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Rita Rosenback

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 122017
 

How to engage a 10-year-old to speak the minority language and expand his vocabulary?

 

Question

Hello!

Great website – thank you for taking the time to do this!

We have two kids raised from birth bilingual in Italian and English. BUT dad speaks only one of the languages (English) and we’re living in the US where foreign languages are fairly non-existent at elementary school.

Kids talk among themselves in English and mom talks in Italian. Summer camps in Italy every year so they are forced to speak while doing something fun. But am still struggling with our 10-year-old son especially who is refusing to speak to me if he has to do it in Italian.

I speak seven languages and learned them some from birth, some as a teen and some at university. I am deeply experienced in bilingualism and understanding how he feels. The problem is that his vocabulary is better in English and as his ability to express his feelings lags in Italian, it’s an uphill battle and it is becoming “mom is annoying”.

It’s easy when they are small, and it’s easy when both parents speak the minority language (let’s say my husband also spoke Italian and that was the home language, as it was for me with two Italian parents growing up in an English-speaking country) … but how do we effectively continue when asking the kid to repeat in the minority language leads to “then I just won’t talk” or “will only talk to dad”.

Marie

Answer

Dear Marie

Thank you for your question and for your lovely feedback! I hear your frustration! Having a reluctant 10-year old minority speaker serves up a totally different challenge than trying to get a smaller child to be excited about your language.

Most articles on bilingual children do focus on younger children – in my post 40 ways to motivate your children to speak the minority language I have listed options for different age groups, so you may find some ideas there.

You have identified the issue as a lack in vocabulary – i.e. he is unable to find the right words when he tries to express himself in Italian, thus prefers English. The obvious next question is, how can you help him expand his knowledge of Italian words and phrases? Without knowing your son’s personality and interests in more detail, I can only give some general suggestions on how to go about this, but I hope you find them helpful.

Does he like to read? If yes, then books are a great way to expand the vocabulary. However, comics and quality youth magazines should not be forgotten. What about good TV programs in Italian – could you find one that he likes to watch? You could then speak about what happens in the episodes to further consolidate any new words and phrases.

Is he normally a fast speaker and generally very active? If yes, i.e. patience is not one of his prominent personality traits, then this might add to his frustration when he does not find the right word quickly enough. To counteract this, I would recommend that you consciously start speaking slower yourself to signal to him that is okay to take your time and think/find the right word. In a conversation speakers often mirror each other, so you need to take the lead on this. (I know this might not be the typical way to speak Italian, but give it a try!)

The best way to learn to speak a language is to speak it as often as possible – this is a bit of a conundrum, so independent of whether your son is the fast talker type or a calmer, more reflective person, I would try to involve him in different types of discussions whenever you can. You will know in which areas his vocabulary is strong, so concentrate on these to start with, so he feels more confident about speaking Italian. For example, talk about similar experiences to what he had during his stay on the summer camp in Italy. As he was using Italian in those situations he should find them easier to talk about.

Avoid correcting him but do offer words when he asks for them – discuss this with him so you know when to help. Tell him that it is fine not to know a word and it is okay to ask and that it would make you happy if he did so. The idea is to generally get him into talking more Italian, but without making him uncomfortable about it. Play on his interests to get him excited to speak about a topic.

I also encourage you to have a discussion with your son about how important it is for you that you have a language that you share. However, do this without making him feel guilty – you do not want to go down the route of emotional blackmail! Just express your own feelings about Italian and what it means to you – I have found that as parents we often forget to do this since it is so obvious to us.

With your own impressive language skills, you know better than most how enriching it is to be able to speak more than one language. Your son may not appreciate this right now, but he definitely will later in life, so stick to Italian and do not give up!

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 092017
 

“Am I a poor parent for not speaking the minority language with our child?”

 

Question

Hello

I have question and maybe this may seem silly, but do you think that the fact that parents who don’t teach or raise their kids as native bilinguals are “poor parents”?

My son is 7. He speaks predominantly English at home but can communicate a little bit in Spanish with my parents. It never really bothered me because they have a good relationship and he enjoys his time with them, despite him not being fluent (he understands everything just fine too) in Spanish.

I have been criticized by other people in our community because he cannot speak like the folks back home and have been telling me I am poor mother for not teaching him Spanish and letting him speak English with me. My sister gets it worse because her kids can understand the language and somewhat speak, but they prefer to speak English.

It’s been bothering me lately. My son speaks Spanish with my parents only, and he learns more when they come to visit, but I never realized it’s an expectation that he has to be exceptional in it. Even my parents weren’t bothered by it because regardless of some communication struggle, the love between them is pretty powerful.

He speaks English with my husband and me and I find he does love to engage in Hispanic culture. I don’t know, I know the Hispanic community in general is very judgemental on language and tend to berate those who don’t speak Spanish or speak it fluently.

I thought about just going with the flow and let him learn at his own pace, because I thought kids learn best when discovering the beauty of learning a language on their own rather than me forcing him to speak more, but I guess it’s not ok? Or maybe it’s just that people are absolute jerks and that society is just not so kind? What to do in this situation?

Sarita

Answer

Dear Sarita

Thank you for your question which is definitely not silly! You are asking about something that bothers you and I can see why.

From the outset, I want to make it clear that in no way do I think you are (or anyone else is) a “poor parent” for not passing on a family language. In your case, you must have passed on something of the minority language as your son does understand Spanish and most importantly, loves the Hispanic culture. Also, he has a great relationship with his grandparents!

Like with any parenting decisions, there will always be those who criticize and tell you that you are doing this or that wrong, be it about clothing, food, bedtime, screen time, chores, schooling … and indeed about family languages. I cannot say I am familiar with the Hispanic community in particular, but if I were you I would do my very best to ignore any negative or criticizing comments. My recommendation is to smile, thank the other person for the opinion and move on – either away from the person or to another topic, depending on the situation. Trying to argue your point is rarely helpful and will just make you feel more ill at ease. Others’ expectations are exactly that: “others'” not yours to keep!

Whatever works in your family is the right solution for you – it sounds like your son is willing to use whatever Spanish he knows when speaking with his grandparents and this is really encouraging. Help him maintain this positive attitude to the language by being encouraging without putting pressure on him. He may well want to improve his Spanish-skills at some point and you will be able to help him.

Many children learn a family language without their parents active intervention – like you say, they learn at their own pace. What you do have to keep in mind is that this happens in scenarios where there is enough exposure to the language for the child to pick it up, for example at school or from other relatives or friends. If your son only occasionally gets the chance to interact in Spanish then the likelihood is that he will become a receptive bilingual, i.e. he would understand Spanish but be reluctant or unable to speak it.

Whatever you decide to do, base the decision on what you find is best for your son and your family, not on what others’ think you should do.

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 022017
 

Should a parent stop speaking a non-native language so that a child does not get an accent?

 

Question

Hello,

My family and I live in Iran. We don’t have many bilinguals or multinationals in our country. People know a little English but not very much.

I have a daughter, who is 6 years old. I am an English-teacher in my country, too. I teach kids under the age of 7. When our daughter was 3 and a half, I started to speak English with her. I believe a kid can learn the second language easily through fun and play and daily life experience. Her father spoke Persian all the time. My accent is American.

Since I started speaking English with my daughter I never stopped learning and improving my accent and grammar. I could be considered a semi-native speaker. Me and my daughter have been watching a lot of English cartoons and we have learnt a lot from them. We play, sing, read English books together. We also have made a community of other bilingual kids to interact with each other.

Now my question is that: Is accent very important? Should I stop speaking and interacting in English because I am not a native speaker? Should I let her learn and hear only from cartoons since we don’t have any American native speakers in our country? My daughter’s accent is really good because she is a young learner and she’s been watching only English cartoons since she was 3. Should I stop our English interactions or continue?

Thanks and all the best
Zohre

Answer

Dear Zohre

Thank you for your message and congratulations on raising your daughter to speak English with limited access to resources and native speakers!

You are clearly comfortable in speaking English with your daughter and she is learning Persian from her father, the rest of the family and everyone else. Fantastic that you have found other families who also raise bilingual children. It is important that your daughter also gets used to interacting in English with other people and especially with other children.

As you are the person your daughter is interacting in English with she will most likely pick up any accent that you may have. You ask whether you should stop speaking English with her because of this. Most bilinguals have an accent in their additional languages, some more others less. However, this does not make their language skills any less valuable. Being bilingual does not mean that you have to have a native-like accent in all the languages you speak.

You are giving your daughter a great gift by passing on English to her. For her to continue developing her language, she must be able to use English, to speak it with someone every day. If you stop speaking English with her, she will hear the language but only occasionally interact in it, and that will not be beneficial for her progress. There is overwhelming evidence that the best way for a child to learn, improve and maintain a language is to regularly use it with other speakers of the language. I would recommend that you continue the way you have done until now, unless there is some other reason you would like to switch back to speaking Persian with her.

Are accents important? you ask. I would like to answer with a quote: “Respect those who speak with an accent, they probably know one more language than you do!”

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
Jan 292017
 

Should parents always speak their native language with their children?

 

Question

Hello

I work in a school and we have concerns about a child whose English vocabulary is very limited. Her mother (who is native English speaker but who spent part of her childhood in France) speaks to her in French at home. Father is absent so French is the main language used at home.

Our concern is that the child’s lack of English vocabulary may be caused by the fact that the mothers vocabulary in French is not native-speaker level and therefore the child is not being exposed to a wide enough range of vocabulary in her home language.

Would it be better if the mother spoke her native tongue at home? Although this would mean the child would no longer be learning French. Would be interested to hear your views. I had always thought that parents should be speaking their mother tongue with their child?

Louise

Answer

Dear Louise

Thank you for your question about the concern you have about one of your pupil’s English vocabulary. It is always difficult to answer a question where all the relevant information is not available so I will answer on a general level.

Without knowing the age of your pupil, how long she has been attending school and whether she has made progress during this time it would not be right to comment on the expected level of her English vocabulary. Many children start school with a very limited English knowledge and soon catch up and go on to do as well as their monolingual peers. For this I also have an example in my own family.

It is true that a strong home language, whatever language it may be, is beneficial for developing the command of the language used at school. However, from that I would not draw a direct parallel between your pupil’s French and English vocabulary. I also do not know what your assessment of your pupil’s mother’s French skills is based upon, or whether you are aware of the full family language picture and the reasons for choosing French as their home language.

Parents should speak a language which they feel comfortable in and which allows them to express themselves freely with their children and thus create the important bond between a parent and a child. This is in most cases the parents’ native language. However, with mothers and fathers who speak more than one language it may also be a different language. I know many are of the opinion that parents should “only speak their native language” with their children, but I have seen no research evidence to support this view.

Generally, I would be very careful before making any recommendations or even question the language a parent speaks with his or her child. There are many factors that play a part in the choice of language and parents make the best possible decision based on what they know and think is right and best for their children.

If you find that your pupil is not making progress and you have concerns about her overall success at school, I would speak about this as you would normally do with parents. However, please, approach the topic of home language with great care. With regards to language, give the mother the same advice as you would do to English-speaking parents to support their kid’s language development: read a lot of books, talk about different topics, watch quality children’s programmes together. If you think your pupil needs additional support to do well at school, bring this up with the mother, but without making her feel guilty about her choice of language.

Wishing you all the best in the valuable work you do for the children in your school!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin
Jan 262017
 

Is a dual-language school which introduces a third language the right choice for a bilingual child?

 

Question

Hi,

I have a 4-year-old son. We live in Los Angeles. I’m originally from India and native Hindi speaker. My husband is American and monolingual (English).

Since my son’s birth I’ve been on a mission to teach him Hindi. I’m proud to say that he understands Hindi completely and speaks as well. Though sometimes I have to remind him to speak to me in Hindi. He knows I can speak English too and of course my husband and I speak English. So English is really the language of the household. But I read Hindi books to him before bed and he watches Hindi kids shows and we go to India every year.

Now we are applying to kindergarten schools for next year for him. There are some schools here that offer dual-language programs. Though the language combos are English-Korean or English-Spanish etc. No school offers Hindi. While I’d love for my son to be multilingual, I’m concerned about sending him to a dual-language program. I feel that I’d then be competing with two structured language learning processes and would have a hard time keeping up with his Hindi learning.

I want him to be able to learn to read and write Hindi as well. I’m wondering what to do. I don’t want my uninformed worries to hinder my son from becoming multilingual. Do you think my concerns are valid? Or do you think somehow learning another language will enhance his Hindi learning?

I’d love a response at your earliest convenience. Sooner the better because we are starting to apply for schools. Your blog is so helpful. I’ve been forwarding it to my sister too who lives in France and is raising a bilingual kid too.

Thanks for your wisdom and guidance,
Deepti

Answer

Dear Deepti

Thank you for your very kind feedback and your question on choosing the school for your son.

It is great that you have the luxury of choice between dual-language schools! When picking the right school for a child, the first criteria should always be whether the school is a good fit. I recently replied to a similar question from another reader, so please check it out for the general considerations when making the school choice.

With regards to choosing between Korean and Spanish, also think about the future: will your son be able to continue using and developing his skills in the particular language beyond school? You would want him to have the opportunity to maintain and enhance his language skills when he gets older.

Children can learn three languages simultaneously, as long as there is consistent exposure to all three languages – which would be the case for your son. There is also evidence that the more languages you know, the easier it is to learn another one. However, I would not bank too much on the faster learning when it comes to deciding on whether to add another school language for him.

Your son will learn English at home and at school, so this will soon be his dominant language. In addition, he is learning one minority language at home (Hindi) and would learn another one at school (Korean or Spanish). Like you say, due to the structured nature of the exposure at school (and presuming it is a dual-language school with good results in teaching both languages), he would also learn to speak, read and write the other language of the classroom.

You would like him to learn to read and write Hindi as well – are you planning to teach him yourself, or are there Hindi classes for children available in your area? There is a big difference in passing on a spoken language compared to teaching literacy. Your task is not made any easier by the different script you would have to teach him to read and write Hindi. Will you have the time and the opportunity to do this? I feel a strong commitment to your native language from your message, so I do think you can do it, if you put your mind to it.

I understand your concerns, but also believe you can make the right choice when you take all the different aspects into consideration. I do not want to discourage you from choosing a dual-language school for your son, but I want you to go into the situation with the awareness of the different options and challenges that your choice brings with it.

I notice that you would have liked to receive a quick reply, but since we answer the questions in the order they come in, there will inevitably be a delay. As mentioned in the initial email response, there is always the option of individual coaching, either as a one-off session for a question on a specific topic or a series of sessions starting with an interview and resulting in a tailor-made Family Language Plan.

Wishing you (and your sister in France) 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
Jan 222017
 

Will introducing a third language set back the second for a bilingual toddler?

 

 

Question

Hi all!

We are an Italian family of three, our son is now 20 months old. We always speak Italian at home, with me mixing Italian and English. My son attends an Italian nursery school, but is highly exposed to English as we also have an English-speaking nanny and we always watch TV, sing and read in English.

Now he is starting to speak a little Italian (just few basic words), he shows to understand English, but still he didn’t say one single word. The problem is that we are now relocating to Sweden for several years and given to the school system he will attend his preschool mainly in Swedish.

I am a bit scared that introducing a third language, when the second one is not well consolidated, can delay his learning in both languages plus I am not sure if he is truly developing his English skills. Any advice?

Thanks,
Emma

Answer

Dear Emma

Thank you for your question about introducing a third language for your son, who is currently a bilingual toddler learning Italian and English.

You do not mention how much time he is exposed to Italian and how much to English, but it sounds normal that his first words would be in Italian as that is the language you speak at home and the one which he is immersed in at nursery school. He probably has less exposure to interactive English (i.e. the time he spends with his nanny), so may take some time still before he expresses himself in English.

Children vary greatly as to when they start to speak. At your son’s age the most important thing to keep an eye on is progress – is he using more words in Italian and can he understand more simple commands and questions in English? It is sometimes difficult to track these incremental changes, so I would recommend you to keep a weekly language diary where you note down the words your son uses and understand in each language.

With your relocation to Sweden, your son’s language environment will change with a third language added. He will attend a Swedish nursery and then go on to a Swedish-speaking school, so Swedish will soon become a dominant language for him. Since both you and your partner are Italian, I presume this is the language you will continue to speak at home, so your son will continue to be exposed to Italian.

This leaves your question about how to maintain and develop his budding English-skills. Note that learning several languages simultaneously does not cause language delay. Many children grow up trilingual, so please do not worry about this. The speed at which a child learns the individual languages however depends on the amount of exposure to them, as well as on the opportunities and the need to speak them. As long as you can arrange the necessary English exposure for your son, his English will progress.

Will you still have a nanny when you move to Sweden? If yes, then you could continue with a similar setup as you have now, where the nanny speaks English with your son and you sing, read and watch programs with him in English. You could also look for an English-speaking playgroup for him to attend or find English-speaking families to arrange playdates with.

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
Jan 152017
 

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

 

Question

Hello,

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

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

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

I would highly appreciate your advice. Thank you in advance

Sincerely,
Zeina

Answer

Dear Zeina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

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

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

Question

Hello,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your help!
Hannah

Answer

Dear Hannah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you a successful, truly multilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

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

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

 

Question

Hi

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

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

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

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

Do you have some advice, please?

Steven

Answer

Dear Steven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you a successful multilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

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