking families whose children she could have playdates with.

There is no need for you to stop using English at home, if this is the language you are used to speaking with each other. If your daughter is occasionally not happy about you speaking English, just translate as necessary for her, so she does not feel left out from the conversation. You will however find that her understanding of English will improve quicker than you might expect. What you could do is to introduce some English time for all of you, e.g. on the weekend, when you do something fun together as a family – in English. I would take the lead from your daughter and go with what she is comfortable with and gradually bring in different activities.

When it comes to asking your neighbour for some French lessons, I would not yet seek any formal teaching for your 3-year-old. Your daughter has plenty of time to add another languages to her repertoire. However, if your neighbour is a French-speaker and her daughter also speaks French, then do let them play with each other, even if it is in French. Children can have lots of fun together even if they don’t have a common language.

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
Mar 162017
 

What are the implications of switching the language you speak with your baby?

 

Question

Dear Language Coaches,

Can you please give any advice on my family’s language situation? My wife is fluent in both English and Afrikaans, with HL (home language) Afrikaans. My HL is English and my Afrikaans is good enough for us to successfully communicate but I still make quite a lot of mistakes, so I wouldn’t say I’m completely fluent. Afrikaans is the minority language since we live in the UK and only see Afrikaans family 2/3 weeks of the year.

We have a 6-month-old son who we want to raise as fully bilingual. For the first six months of his life we adopted the OPOL strategy, as my wife was on maternity leave and spent all day with him while I was at work, so he got a very good amount of exposure to Afrikaans.

However, now that my wife is back to full time work, he goes to a nursery school during the weekdays which is English. So, his Afrikaans exposure has decreased to an hour in the morning and about two hours at night from his mother during the week. My wife is concerned that this is not enough exposure for him to pick up Afrikaans, and has asked me to switch to Afrikaans only in front of our son and with him.

I should be able to manage, but it is difficult since I feel a strong connection with my HL. I do feel strongly about him being bilingual though, so I will change if it helps. Specific questions:

  1. Do you think changing our home language to Afrikaans will increase the odds that my son is bilingual?
  2. Will it not confuse him if I change to Afrikaans after speaking only English for 6 months?
  3. Will there come an age in my son’s life where he is “bilingual” enough and I can then switch back to having a relationship with him in English?

Thanks in advance for any insights you may have.

Kind regards,
Allan

Answer

Dear Allan,

Thank you for your question about switching the language you speak with your son and what impact it may have. Thank you also for painting a clear picture of your family’s language situation, it makes answering so much easier.

I understand your wife’s concerns about your son’s Afrikaans skills, as the amount of English exposure does increases significantly with him going to nursery. She has now asked you to switch to speaking Afrikaans instead of English with your son to make sure he gets enough interaction in the language. As a family, you would be following the minority language at home (mL@H) strategy instead of the one parent, one language (OPOL) which you are using now.

Children grow up to become bilingual in families which use the OPOL strategy with the same amount of minority language exposure as you have now. Thus, it is not an absolute requirement for you to switch the language you speak with your son. It is however true that there would be less pressure on your wife if you were to speak Afrikaans with him, as she would not be the only source of exposure to the language.

You write that you “should be able to manage” to switch the language you speak with your son and that you think your Afrikaans is “good enough” to manage to this. How do you really feel about this? I can sense a certain, understandable reluctance to do this and I want you to be 100% sure that you want to do it. You should feel comfortable when communicating with your son.

You can still support your wife even if you were not to switch – since you know the language, you can read to him, watch children’s programmes and play games in Afrikaans. This is what bilingual people do – switch between the languages based on the situation.

With regards to your specific questions:

  1. Yes, statistically the chances of a child becoming a fluent bilingual are higher in a family that uses the mL@H approach, compared to OPOL.
  2. No, your son will not be confused – both his parents would be speaking the same language instead of two different ones.
  3. Yes, it is possible for you to switch back to using English later. To maintain his Afrikaans, it is important that his mother sticks to speaking the language with him at all times – otherwise there is a risk that he stops using it. Another question althogether is whether you will want to change back to English once you are used to speaking Afrikaans with him – keep in mind that your own Afrikaans skills will also improve the more you speak it.

While the increased exposure to Afrikaans would certainly support your son’s fluency in the language, you should still make the choice based on how the switch would feel for you. The language we speak with our children should not become a hindrance to close communication with them. On the other hand, if you feel comfortable about the switch, there is nothing to say you should not do it – and remember, if you do switch and subsequently find it too difficult, you can always switch back.

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
Mar 122017
 

 

Should a parent change the language spoken with a child in anticipation of an international move?

Question

Hello!

We are a Spanish\Catalan family who has lived in China for nearly four years and our child speaks the three languages without no problem as we do OPOL and she goes to a Chinese school. We are planning to move to England in November or so, so we decided to put her into an English school twice a week until July, when we’ll leave China.

We have always spoken our own languages to her but I am thinking to switch to English once we arrive to Spain so she doesn’t forget the English learned here so she can use it in England once we move there. Is it a good idea? Or will it confuse her?

I feel Spanish will be covered by the context and grandparents and I could cover English so her entrance in an English school would be easier but I am not sure if it is the right move.

Thanks so much for your help and the work you do!

Soledad

Answer

Dear Soledad

Thank you for your message and question about whether to switch to using English with your school-aged daughter in anticipation of your move to the U.K. later in the year.

You have done really well to raise her trilingual in Spanish, Catalan and Chinese! She has also been learning English, and your move to the U.K. will make English her fourth language. Your concern is how to maintain her English during your 4-month stay in Spain.

Switching the language you speak with a child is not an easy thing to do and I wouldn’t recommend it in your case. There are other ways you can support her English while you are in Spain, which are less intrusive to your family routines. In addition, there are other longer term implications you need to take into consideration.

You will be moving from one country to another twice within a short time. A move is a big change for all of you, including your daughter, and I would do my best not to add any avoidable stress factors. Changing the language with your little girl would be disruptive for her – it is not that you would confuse her, using different languages in a family does not cause confusion (as you well know), but I find it important that you continue using the language that she is most comfortable with when you speak with her during the transition.

During your time in Spain, you can still sing English songs, recite rhymes, watch children’s programmes together and so on. You could also use the British Council’s LearnEnglish Kid to do fun exercises suitable for her age. There are also plenty of other resources available online – do a search for example for home-schooling materials for English.

It will of course take a while for her to settle in to the school in the U.K., but teachers are generally great at helping children with this and I would recommend you to work closely with the school once you arrive in the U.K. You can continue supporting your daughter’s English without changing the language you speak to her.

The fact is that once you are in the U.K. and she attends school in English, this will become one of her strongest languages and it is important that you continue maintaining her Spanish and Catalan skills. With you living in an English-speaking environment, she will be getting enough exposure to English, so make sure you stock up on Spanish and Catalan reading material before you leave for the U.K. The same goes for Chinese, you do not mention your intentions for maintaining her Chinese, but I know you can find children’s activities in Chinese in the U.K. – it of course depends on where you will be based.

Wishing you a successful multilingual family journey across the world!

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
Mar 092017
 

How to introduce a second minority language to a child?

 

Question

Hello,

I have been reading your website with interest and hope you can help me in introducing French to my two-year old son.

I am half English and half French and fluent in both languages, although my dominant language is English. My husband is Iraqi and fluent in both English and Arabic. I speak to my son in English, my husband speaks to him in Arabic. The common language at home is English and we live in Dubai – where English is the main language with some Arabic. He is definitely now speaking English and fully understands Arabic and even uses some words.

He has had some exposure to French, as we regularly skype call my mother who is French speaking. We also sometimes read French books etc.

I’m keen to make sure he is well exposed to French but have found it hard to speak only French at home when other languages are being spoken.

Should I switch to only speaking French? I have been told to gradually phase out English to only speak French, as he is so well exposed to English through nursery and will be at school eventually. I have also read on this website to dedicated a time/area to French speaking but I don’t know if this is going to be enough exposure.

Your guidance and advice would be much appreciated!

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Solenne

Answer

Dear Solenne

Thank you for your question on how to introduce another minority language, French, to your son who is already well on his way of becoming bilingual in English and Arabic.

As your son is attending an English-speaking nursery and later also school, English will be his dominant language. In addition, your home language will presumably continue to be English, so it will always have its place in your home. To ensure that he also learns French, establishing a routine of speaking it with him now would be the best decision.

I understand your situation well from a personal experience as I was in a similar position with my eldest daughter. Initially I only spoke Finnish with her, but was determined to also pass on Swedish to her. The switch was successful, but not a straight forward one to do, mainly because I waited until she was five before I did it. Your son is only two, so the switch will be easier for him now than in a few years.

It will be a challenge for both of you, but at his age, probably more challenging for you than for him. As you quite rightly point out, it is not easy to change the language you are used to speaking with someone. I do however think that you should aim for a complete switch as this will the best guarantee for him learning French, especially since there will little other exposure to the language.

I agree with gradually introducing French, working towards a situation where you always speak French when you speak directly with your son. This does not rule out the use of English when you are together as a family. A total switch from one day to another would be too big a change both for him and for you, so doing a transition at a pace that feels comfortable is more realistic (and more likely to succeed).

Here are some ideas on how to bring in French to your daily routines.

  1. Create an area in your home where you put “all things French” in one place and use this area when you sing, play or read a book in French. Maria has a great post on creating a “language corner” in your home.
  2. Use your Skype-calls to engage your son to participate. E.g. do a clapping game or recite a rhyme that you all do together over the call. Another idea is to read (or talk through) a book together, so that your mother has the same book as you and you can look at the pictures, talk about them and turn the pages together.
  3. Introduce toys that speak only French – this is a concept that is perfectly acceptable for a two-year-old. It could be a puppet, a teddy, an action hero doll, any toy really. The most effective one would probably be a hand puppet. You can introduce phrases little by little according to what keeps your son interested (read this Q&A for some ideas on a “dialogue” with a hand puppet).
  4. Decide on certain activities that you will only use French in. Select something that you do daily, for example dressing and undressing. Choose an activity where it as clear as possible from the context what the words mean. Gradually add more things you do together in French.

What you will find is that once you get going it will become easier for you to increase the amount of French you speak with your son. Arm yourself with a lot of patience. There might be days when you feel that it is too hard or that you cannot see progress – on those days, keep in mind that you are giving your son a fantastic gift for his future and it will be worth it in the end, and keep going!

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
Mar 022017
 

Q&A: Should minority language parents always be consistent about using their mother tongue?

 

Question

Dear All,

We are an Italian family living in France. We speak Italian at home (two hours at night and on the weekends/holidays) but sometimes in the afternoons after school, when my husband is not there yet, it happens that I speak French as well to my daughter (I’m very exposed to it and I’m also fluent). Both because we are with French-speaking persons or because I speak most of the time French so somehow it’s spontaneous for me to speak French to her when we are outside home in the community language context.

My daughter is now 2.5 years old and she understands both languages, but apart from some Italian words (mostly related to house routines) she mostly speaks French (95%) even when I talk to her in Italian. My question is: is this a normal stage as she’s small and of course the dominant language for her is French (she went to the daycare as of 6 months) or I’m doing something wrong with the switching from Italian to French? Should I only talk to her in Italian? I read that some switching is possible and I do that just because it’s natural to me, I’m not forcing myself.

Thank you very much in advance
Kind regards
Silvia

Answer

Dear Silvia

Thank you for your message about language choices in your family. You should be very proud of your little bilingual daughter. She is only 2.5 years and can understand two languages – more than many adults!

As your daughter has been in French-speaking daycare since she was six months old, she has had plenty of exposure to French, even though you speak only Italian when you are all together. The fact that she mostly responds in French indicates that this is the language she probably gets more overall interaction in.

When she comes home from school, she will be used to hearing and speaking French all day and it is only natural that she would continue using French at home, especially since it is her strongest language. It is also natural for you to respond in the same language, particularly as you are used to speaking French and it is second nature for you to switch between the languages depending on the situation.

Switching between languages is a natural way to communicate between bilinguals, and parents in many families do exactly this and children do grow up to learn both family languages, providing there is enough exposure to both languages. Since your family language in general is Italian (and you keep it that way), I would expect your daughter to also start speaking some Italian in a not so distant future.

What you might want to pay attention to is how much direct interaction she actually gets in Italian. You mention two hours in the evenings and the weekends. During these times, how much time do you reckon that either you or your husband or both of you together interact directly with your daughter? How much of the time is she mainly listening or just hearing Italian?

To support your daughter’s expressive Italian (talking), the more you interact with her in the language the better. Reading books in Italian is also very important – see these tips from Mary-Pat in a different Q&A on how to make reading even more efficient. Also, check out Maria’s recommendations in this Q&A for further ideas on how to help your daughter express herself in Italian.

Another thing you might also want to take into consideration is that as she gets older, French will become an even more dominant language for her, and it might be useful to establish a strong routine of speaking her minority language with each other at an early age. This does not mean that you have to be 100% strict of always speaking Italian with her, though – keep it natural, especially in situations outside the home where you feel more comfortable speaking French.

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
Feb 262017
 

How not to exclude others when you speak a minority language with your child?

Question

Hello,

I am from Hungary and live in the UK with my British husband. At home we speak English, as my husband doesn’t speak much Hungarian. We have a 3-month-old baby, with whom I have been talking in Hungarian when it is just the two of us, or if we are in the company of other Hungarian speakers.

When my husband is with us I have been finding it hard to speak to our daughter in Hungarian since my husband wouldn’t understand us. It feels strange, as if we are ‘excluding him’, and also not very practical when I need him to also understand what I am saying to our baby.

We have read some of the previous Q&As on your site and found them extremely helpful! My husband is very keen to improve his Hungarian and he is kind of learning with our daughter now. He was worried that he shouldn’t practice with her, but having seen that you didn’t think it was a problem for someone to speak to their baby in a language they are not proficient in, he now reads to our daughter from Hungarian books, and sometimes we speak in Hungarian when it is the three of us.

At the moment, when my husband arrives home (I am the one on maternity leave) I switch to English and we continue playing using English when it is the three of us. But at times Hungarian comes much more naturally when I want to say something to our daughter, to comfort her or to encourage her for instance. Sometimes I repeat things in both languages, so my husband can also follow. Overall, it’s quite random and without a proper strategy, I worry this is going to get increasingly confusing to our daughter (and to us also).  Can this randomness confuse our baby? If so, what would you recommend so I could be a bit more deliberate in which language I choose to use when?

With others, I feel more of a social pressure to use English. I feel rude to speak in Hungarian when we are with those who cannot understand. Especially so in front of my parents-in-law who already believe that our daughter should not hear any other language apart from English in the first six months of her life, and suggested I only ‘gently’ introduce my mother tongue after that time, through songs, etc – well obviously I ignored this in practice. But I do feel awkward switching to English when others are around. How would you manage these situations?

I suppose my biggest challenge is knowing what language to use with my baby when we are with my husband or friends or family who are non-Hungarian speakers – and having some kind of a consistent system for this – is it necessary to have consistency do you think?

Any tips, advice, resources would be really helpful!

Thank you so much for your support in advance!
All the best,
Nora

Answer

Dear Nora

Congratulations on becoming a family of three! Thank you for your question and the update you sent – I have incorporated it in the question above.

Which language to speak when is a dilemma most bilingual parents deal with at some point, certainly most minority language parents. The main concern is how to combine the need (and want) to speak your language with your child without making others feel that they are being left out.

I am pleased to hear that your husband is so supportive of you speaking Hungarian with your child – and excited to know that he wants to improve his own Hungarian-skills. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that the majority language parent fully backs the idea of raising a bilingual child.

You are right, it is fine that your English-speaking husband reads to your daughter in Hungarian. You are your daughter’s Hungarian role model and she will not pick up any accent or mistakes from your husband. He is helping you increase the exposure to Hungarian by participating as best as he can. In addition, the more Hungarian he learns, the more comfortable you will feel to stick to Hungarian with your daughter when the three of you are together.

The biggest “threat” to a minority language in a family, is if everyone readily switches to the majority language. Sooner than you know it, your daughter will be fluent in English and the challenge will be to maintain her Hungarian. To prepare for this phase my recommendation would be to stick to Hungarian as much as possible to establish a firm routine between the two of you to always speak your mother tongue.

I know you are very aware of making sure your husband does not feel excluded, which is important, but do discuss this with him. In my experience, in many families it is in fact the minority language parent who feels more uncomfortable about the situation, while the other parent, who may not understand everything that is being said, is more relaxed about it. Agree that he should ask every time he wants to know the specifics and you will repeat in English when you feel it is needed or when he asks. Also, keep in mind that the more Hungarian he hears, the quicker he will learn.

Then we come to the trickiest part of the equation – your parents-in-law. I am happy to hear that you ignored the advice not to speak Hungarian to your baby during the first six months and then only gradually introduce it, because it is not correct and the opposite is the right way to go. Children all over the world are learning two languages simultaneously and are not getting confused! I presume that as grandparents your parents-in-law might have been worried that they will not be able to communicate with their grandchild and wanted to make sure that she learnt English first. While I understand their worry, and acknowledge that it comes from a place of love for your child, their advice is not based on any researched facts and should not be followed.

If possible, the best thing to do is to openly discuss the situation with your parents-in-law and others that you come in regular contact with – ask you husband for help with this. Explain to them why it is important that you speak as much Hungarian as possible with your daughter and why you are trying to stick to Hungarian only. Had the situation been the reverse, i.e. you would be living in Hungary, the same would have applied to English and your husband. (It might be easier for others to understand the situation if they think of it that way.) I know that it is not possible to have this kind of discussions with everyone, but you will know your family and friends best.

There may still be situations where you find it too uncomfortable to speak Hungarian, but please be assured that this will not confuse your daughter. She learns that as a bilingual person you switch between languages depending on who is in your company. While the need for consistency is indeed higher the less exposure there is to a language, this should not become a rigid rule that affects our relationships to our family and friends. We should never forget that language is about communication and understanding each other, not about sticking to the rules at any cost.

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
Feb 192017
 

Is it worth passing on a family language for which there is only limited use?

 

Question

Hello

My husband and I are expecting a baby. We live in the US, and he is from a small African country. He speaks his native language fluently and very good English and French.

I want our child to speak his language (which I have only basic knowledge of), so she can feel connected to the culture and eventually speak to the extended family back home, none of whom speak English. But my husband’s language is spoken by relatively few people and has no practical use at all outside of those family visits, which are unlikely to happen often.

We have a few picture books in that language, but there are very few books published in it for any level, and no TV, movies, etc. We don’t know anyone else in the community who speaks the language. We wonder if it’s really worth the time and effort to do OPOL for a language our child will have very little need for or opportunity to use, other than with the dad.

Wendy

Answer

Dear Wendy

Thank you for your question about choosing the languages to speak with your child.

Let me start with saying that I will not give a direct answer to your question, because ultimately only you and your husband will know the answer to it. Instead, I will suggest a few things to take into consideration when making that decision.

You mention that your husband speaks his native tongue fluently and very good English and French. How does he feel about potentially not speaking the language he is most familiar with to your baby? Does he feel comfortable with the thought of not using his native tongue to express his feelings to your child?

I know that you mention that learning your husband’s language will be of “no practical use” to your child, but there is still a big value to it for your son/daughter later on in life. Like you say, knowing the language will give your child and instant connection to his or her roots and relatives in Africa. This connection would still be strongly there through to the next generation. That said, knowing the language is of course not a requirement, but it certainly makes it easier to understand a culture. Try to put yourself in your child’s adult shoes – what difference would knowing / not knowing the African family language mean to him/her?

Resources are always a challenge, especially with small minority languages. Nowadays it is however easier than ever to stay in touch over long distances using online video calls and other apps. Many minority language parents also translate books on the fly when they do not have any books available in a their language.

Being bilingual has many other benefits in addition to the ability to communicate with more people, so I always recommend that parents pass on an additional language to their children if they can do so. If you are committed to raising your child to be bilingual, then the other option is that your husband would speak French with your baby. How emotionally close is French for him? Has he been using the language in close relationships or only in a school or work environment? You would certainly have a lot more resources available to you, should you choose French.

Like I mentioned at the start, I will refrain from making a recommendation, but I hope that I have given you food for thought when you are deciding on your family language choices!

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
Feb 162017
 

How to do OPOL as parents if you are used to mixing languages?

 

Question

Hello

My wife is Australian, I am Flemish (Dutch-speaking Belgium) and that is also where we live. We are expecting and want our child to be bilingual English-Dutch to pass on both of our cultural identities.

Nowadays, since my wife’s Dutch has become very good, my wife and I speak a mixture of Dutch and English to each other. We sometimes have conversations in one language, but also sometimes each speak in our own language during the same conversation, we regularly code switch, use specific words of each other’s language, etc…

Should we avoid this behaviour once our child is around us (code switching and mixing)? If we apply OPOL, should we each stick to our own language when we speak to each other as well? Or is it better to pick one language we speak to each other? What will we do later in group conversations? I’m really wondering about this.

Thank you for your answer.
Niels

Answer

Dear Niels

Thank you for your question – you are not the only bilingual parent who is mixing languages and thinks about this!

You and your wife use your languages in a way which is very natural for two bilingual people who know each other’s languages – switching between them depending on topic and situation. As you mention, this is called code-switching and I don’t see a reason why you should change the way you talk with each other for the sake of sticking to only one language.

What you want for your child is to be a confident speaker of both English and Dutch, and the two of you will initially be the main sources of exposure to the languages. When either of you speak to someone else who only knows either English or Dutch, you change your way of speaking and only stick to the language the other person understands. This is of course what you would like your child to be able to do as well. For this to happen, it is important that your child gets exposed to the languages in a way that allows him or her to keep them separate.

You could consider the 2 parents, 2 languages (2P2L) approach which has proven to be successful when both parents are bilingual – note that in this scenario you would normally also have plenty of other exposure to both languages. Thus, the crucial aspect here is exposure. In your situation, it sounds like English may be a minority language and your child will generally hear more Dutch than English. (Unless you for example opt for daycare or education in English.)

So for your child, you need to consider whether there will be enough English exposure, and I would recommend that your wife consistently sticks to English when speaking directly with your child. Consistency is not a be all and end all when using the one parent, one language (OPOL) approach – the need to be consistent depends on the amount of exposure (read this article for further thoughts on language consistency with OPOL).

I understand that it is difficult to imagine how future family conversations will take place – who will speak what? I can assure you that things will fall in place, and when the time comes you will find a way that suits you. In a bilingual family, it is perfectly normal and fine for people to be using and mixing languages in a very similar way that you do currently with your wife. At some point, you might however notice that there is a need for more English exposure for your child and then decide to stick to English as your home language. The dynamics may change over time, but by being aware of how your child’s languages evolve you will be able to make the best decision on your language choices.

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