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Rita Rosenback

May 252017
 

How to pass on and maintain three languages in a family facing a possible move?

 

Question

Hello!

I have a question about raising a trilingual child and I need some guidance on that! My name is Daniela. My first language is Brazilian Portuguese. My Indian husband is a Hindi-speaker. We live in the United States where I am a PhD student. We have a 7-month-old boy we want to raise trilingual but there are a number of issues which make it hard for us to decide the right path for our son’s language instruction.

The first issue is that we are not sure which country (India, Brazil or the US) we will settle down yet. We will stay in the US for at least another year, though. In terms of language, me and my husband both speak English as a foreign language and this is the language we used between each other at home.

Baby spends most of his time with me and my Portuguese speaker mother and we have a very limited social life in English. My husband speaks Hindi with my baby but they interact with each other very little in this language.

Given the fact that we still do not know where “home” is, and that baby does not go to school or have English speakers around what is the best approach for our family to make baby learn the Portuguese, Hindi and English, at least so both families in Brazil and India do not feel so frustrated?

Thank you very much!
Daniela

Answer

Dear Daniela

Thank you for your question about raising your little son to become trilingual in Portuguese, Hindi and English.

Since your son is spending most of his time with you and your mother, he will get plenty of exposure to Portuguese, so this will most likely become his first dominant language. I would recommend that you keep to speaking Portuguese at all time when you interact with him. This is especially important if you were to move to India, as he would be less exposed to the language. Should you move to Brazil, then you could increase the use of English, should you wish to do so.

You mention that it is important for you that your son learns Hindi, but also write that there is “very little” interaction in the language between your husband and your son. This will be your biggest challenge – unless you were to move to India (at least for some time). For your son to grow up speaking Hindi, he will need frequent exposure and interaction in the language. If you live either in the US or in Brazil, your husband will be the main source for this exposure.

I would recommend that you discuss this with your husband, to make him aware that his support is vital for passing on Hindi. I am sure he does know this, but it is good to bring it up to discussion. Some parents are known to find it awkward or strange to speak their own language with a baby, if others around them do not understand the language. Therefore, it is important that you show your support for him speaking Hindi with your boy, even though you would not understand what is being said. Also try to source some books that he can read to your son. Sometimes it is easier to read a book than to just talk – especially until a child starts to communicate more actively.

Independent of where you live, you and your husband will presumably continue to speak English with each other. This is fine and will not be confusing for your son – as a matter of fact, it is a normal language setup in many multilingual families. English will always have a place in your home, even if you were to move outside the US, so your son will get some exposure to it. However, just like with any other language, he also needs an opportunity to interact in the language to become a fluent English-speaker. If you stay in the US, this will not be a problem – he will pick up English from the environment, or through nursery or school.

Should you decide to move either to Brazil or India, then you need to pay more attention to the English exposure – maybe consider daycare in English and later an English-speaking school? It would be beneficial for you to investigate the different options before a potential move, so you know what the options are and that you can choose an area where you can find the appropriate services.

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
May 212017
 

Changing the language parents speak with a 1-year-old – is it too late and how to do it?

 

Question

Hi there,

I would like to ask for your advice. My husband is Portuguese and I am Hungarian and we live in England. Our daughter is almost one year old, and we mostly speak to her in English. She does hear conversations in both other languages, when we speak to families or friends but we have been speaking exclusively English to her in hope that she will not her problems with language when starts school.

Now that I come across your website and some others, I read that with this we are actually doing a disservice for her when it comes to language development and thinking, as instead of her acquiring my natural mother tongue she learns my English as a second language.

Would you recommend us to suddenly switch from English to our mother tongue and speak to baby in Hungarian (and Portuguese from my husband)? Or would this create confusions? Also, even if we switch to our native languages now, since we spoke to her in our learnt English for almost her entire first year, isn’t this already too late to do without having any lasting effect on her linguistic skills?

Adrienn

Answer

Dear Adrienn

Thank you for your question about switching the language you speak with your little daughter. Please do not think you have done your daughter a disservice, you haven’t. She can still learn your languages and you have not hampered her cognitive development!

Your daughter is currently learning English from you and your husband and if she spends most of her time with you, then her English will resemble yours, including the accent, vocabulary etc. However, once she gets more exposed to native English-speakers at nursery or school and via media, her English will change to sound more native-like. Her English skills will soon overtake both yours and your husband’s.

If you want your daughter to learn your mother tongues (Hungarian and Portuguese) while growing up, then you would both need to start speaking your languages with her at some point. The longer you wait the more difficult the switch is. For example, if you wait until she starts school and gets even more exposed to English, and then changing the language you speak with her, you will be met by more opposition than if you were to switch now. (I know, I have done it!)

It is not too late to switch to speaking your languages with her. Your relationship and love for her is what is the most important thing, and that will not change. She will not become confused. Yes, there will naturally be a transition period before she is picks up the equivalent in Hungarian and Portuguese to whatever she has learnt in English so far. This will however not have a long-term effect on her language development. In addition to exposing her to your languages from now on, maybe you can also find a way for her to spend some time in an English-speaking environment. Perhaps find a playgroup you could attend?

The biggest challenge will be for you and your husband to switch and stick to your languages with her and to offer enough exposure to both languages at home. You would need to ensure that she can interact both in Hungarian and Portuguese every day. You should also arrange a rich linguistic environment for both languages through books, music, games etc. At a later stage, you can introduce children’s programmes and other media.

You do not mention whether your daughter is saying any words in English yet or whether she understands simple commands. In any case, I wouldn’t do a sudden complete switch, but make sure that she can still understand what you are communicating. Make the communication clearer by using a lot of gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice. By switching to your respective mother tongues, you may also feel that you can connect with her even more closely – once you and your husband get over the change.

Without knowing all the circumstances in your family and the plans for your daughter going forward, it is difficult to give more detailed advice in a short article, but I would be happy to work with you directly should you wish to pick up my offer of individual family language coaching. (Please contact me again, with your correct email address, as my message to you bounced back.)

Wishing you a successful trilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin
May 182017
 

Big sister’s concerns about the language choices for her little sister.

 

Question

Hey there!

I am not a parent, just an older sister whose parents are struggling with handling this whole bi-/tri-/quadri-lingual situation. All they ever say is “don’t forget Chinese”, and it seems like they’re dismissing some other important concerns here, for the whole family.

My little sister is turning 6 this year, and my parents ordered the whole family to speak to her in only Mandarin Chinese since her birth. (Baby talk was okay, I guess.) Sure enough, she learned English very quickly in kindergarten, and currently her English may be better than my Spanish.

She seems to have less of the social struggles I had when I first moved to Canada at age 7, since she can communicate, but still, she has many interpersonal issues due to lack of social experience due to the fact that my parents don’t go outside Chinese-speaking social circles; they seem to refuse making friends with non-Chinese people. (Not racist, just language…) Also, they barely have any social activities for us at home. Friends of theirs, and the children of those friends, are rarely contacted or invited over.

Thus, my poor sister only started having real social experience a year ago at her entrance of kindergarten. Now she is doing much better, knowing much better English than before, and I am thankful for that.

All her TV-shows, music, whatever are in Chinese. Everything is English-immersion as soon as she goes to school. She lives with it and is pretty happy.

Lately, I’ve begun to teach my sister some Spanish, because I’ve simply grown tired of English and wanted to speak with someone (not many Canadians where I live speak Spanish). And, of course, the very number of hispanohablantes in the world should prove that this language will be highly useful in her future. Since she’s coping excellently with being bilingual (her social problems are no longer related to language), this should not do any harm – hey, once she can speak it, she’ll be able to speak the world’s three most commonly spoken languages!

However, my parents soon decided that they may (or may not) send her to a school which only teaches lessons in French Immersion. IMMERSION as in, lessons are completely in French, but everyone speaks English with their friends at recess. Teaching her a language at a relaxed, conversational level will not do harm, but immersion is a different story! She hasn’t even gotten around to generally getting along with most kids yet. Throwing this in will be a huge obstacle for her, which will bring in the factors of her social circles, our family’s communication and values, and her own linguistic capabilities.

Their argument is that the French school has the best rating and reputation compared to all the other schools around, like the one she’s currently at (which is doing badly, according to them). It’s great to value education of good quality, but there has been no final decision just yet. It’s a difficult choice, and I don’t think they want a 14-year-old to interfere, but I simply wish the best for my sister and my oblivious parents.

Furthermore, French and Spanish are very easily confused. So far, she hasn’t confused any languages, which is outstanding, but throwing a fourth language into her life… Giving up Spanish immediately isn’t going to help, as the phrases are already imprinted in her mind and she can easily confuse herself. And besides, she says she wants to learn Spanish, and that she does not want to start a new language. (We can take this with a grain of salt, as someone can only partially judge what they want when they do not even know what it looks like yet.)

The biggest issue for most Chinese expats is usually keeping the Chinese language alive, and I don’t think she’ll have a problem with that, with us at home supporting her. She loves Spanish, she’s fine with her two languages that she’s able to communicate in — she is absolutely fine, just needs to round up her social skills.

Sometimes, my parents really struggle to see how oblivious they can be to the child’s perspective. But they want me to stop teaching her Spanish. They want her to go to a French Immersion school, and they discourage ME from learning Spanish thinking it is detrimental to more important aspects of my life (while I am completely fluent in Mandarin, learning Dutch rapidly, and doing better in my French class than the Immersion students – I was never in Immersion). They barely have any friends or social activities for my sister to exercise her real-world abilities. (We do some family recreation, but that is it.)

If I sound worried, then that’s because this is an actual issue that needs to be taken care of. And that the people who are supposed to have that responsibility, the parents of the bilingual children, aren’t taking care of it properly.

Thank you so much for any help, advice, or even just considering my thoughts for a second. I know it was long, but I appreciate all the help I can get.

Thank you and have a great week!!
J

Answer

Dear J

Thank you for your very heartfelt message about which languages your little sister (and you) should be learning. I can feel your genuine concern and understand your dilemma. The questions you raise are about the school your sister should attend and whether you should be learning Spanish and teaching it to your sister.

When it comes to the school, I always recommend that parents choose the best possible school for their child, sometimes this may be a bilingual or an immersion school, but the language should as such not be the main determining factor in the choice. By what you write, your parents have done their research and have found the French Immersion school to be the best option.

I do understand your concerns about your little sister fitting in, but I would expect the school to be used to dealing with new pupils who do not yet master the French language and helping them settle in. I would recommend that you as a family arrange a meeting with the school so you can ask any questions and voice any concerns you have – please ask your parents about this and also express your wish to be there at the meeting.

You mention that your sister has fit in well in her English-speaking kindergarten and is happy with it. It is right that she is not able to judge what it will mean to learn another language and change school, and I don’t think this is a question you should really ask her. If your parents decide to enrol her in the French Immersion school, you would want to support your sister as best as you can through the transition and beyond. Creating a negative attitude to French would not be helpful, so be very careful how you speak about the language choices with your sister. You seem to have a great sisterly bond and she will look up to her big sister.

Children can juggle several languages, especially so in scenarios where each language is associated with a specific person or situation. As you mention, your sister’s Chinese is on a sound foundation since it is your family language and her English is also proceeding well. If she were to be introduced to French in the immersion school, the classes would be another language environment for her. In addition, she would be continuing to speak English with her school friends.

Then we come to the question about learning Spanish. You are clearly a polyglot in the making being fluent in Mandarin and English and learning both Dutch and French as well as Spanish. The more languages a person knows, the easier it is to learn more, and I cannot see why you should not be learning Spanish as you are very interested in it. I of course do not know the reasoning behind your parents asking you to stop learning Spanish – are they concerned that you are spending too much time on it? Would they like you to focus on other school subjects? I can only advise you to show them that you can do both and explain to them how passionate you feel about Spanish.

French and Spanish are both Romance languages so there are significant similarities between them. However, this does not mean that you must stop teaching your sister Spanish words and phrases, independent of which school she attends. She is big enough to understand the concept of different languages and should there be any confusion, you can iterate the differences between French and Spanish. Please do keep in mind though, that Spanish is your interest not your sister’s choice, and if your sister does go to the French Immersion school, then you might want to consider what is the best way to support her. She might need her lovely big sister to also help her with the French language.

Wishing you and your sister a successful multilingual journey through life!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin
May 142017
 

Questions about raising a trilingual child and balancing the exposure to three languages

Question

Dear Rita,

first of all, I’m VERY happy I’ve stumbled across this website! It’s really interesting to read other parents’ stories and your replies, and great to see so many people are in similar situations.

This is our trilingual situation: My wife is Iranian, I am German, but I grew up speaking German and English in Swaziland, southern Africa, and lived in London for ten years (and still go back and forth for work). My wife grew up in Germany and went through the educational system in German, but only spoke Farsi at home and is also fluent in English, having lived in Dubai and in London with me.

What is my problem or question, you might think? 🙂 Well, it would be a classic trilingual OPOL situation if we still lived in London (Farsi/German at home, English in the community), but we recently moved back to Germany. My wife and I mostly speak German, sometimes switching to English when it feels easier to express certain things.
I sing and write songs in English for a living, and have only been reading, watching movies and listening to music in English for the last 16 years. My connection with English (even though it’s technically speaking not my mother tongue) is so deeply rooted and a huge part of who I am, so I don’t feel comfortable letting it go, only because we moved back to Germany and everyone speaks German here. We’re also often in situations where the common language is English and might well move back to London in a few years.

Our current plan is for my wife to speak Farsi when she’s with our daughter, I would speak English when I’m with her, and also read English bed time stories and sing English songs with and for her (like I already do now even before her birth). We’d also continue to watch movies etc. in English, which we’ve always done together. We would mainly speak German when we’re together, sometimes English, and would still sometimes address her in “our” language Farsi or English even when it’s the three of us.

I already speak some Farsi and am keen to keep learning, so I don’t have a problem with my wife speaking Farsi even though I don’t understand everything. (I’m used to it when we’re with her side of the family anyway! Haha.) My parents would speak German, my parents-in-law would speak Farsi. And we already have a confirmed spot in a bilingual daycare nearby (German/English).

1. What do you think about this plan?

2. How can we deal with her replying to us in the majority language German instead of Farsi or English because she will soon find out we both speak German?

3. Is it OK for us to also switch to speaking German with her when we’re with other people or will this be confusing?

4. Is it OK for me to still speak German with my parents (and others) in front of her but address her in English or what would you recommend?

5. Would you even recommend that I drop English and keep it bilingual with a she-will-learn-English-at-some-point-anyway approach even though it is a big part of me and my life?

6. Is there anything else we should keep in mind?

Thank you for your advice!
Kind regards,
Mo

Answer

Dear Mo

Thank you for your lovely message and wonderful description of your family’s language situation. Your daughter is lucky to grow up in an environment where she can become trilingual early on in her life.

(I numbered your questions to make the response easier to follow:)

1. Your plan is that you speak English with your daughter, your wife Farsi and your little girl will learn German from listening to you and your wife, from your parents and once she goes to daycare. Her maternal grandparents will be supporting with the Farsi exposure, and she will attend bilingual daycare in German and English.

This sounds like a great setup and I am pleased to hear that you have already thought about the situation where your wife will speak Farsi with your daughter, a language which you know only little of. Your positive attitude to knowing more Farsi is the perfect ground for learning it alongside your daughter. What I would recommend is that both you and your wife stick to your respective languages when speaking directly with your daughter – even when the three of you are together. When you do not understand something, agree to ask each other for a translation. You will soon realise that much of the conversation can be understood from the context and you will also be learning at the same time.

2. Just because your daughter finds out that you speak German does not mean she will automatically start to respond to you in the language. Establishing clear routines about who speaks what from the very start is the best guarantee of maintaining the chosen family languages. Children tend to switch to the majority language if they find it much easier to speak and especially if they are used to their parents readily switching to the majority language with them. If it were to happen with your daughter, I would recommend you to continue speaking your respective languages and try to find out what lies behind the unwillingness to speak either English or Farsi. See this article for more ideas: 4 reasons why your bilingual child answers in the “wrong” language.

3. Children do not get confused by their parents switching between different languages. This is perfectly normal behaviour from a bilingual person. However, the more you do switch to German with her, the more used she gets to speaking the language with both of you. As she will also hear you speak German with each other at home I would try to maintain English/Farsi with your daughter even when others are around. Again, translate when it feels necessary.

4. Likewise, it is fine (and recommended) that even when you speak German with your parents you should switch to English when you address your daughter (and your wife should stick to Farsi). Maintaining this consistent routine is the best safeguard for her continued use of English and Farsi. It would be good to chat about this setup with your parents in advance to pre-empt any worries they may have about not understanding their granddaughter. Ensure them that she will learn German as well and that you look forward to their support in passing on German.

5. I can see that English is a very important language to you, so no, I would not recommend that you drop it. I do not think you would be happy to decide to speak only German with your daughter. Should you move back to London in a couple of years’ time, the language dynamics would change and your daughter’s German exposure would significantly reduce, unless you find her a German nursery or school place. If you were to move, you might want to consider switching to German for at least some of the time to help her maintain the language. I would also start using German as a home language. Again, it will depend on how much other exposure she will get to German.

6. In addition to keeping an eye on enough English exposure if you stay in Germany and German exposure if you decide to move back to the U.K., you also need make sure that your daughter gets enough exposure to Farsi. This is particularly important when your daughter spends more time outside the home as she starts to attend full time daycare or school. Most of the Farsi exposure will come from your wife, so prepare by getting Farsi books and finding songs and children’ programs in Farsi. Whenever possible, arrange for other Farsi speakers for her to spend time with – your parents-in-law will be of great help here. If they do not live close by so you can frequently visit them, arrange regular video calls to stay in touch.

Please do let us know how you get on with raising your daughter to be trilingual and speak all your family languages. Feel free to ask any further questions through the comments.

Wishing you a successful trilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

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

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May 112017
 

How to pass on two minority languages in a multilingual environment?

Question

Hello,

My name is Maria, I am Italian and together with my Libyan husband we have a 10-month-old son. Together we live in Malta, where our son was born. Our common language is English, since I do not understand Arabic and my husband doesn’t understand Italian. In Malta, English is an official language besides Maltese.

Most of the times I talk to our son in Italian, I read to him in Italian and English and I encourage my husband to talk to him in his mother tongue, Arabic. Unintentionally, when my husband comes home, I do tend to talk sometimes to our son in English, as I want my husband to understand what I’m telling him. My husband does the same. As well, when we’re going out we talk English, since this is the social language. Besides, most of our friends are foreigners who also talk English. Accidentally, our son hears Maltese too from his father when he is talking to his clients or when we are outside.

As you can see, we constantly use three languages in our family, Arabic being spoken the least. I do not know If I’m doing well, but as I said, I encourage my husband to talk to our son in Arabic, as I consider a native language a gift, a treasure that a parent can offer to the children. I myself am fluent in five foreign languages, but I was raised in a monolingual family.

Would you please give me advice regarding a language strategy that might be the best for the development of our son? He hears so many languages that it worries me a little. So far, he said only once ,,mamma” and the rest only monosyllabic language.

Thank you very much!
Maria

Answer

Dear Maria

Thank you for your question about your son’s multilingual upbringing – your message brings back lovely memories from when I visited your gorgeous multilingual island a few years ago. I am also very impressed by your language skills, learning four more languages after growing up in a monolingual family!

Please put your worries about the many languages aside – your son will not get confused by them. Children grow up in multilingual environments all across the world without it affecting their language development. Your son will learn Italian from you and Arabic from his dad, providing that you and your husband stay consistent in your language use when you speak directly to him and there is enough exposure to each language. English will also very soon become one of his languages (and Maltese will no doubt be added to his language repertoire in a few years’ time as he gets more exposed to it).

It is great that you keep reminding your husband to speak Arabic, as this is the only way your son will learn the language while growing up. It is important that there is enough exposure to the language for your son to learn it. It would be good if your husband spent one-on-one time with your son to increase the Arabic exposure, for example reading bedtime stories and doing activities together where only Arabic is used.

I would recommend you consider whether you could increase both the Italian and Arabic use so that you do not always switch to English when the other parent is present. Many discussions can be understood from the context and you could agree between yourselves to ask each other when there is something you want to understand. I am saying this, because the more English your son hears and the more accustomed he gets used to the language, the greater the chance that English gets an increasingly stronger foothold as his main language.

Of course, you and your husband would still stick to English between you, but even when you are out and about, it would be beneficial if you were to use Italian/Arabic when you speak directly with your son. I know this can feel odd at times, but you can always translate into English for others in the company whenever necessary.

I cannot emphasize enough how easily it happens that the use of the common family/community language, increases over time, especially after your son learns to speak it. Establishing firm family routines about who speaks what with whom is so much easier when a child is small, than having to change a language pattern at the stage when you notice that English is starting to take over.

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
May 072017
 

What to do when a multilingual child struggles when starting an immersion program?

 

Question

Hello!

Question about 4th language. I am wondering if we made the right decision in sending our 6-year-old into an immersion program where she is introduced into her fourth language. We live in Canada in an English-speaking province within close proximity to the French speaking province so French is prevalent and often a requirement for jobs. Our daughter has been growing up with two languages at home; Finnish and Brazilian Portuguese, as we her parents are natives from those countries. She has a fairly good grasp of English having learned it from daycare and now in her third year of school, however although English is the community/ majority language around her she is still strongest with Finnish and Portuguese.

We made a decision to send her to an Early French Immersion program where she is currently being taught in French with only math being in English. French will slowly decrease over the years with more English added along the way. However, although her teacher says she has a very good memory for new words and her pronunciation is great she is falling behind her peers with reading and writing.

Neither my partner or I can help as we don’t speak French. Her teacher says she would likely catch up if she would hear more French read to her and would have more chances to read in French. She suggested we hire a tutor or get a teenager to assist with reading/ homework. We will likely do this but we are also now second-guessing our decision to choose the early French for her since even her English is not perfect. She could also do the middle immersion where French is gradually introduced at 4th grade and beyond.

We do not want her to feel lost in school, like she doesn’t know what is going on. We also do not want her to have any negative feelings towards education, or going to school. We recently discovered she is almost fluent with reading in her two native languages which further emphasizes the fact that if she had more exposure to French she would be able to get on the level of her peers.

Our concern is not so much about improving her English as I am sure that will come with time since we will likely always live in an English-speaking region. It is more about whether she will be able to continue to thrive in French, and if we will be able to support her in advancing. Any thoughts?

Perhaps on another level to this dilemma her being in French school is an advantage to her native language abilities as she is not entirely immersed in English in her community to the point that she would like to start using English at home. Thus far she has always followed the one parent, one language principal with us even though we speak English between the two of us. She also speaks Finnish and Portuguese with her little sister.

Ira

UPDATE (8 weeks later):

Our daughter went through a total refusal to speak French period. It only lasted about a week. During that time, we were in closer contact with the teacher trying to figure out what was wrong and what was bothering her. As we worked together both home and school to find out what was wrong, she came through shining, now speaking strongly and confidently French at school.

We praised her (and still do) at home and at school. So perhaps she refused to speak French for a bit trying to see if she could change to English (she did even ask us to move her into an English-speaking class as she said French is too hard). However, since no one budged she relented. Her writing hasn’t gotten much better, and her reading is improving bit by bit. We have hired a tutor to help her once a week as well.

In my opinion she may have been just going through some 1st grade adjustment, going from play based kindergarten to now having to sit at her desk and having to do a lot of work. Nothing that can be done about that.

Ira

Answer

Dear Ira

Thank you for your question and update on your daughter’s school situation. As shown from your case, things can change rather quickly and it is important to keep the communication between the home and school open. You have handled it in an exemplary way!

I chose to publish this question although you already seem to have found the right solution for your daughter, as I think it is a perfect example of how we need to keep in mind that there are always many factors in play when children start school, independent of how many languages are involved or what kind of school it is.

Working together with your child’s teacher to find the underlying issue and being open-minded about the different causes is the best way to help a child. Your situation also shows that we shouldn’t instantly give up when our children are reluctant about something (just like we never give up on offering our kids vegetables!) – but instead dig deeper to understand all the circumstances.

I am also happy to hear that your daughter is making great progress both in speaking her languages as well as reading and writing. By hiring a tutor for her you are helping her with the part that you are unable to do yourself. Getting outside help in the form of tutoring, evening or weekend classes is a great way of taking away some of the pressure when raising a child in many languages. Teaching literacy to your child does not come easy to every parent – even when it is the parent’s mother tongue. In your case, your daughter is learning a language which you are not fluent in, so a tutor is the obvious choice.

Going forward, as the French exposure decreases at school, you may want to consider enrolling her in some extra-curricular activities in French – I would also encourage her to make French-speaking friends who to keep on practicing her French with.

Thank you again for sharing your experience, which will be helpful for many other parents as well!

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
May 042017
 

When and how to introduce the concept of different languages to a small bilingual child?

 

Question

Hello!

What age is appropriate to introduce the concept of language to a child? I don’t mean teaching the child a second language but teaching him that there are different languages and that each one has a name.

We use OPOL at home with our 3-year-old boy. We live in Mexico and my wife and I are native Spanish speakers. I’m fluent in English and I speak to him almost exclusively in this language. He currently has a good level in both languages although when playing alone seems to prefer English.

We have on purpose not taught him that the words he uses with daddy are English and the ones he uses with mommy are Spanish. I’m afraid that if he fully realizes the concept of languages he may start asking me to speak to him in Spanish since he has more exposure to it.

Looking forward to your thoughts on this.

Thanks.
Julio

Answer

Dear Julio

Thank you for your question with regards to naming the languages you and your wife speak with your child. It is fantastic that your son already has a good grasp of both languages and that he has embraced the language he hears less of, English, to the extent that he uses it when he plays by himself.

To be able to speak about the languages a bilingual child grows up with, just like you, many parents find it easiest to refer to them by mentioning who speaks the respective language, i.e. ‘daddy’s language’ and ‘mummy’s language’. Children’s understanding of abstract words develops later, so attaching a concrete concept such as ‘daddy’ or ‘mummy’ to the language makes it easier to use with a small child.

This said, in parallel or when a child’s languages develop towards the stage where they are kept separate, i.e. the child identifies each language and uses the accordingly, I would also introduce the respective words for the languages. This way you can also more easily point out that there are others that speak the same language as mummy or daddy. I can’t see that there is any risk of your son changing his language preference with you just because he knows that the languages have different names.

Children are pragmatic and do things for a reason. If there is a need for your son to use the language, he will continue to do so. A child’s reluctance to speak a language can have different cause, so if this does happen at some point, you need to delve deeper into the issue. Read my article 4 reasons why your bilingual child answers in the “wrong” language for further thoughts on this.

You are doing well with bringing your son up to be bilingual in Spanish and English and the best way to guarantee that he continues to develop his English is for you to spend as much time as possible with him, talking about different topics, reading books, playing games and doing different activities – all in English. If/Once he watches children’s programmes, choose English ones, watch them together and afterwards speak about the characters and what they did.

By making the use of English a habit between the two of you – having fun in it together and creating the need for your son to speak English by being consistent in your own language use, I am sure you will be successful at passing on English to him.

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 302017
 

How to introduce a family language to older trilingual children?

 

Question

Hi,

We are a family of four living in Germany. Father is British, mum is Norwegian but moved to France at 16. Kids (girl 10 and boy 7) are in a French school, but are also thought German every day as a mother tongue. They are completely trilingual, French, English, German (spoken all 3 languages, reading and writing in French and German taught in school, reading in English is fine – writing not perfect).

We speak English as a family language, German is the community language, and mum speaks French with the kids when dad is not there. I would really like as well to teach the kids Norwegian which is my mother tongue, but is a language I only speak to family on the phone and when they visit. I have no contact with any Norwegians in day to day life, in fact I don’t know any at all where we live!

I used to speak Norwegian to the kids when they were little, but gave up as I found it impossible to maintain/ being the only source for two languages (French and Norwegian), and I judged French to be more useful. I am not sure now how to reintroduce Norwegian.

Should I make certain days Norwegian days? Should I just keep on talking to them in Norwegian and hope they pick it up? My daughter is interested in learning, but my son stated that he can already speak three languages so he doesn’t need a fourth one! Maybe it’s too ambitious, but I really would like them to speak my mother tongue.

Any advice would be highly appreciated.
Regards,
Lis

Answer

Dear Lis

Thank you for your question on how to introduce your family language, Norwegian, to your children – who are already trilingual. May I also congratulate you on bringing them up to be fluent and literate in three languages at such an early age!

You mention that you used to speak Norwegian with your kids when they were little – your strategy of reintroducing the language will depend on whether they still understand of it, i.e. how much Norwegian you can use while still keeping the communication going with your kids.

Since your son is the younger of your children, he will be the one who you have spoken less Norwegian with, hence it is not surprising that he may be more reluctant than your daughter to engage in picking up Norwegian. His unwillingness is less likely to be based on an assessment of how many languages he will need in life, but on what he sees as a big task for him. I would not put pressure on him, but try to think of situations where Norwegian could be useful or fun for him to know. Do you visit Norway during holidays? Does he have relatives that he could connect better with if he knew the language?

As your daughter is already showing interest in Norwegian, I would start with her but at the same time making sure you do not exclude your son (i.e. translate whenever necessary). You could pick certain times of the day when you speak Norwegian – to start with, choose situations where it is fairly obvious from the context what you are saying. You could also introduce something fun that you do together in Norwegian – e.g. board games or anything else your kids are interested in. A visit to the zoo or a theme park entirely in Norwegian could be another idea.

Do whatever you find that works, especially with your son to get him engaged. What are your son’s general interests? Can you find a way to connect these with Norwegian? I know screen time is not the most effective way of learning a language, but if for example playing a computer game in Norwegian could entice him to engage with the language, it could be a good way of drawing him in.

I don’t think your plan to reintroduce Norwegian is too ambitious, but it will not be a walk in the park either. Concentrate on getting off to a good start with both your daughter and your son. Remember to stay positive and appreciate any small wins along the way. Praise them for any attempts to understand and use Norwegian. Talk with your children about why Norwegian is so important to you, and work together with them to find the optimal way of bringing back Norwegian as a family language into their lives. Good luck!

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
Apr 272017
 

What to do when parents-to-be do not agree about raising bilingual children?

 

Question

Hello

I’m recently engaged. My fiancé and I are discussing those premarital topics. Child rearing has come up. He only speaks English. My native language is English, but I’m majoring in Spanish.

I brought up the fact that I absolutely want to bring up our eventual kids as bilinguals. He was opposed to that idea, claiming that it will confuse the kids. I’ve done my research about the subject because I want to open a dual-immersion preschool. He listened to what I said, but is still not on board with it.

How can I prove to him that speaking Spanish with our future children will benefit them?

Morgan

Answer

Dear Morgan

Thank you for your question – it is great that you are discussing such decisions with your fiancé in advance, when you are planning your life together.

Your fiancé has stated ‘confusion’ as the reason why he is opposed to you speaking Spanish with your future kids – I presume you have showed him articles that prove that bilingual children do not get confused by parents speaking different languages with them. (If bilingualism did cause confusion, more than half of the world’s population would walk around in a very confused state!) You write that you have presented him with facts, but he still disagrees, so you have to continue the dialogue.

It is positive that your fiancé is open to discussion about this, and it is important that you acknowledge his concerns and don’t dismiss them. What I do feel is that you may not have found out the real reason for his reluctance when it comes to raising bilingual children. Every parent wants what is best for their children, so I presume he is not against all the benefits that bilingualism brings with it?

I don’t know how much research he has done himself, but I would suggest that you ask your fiancé for further details about why he thinks your future children would be negatively affected by learning another language while growing up. My guess is that he will not be able to present you with any solid evidence for this, but that it may be an excuse for some other concerns. Don’t make a big deal out of that, though, but continue the discussion.

It is possible that he thinks that if your children were to learn Spanish first, he would feel left out? Bring this up to discussion and address any worries he has (please, read the article I linked to). My presumption is that you live in an English-speaking environment, so your children will soon become fluent in English.

Your fiancé could also be concerned about other people’s opinions – what would the grandparents, other relatives and friends think about bringing in a language which is not native to either of you? This is a decision that should be made by the parents, no one else. It is up to you if you feel confident and comfortable about speaking Spanish with your children – read this article about considering to speak a non-native language with a child – and then decide together what to do.

I don’t know how much experience your fiancé has with bilingual children, but another possible concern is that he wouldn’t want your children to be different from any other kids – i.e. if most people in the community are monolingual, he might want his own children to be like everyone else. It would be very beneficial if you could find a family in a similar situation to yours (where the father is monolingual) so your fiancé could see that bilingual upbringing works, and he could ask any questions he may have.

Keep the dialogue going, it may take some time for your fiancé to become open to the thought of raising bilingual children – don’t pressurise, but genuinely try to find out all underlying concerns and find a way to address them. 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.

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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