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Rita Rosenback

Apr 232017
 

When and how to introduce a third language to a bilingual child?

 

Question

Hi,

This website has helped me so much, it’s wonderful!

We are a bilingual family and live in the US. I only speak Spanish to my 15 months old and my husband English most of the time (he is American, I’m Latina). Both my husband and I work full time, we have an au pair at home that only speaks Spanish to our daughter.

Our daughter is exposed to Spanish 80% of the time. She doesn’t say any words, but understands so much Spanish. She also understands English, but not as much as Spanish. Schools here have Spanish classes, so I’m not worried about her learning how to read and write in Spanish, as I will be teaching her too when she’s ready, maybe at 4 or 5 years old.

I went to a German School (elementary and high school) and have relatives living in Germany (I used to be a fluent speaker, but now my German is a bit rusty). I wanted to introduce German to her, but I’m not sure when would be a good time. there’s no German schools close to where we live, but there’s an academy where she could go Saturdays 9-12 (only option I could find). They take kids starting at 4 years old. I was thinking to introduce it at around 2.5-3 years old at home, with dvds, books and games. I feel that the academy will teach her how to read and write, and have friends to speak the language with. I wouldn’t be speaking to her in German, unless we are watching a dvd or reading a book in German. I would like to just communicate with her in Spanish.

So, basically my questions are: Would it be a good idea to start introducing German at around 2.5-3 years old? Would it be a good idea to enrol her in an academy on Saturdays, or would that be too much for her? I feel like kids need the weekend for other activities after a whole week of school. Would it be ok to keep communicating with her only in Spanish since that’s my native language?

Any advice would be really appreciated!
Thanks so much,
Maria

Answer

Dear Maria

Thank you so much for your kind feedback – it is always music to my ears to hear from parents that my site has been useful for them! Likewise, it is a pleasure to read messages from parents like you who have clearly put a lot of thought into how to raise their children to speak more than one language.

As you state, both English and Spanish seem to be on a very strong ground for your daughter, so you are looking to introduce a third language, German, to her. You are in a great position to support her with learning German as your own German skills are very good.

It would be fine to introduce German through play at the age you suggest. She may pick up some words and even learn to sing a song or recite a children’s rhyme. She will however not learn to speak with this occasional exposure. It would however be a good introduction if you want her to attend the German academy at the age of four.

Without knowing the German academy’s approach to teaching the language, I am unable to comment on its suitability for your daughter. I would recommend that you ask to attend one of their classes before enrolling and that (if possible) you commit to a shorter period to start with. Once you see how your daughter reacts and fits in, you can make your decision.

If the academy uses age-appropriate teaching methods I can see it being a good choice. However, if your daughter would be the youngest among much older children, then you need to assess whether the class is right for her. Three hours of classroom-style teaching for a four-year-old may not be the best option, while a play-based learning would be more engaging. You also need to find out if there are any expectations on the children’s language skills prior to attending.

Coming back to exposure times, three hours a week at the academy and the occasional use of German during the week will not be enough for your daughter to pick up German. Before thinking about how she will learn to read and write the language, I suggest that you consider what goal you want to set for your daughter’s German fluency. If you want her to grow up trilingual, then you would need to arrange more interactive German exposure to her through contact with other German-speakers, and different German immersion opportunies for her.

Should you want to go into more detail with setting up a bespoke family language plan, please contact me and I will send you some information on the individual family coaching options.

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
Apr 202017
 

How to choose the school language for a bilingual child in a multilingual society?

 

Question

Hello,

I am from a small town in South Africa where the two dominant languages are English and Afrikaans. I have been English my whole life but married an Afrikaans man. We have a two-year-old who has been exposed to both languages from birth but he predominantly speaks English.

The better schools here are Afrikaans school so we have decided to send him to an Afrikaans nursery (since he has turned 2) and speak English at home, hoping he will pick up both languages enough to be fully bilingual. Are we making a mistake and will we confuse him?

If he learns things at school should I just spend the time teaching him the same things at home in English? I don’t want this to be to his detriment and English is a world-renowned language so I would rather not make a mistake and he struggles with English.

Please help,
A concerned mom
xxx

Answer

Dear Concerned Mom

Thank you for your question about choosing the school language for your son. You are in the fortunate position of having two languages in the community and even have the opportunity to choose which language your son goes to nursery and school in.

A school choice is an important decision for a child and should first and foremost be made based on the quality, reputation and suitability of the school – the school language should be taken into account once the first three criteria have been considered. Based on your message, you have done this and found the Afrikaans school to be the best choice, and I can only congratulate you on finding the right school for your son.

You are not going to confuse your son by putting him in an Afrikaans school, on the contrary, this will most likely be his best bet to become fully bilingual. You can teach him the same things in English at home in parallel if you want, but you do not have to make this a strict schedule. Natural discussion about the things he is learning at school is equally fine or even concentrating on different topics. There are also lots of high-quality English learning resources available online which you can use to support your son’s English. I often recommend British Council’s site which has different resources for different ages.

Once your son starts school, there will be certain subjects where you (or your husband) will have to use Afrikaans to help him – for example spelling and maths to some extent. This is also fine, switching between languages is the norm in a bilingual society and will again not confuse your son. In other topics you can still help him in English – translating tasks from one language to another often clarifies things and helps solving them.

English may be more widely spoken and used across the world, but that does not make it any more valuable or important than Afrikaans, which is language that is entwined with your son’s heritage and an important part of his identity.

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
Apr 092017
 

How to make a reluctant 7-year-old interested in a family language?

 

Question

Hello,

I am a French mum who has been living in England for 20 years. During all these years, I hardly spoke French unless I was returning to France to see family on average once a year.

I now have a 7-year-old daughter who has always refused to learn French. She has had 4 years interrupted due to divorce and therefore her dad and I were busy looking after her emotions (in English) rather than teaching her French which she disliked (and still does to this day).

She is now well settled and I would love to get back to teaching her French. But even I struggle to speak it nowadays so we cannot have long chats together. She understands the basics but definitely cannot hold a conversation. I don’t know how to approach it. I am meeting with a French teacher but my daughter isn’t hot on that. I think she finds teachers and French clubs really boring.

I would really appreciate some guidance please as I’m desperate to get on with it. It would be such a shame if the opportunity to learn French was lost…

Thank you,
Aditi

Answer

Dear Aditi,

Thank you for your question about rekindling your 7-year-old daughter’s interest in French, which is your family language.

With a child of your daughter’s age it is first and foremost important to find a way that makes French appealing. You can hire a highly skilled French tutor or make your daughter attend recommended French clubs, but if she does not feel the motivation to learn the language, I am afraid you will face an uphill battle. Your daughter should want to learn it and also feel the need to speak it.

First I would like to draw your attention to the words you use to describe your thoughts about the use of French in your family. You say that your daughter has “always refused to learn French” – how did she show this? Did she have a real chance to learn it, i.e. was there enough exposure to the language for her to learn it? Was there perhaps an expectation that she should speak it, but her French skills did not allow her express herself? (Check this article on reasons why a child might not want to speak a language).

You mention that you “struggle to speak” French – I would say well done! for still being able to use the language after so many years of hardly speaking it. This is something you can get up to speed with – read this article on ideas on how to improve your own language skills.

You write that your daughter “definitely cannot hold conversation” – I would reframe that as “my daughter has learnt a considerable amount of French, and with some additional French exposure I am sure she could hold a conversation.” It is important that you believe that your daughter can learn – it is a matter of finding the right way. Your daughter may “not be hot on” French tuition and may find language clubs “boring” – however this does not mean that she rejects the language, but that some other learning style would suit her better. Reframe this as “I will find the best way to make my daughter interested in learning French.”

As I often say in my answers, you know your daughter best – what would make her more motivated to give French another go? She is seven years old – why not sit down and discuss this with her? Explain to her (without blaming) why French is important for you. Ask her why she finds it difficult to use the French she already knows? What would make it more appealing to her? Ask her what she would recommend if she were in your situation, trying to bring back French into your home.

Perhaps you could agree to use French at certain occasions or times? Setting specific French-only dedicated times or activities makes it easier to start as your daughter knows what the expectation is. It does not mean that you are going to switch to always speaking with her in French or even for a lengthy time – only for as long as you agree. The important thing is to get going and then increase the use of French.

Could you suggest something fun that you could do together in French? Would it be possible to visit France with her this summer and plan something special where being able to use the language would make it even more enjoyable? What is she generally interested in – is there any way you could combine the French with her hobbies or favourite things to do?

Please also read these two articles on motivating a child to speak a language:

Top tips for motivating bilingual children to speak their languages
40 ways to motivate a child to speak a language

Embark on this journey together with your daughter, taking your cue from her and I am sure your family language will make its way back into your relationship. Good luck!

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
Apr 062017
 

How to pick the right language combination for a baby in a multilingual family?

 

Question

Hello,

I have a kind of complex situation when it comes to picking my child’s languages. I grew up in the USA with a family with Frisian/Dutch and Brazilian sides, but only used English growing up aside from infrequent exposures to Portuguese and Dutch. I began learning both languages on my own as a young teenager and now speak both fluently. I have two degrees in Spanish, which I also learned from a relatively young age, and was a bilingual educator (English/Spanish) and Spanish teacher while I still lived in the US. I converted to Judaism in college and ended up marrying a native Hebrew and Russian speaker. We now live in the Netherlands.

The problem here is that we are expecting a baby girl and want to raise her speaking as many languages as possible, as well as possible, and equally well – but we don’t want to overload her brain or actually stunt her abilities in any language. We want her to learn at least one family language from each side, which is a little difficult in my situation.

She will learn Dutch just from growing up here, English is compulsory in schools, and while I speak close to fluent Portuguese, I do not feel confident enough that I could raise a child to speak it with an accurate accent and with completely correct grammar. I would be much more confident raising a native Spanish speaker, and would eventually like her to speak Spanish, but that is not one of my family languages. Hebrew, which I do not speak fluently, is our religious language, and no doubt she will learn at least a little simply from growing up a Jew.

My husband grew up in Israel with Soviet parents, and spoke Russian with his parents only – so he speaks with a native accent and “innate” grammar, but does not have a sophisticated vocabulary nor has he even been to Russia. The question is, does my husband speak Russian or Hebrew with her, as it is doubtful that she will end up with fluent Hebrew just from attending school?

English seems like the best choice for me to speak with her based on our informal criteria, but since most Dutch children grow up to be fluent English speakers, I’m not sure if using English will really lead to her being as multilingual as possible.

And what language do we speak all together? My husband speaks English with a thick accent and okay Dutch, and I speak okay Hebrew with a thick accent.

Thanks so much!
With love from Margo and Shefer

Answer

Dear Margo and Shefer

Thank you for your question – wow, what an impressive list of languages to choose from for your daughter! It is a great multilingual family dilemma to have, but a dilemma nonetheless.

You and your husband as the parents will have to make the final decision on which languages to speak with your daughter, so I can only offer you some pointers based on what you have told me.

First I would like to address your thought about raising your daughter to speak “as many languages as possible” and “equally well”. Please keep in mind that very few people are so called balanced bilinguals, which means that they speak each of their languages at the same (high) level. Allow your daughter to develop her languages naturally without worrying which language she is more or less fluent. I would also be wary of setting as many languages as possible as one of your goals. Instead, find a way to naturally incorporate the important languages into your family’s life.

For you, the decision is between English and Spanish (and Portuguese?) – as I see it, English has been one of your family languages (although maybe not one of your heritage languages), so it could fit your criteria. That said, it is correct that English is probably the language which will be easiest for your daughter to learn later (apart from Dutch that she will no doubt pick up as you live in the Netherlands). You do not mention which language you and your husband talk together at the moment – if it is English, then you could continue using it as a family language and your daughter would pick up some of it this way. Later, you could also introduce English-only days for the whole family to boost the language.

I understand that you would like to pass on a family language, but since you do not feel confident in using Portuguese, why not opt for Spanish instead? This said, I think you may be setting the bar a bit too high for your own Portuguese-skills – you do not have to be perfect in a language (who is?) or speak it without an accent (we all have some kind of an accent) to speak it to your child. If you can arrange other, native-speaker Portuguese exposure for your daughter she would most likely learn to speak it close to native-like. However, if you do not feel that it is right to choose Portuguese to speak with your daughter, then don’t. By the sound of it, your Spanish-skills are excellent and since you are keen on the idea for her to speak the language, this could be the right choice in many ways.

Your husband has the choice between Russian and Hebrew – again, it does sound like he could well speak Russian with your daughter. Keep in mind that your daughter will take a few years before she starts to speak, so he will have a lot of time to catch up with his Russian and improve what you describe as a not so “sophisticated” vocabulary. The fact that he has not been to Russia should also not stop him – I can imagine that his parents have passed on Russian traditions and the culture to him and he can pass it on better than for example a Russian-tutor will ever do.

Hebrew is the other choice your husband has. You do not mention how much exposure your daughter will have to the language, but if you would expect it to be only a couple of hours a week (weekend-school), then this is most likely not enough for her to learn it, and you would have to find another way of boosting the language. If you intend to put her in a Hebrew-speaking school full time, then this would be enough for her to become fluent. Your husband’s decision between Russian and Hebrew would thus depend on your priorities – which one of the languages is more important to you? Can you arrange additional exposure in either of the languages? Will you have other native-speakers to support you with the languages?

With regards to your common family language, if you choose English, I wouldn’t worry about your husband’s accent. Your daughter is much more likely to pick up your native English way of speaking. What you may well find in the future is that you have family discussions in two or three languages which you all understand – it is all about the communication in the end, not about which language each one of you speaks!

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
Apr 022017
 

How to pass on two minority languages, one of them being a rare language?

 

Question

Hello

I am wondering what strategy to take. I am a native English-speaker who grew up bilingual in English and Assyrian. My husband is German, but speaks English to a native level. I am the stepmother to his lovely 6-year-old (monolingual) German speaking son, and I am pregnant with our first child together. I speak only German to his son (my German is not perfect, but we live in Germany and English causes him a little anxiety) and mainly in English to my husband, unless my stepson is around (then I switch back to German).

My ideal situation would be if my husband and stepson spoke to our child in German, and I spoke to my child in Assyrian and English. I worry about the success of this model, however, as I got a mixture of Arabic and Assyrian from my parents, but am not fluent in Arabic, despite being able to get the gist of most conversations and have very good Arabic pronunciation in Arabic when I do speak it (what little I do).

I love languages and I absolutely want my child to speak Assyrian as it is not only cultural important but somewhat of a dying language… not sure of how to approach all of this…

Thank you!
Vivian

Answer

Dear Vivian

Thank you for your question about passing on English and Assyrian to your baby – and congratulations on the upcoming family addition!

It is great that you are thinking ahead and deciding on the language setup prior to your baby being born, as it is so much easier to choose a strategy before the birth of your child, than it would be to change languages after a while.

Since you live in Germany and both your husband and stepson will be speaking German to the baby, German will in time become his or her dominant language, so the question is about your two languages, English and Assyrian. By your description, English will always be part of your family’s language setup as this is the main language you and your husband speak with each other. This means there will always be some additional exposure to English for your little one – furthermore, English is probably the easiest language of all to find additional resources for and exposure to, both online and in the community.

This leaves Assyrian, a language you feel very passionate about, and – rightly so – would like to pass on to your child. As you mention, Assyrian is a rare language (UNESCO classifies it as ‘Definitely Endangered’) which unfortunately means that you will have a restricted amount of resources and less access to other speakers of the language.

Therefore, my recommendation would be to concentrate on the Assyrian exposure for your baby – it will take a lot of commitment from you to keep it going, but it can be done! It is not because I think that learning two languages in parallel from you is too much for your baby (I don’t), but I am more thinking of your own position. Making sure to get the Assyrian going is vital for future success – you will have plenty more opportunities to catch up with English with your child, than you will ever have with Assyrian.

You do not mention whether you will be staying at home with your baby and for how long, but it is good to keep in mind that as soon as he or she starts nursery or school, German will become the strongest language. If there is an opportunity for English daycare or a nanny, you might want to think about this option as the one to offer exposure to English.

Although your stepson might not be too keen on the English now, with positive encouragement, he may well become more interested in the language and you could start to increasingly use it as your family’s common language. Children are usually keen to be helpful so you could ask him if he would be willing to participate in occasional “English-speaking days” to help the baby pick up English. You could also sing English songs together, play clapping games or do other fun activities.

This way you would keep English going “on the side” for your little one, but you would stick to Assyrian when you speak to him or her directly. Once Assyrian is well established you can increase the use of English, but I would always keep Assyrian as the main language between you and your youngest to ensure it is maintained and develops.

I understand your concerns based on your own experience of not picking up fluent Arabic from your parents, but keep in mind that you are in a much better position since you are actively aware of the situation. My guess is that your parents never thought about arranging enough Arabic-only exposure for you – they spoke the way they did (mixing Assyrian and Arabic, which is the normal way to talk) and you picked up whatever you could. Now, your awareness, planning and commitment will make all the difference.

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 302017
 

How to pass on a family language which the parent is not literate in?

 

Question

Hi,

I have a 5-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twins. I was born in Iran and speak Farsi. I moved to the United States at the age of four, so English is my stronger language. My husband only speaks English and we have a nanny who speaks Spanish. We currently live in the United States.

I tried teaching my 5-year-old daughter Farsi, but failed. She spoke Farsi fairly well until the age of two when I started her in nursery school. I was not very strict in speaking only Farsi with her. I would sing nursery rhymes and songs in English (because I did not know it in Farsi) and I would read her books in English (I cannot read Farsi.) My 5-year-old still understands some Farsi.

I would like to succeed with my twins, but I feel limited because I do not know any Persian nursery rhymes to sing to them. I yearn to sing to them with the English nursery rhymes and games that I know, but I think it’s important to teach them Farsi as well. How important is it to sing and play nursery rhyme games to babies? Also, Is three languages too much?

I speak Farsi to them (English to my older daughter and husband), my nanny speaks Spanish to them and my husband and 5-year-old daughter speaks English.

Any advice would be helpful.
Thank you,
Linda

Answer

Dear Linda

Thank you for your message about passing on your family language, Farsi, to your children.

First, let me congratulate you on your decision to give it another go with your twins to pass on you early mother tongue to your children. With your new resolve, I am sure you can succeed and since your older daughter still understands some Farsi, she may well pick up the language again.

You ask whether being able to read books, sing songs and recite children’s rhymes is necessary for passing on a language. Of course it is not necessary – the most important thing is that you expose the twins to as much Farsi as possible. That said, you can still use “read” books in Farsi by using any children’s books and either translating on the fly or making up the story as you read.

With regards to songs, a quick search on YouTube with the search term ‘Farsi children’s songs’ did come up with some results, so why not learn from there and then you can sing songs in Farsi as well, if this is what you would like to do. Perhaps you could even do this together with your elder daughter and engage her in helping you with the language exposure? I was also able to find some Farsi audio books with children’s songs and stories that would be helpful for you.

Another alternative is if you could get someone to record some rhymes and/or books for you – this is fairly easy to do on a phone. You could use the Children’s Library  to find free online books to read from (you may have to create a free account access the books).

Three languages are not too much for your twins, many children have grown up in such a multilingual environment. However, for your twins to maintain the Spanish they learn from their nanny, there would need to be a continuation in the exposure once they start nursery or school.

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 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 Lithuanian. 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, but 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.

 

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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