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Thread: Raising your child bilingually

  1. #1

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    Default Raising your child bilingually

    Please move this if it's not in the appropriate spot - wasn't sure where to put it!

    DH and I have been discussing the idea of introducing a second language (German) to the baby when he gets here. I'm fluent in German although I don't have any parental/cultural background in it; I just spent time in the country and have studied and taught it for several years. Now, I know my German's good because native German speakers think that I am actually German when they meet me (always very flattering! ) but on the other hand, I'm aware of the fact that I do make mistakes and I'm worried that the child/ren will pick up on my bad habits. But I just feel that I'm so lucky to be able to have this extra skill, and I would love to pass it onto the baby and any other children we might have... on the other hand, it's a big commitment and I also worry about developmental delays in speech.

    Do any of you raise your children bilingually? Pros, cons, advice would be most appreciated, thanks!


  2. #2

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    Oooh, I'm doing this too - raising my child with English and Austrian, adding in French later (I'm part French, but we'll be spending more time in Austria than France, so...).

    Having known people that have been raised bilingually, I would say a big advantage was that learning a third language, and even some mathematics, is made a lot easier. The earlier you start the second language, the more the brain understands how to cope with it.

    I speak Austrian/German to the baby and English to other people, using a mixture around the home. As I'm learning too it really helped me! So long as I don't try any big conversations, people on holiday never realised I was English... I'd love for Liebling to blend in even better! We have story books in both English and German too, and I often use both words. "Oh look, flowers. Die Blumen." OK, that's probably not spelt right, but that's the general gist. I do that with food a lot as well, especially when shopping. "We like pears! Wir lieben die Birnon!" OK, people look at me like I'm mad... I want a big bump! I'm not talking to myself!

    Liebling will have the advantage of visiting Austria, staying with Austrians and playing with Austrian children, and I'm sure my friends over there will write encouraging letters! Therefore I'm not quite so worried about my mistakes - plus my Austrian friend corrects them anyway.

    You are supposed to start doing the bilingual thing pre-birth, simply because it's easier the earlier the baby gets used to the speech patterns. Also, children pick up grammar a lot easier than adults; another advantage to learning a language young! You do have to stick at it and bilingual babies are often slower to start talking, but quicker to pick up new words when they do start.

    And let's face it, the child(ren) will pick up your bad habits in English, yet no-one worries about that. I have more than enough mannerisms with my language to pick up, but no-one has told me that "Egads!" or any other word that seems to have fallen out of common use shouldn't be used around a baby.

  3. #3

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    OK, people look at me like I'm mad... I want a big bump! I'm not talking to myself!
    Hahaha, somehow I'm not sure even the big bump would solve that!! But I get the idea of using both languages pre-birth, will start introducing that at home. Although I guess he hears me talking German with friends and colleagues anyway, but since I'm not at work as much now, I should probably make more of an effort. Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. #4

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    Sasha, my cousing is a native English speaker but has lived in Denmark for 15 years and so is fluent in Danish. Her five kids are all bilingual. Apparently the go is that the mother (or one parent) speaks exclusively to the child in the "non-dominant" language (in her case, English) as the kid will pick up the dominant language from the other parent and everyone else around them. To get the "mother tounge" thing happening this reinforcement of the non-dominant language is crucial.

    I wouldn't stress about the grammar -even ****e grammar is better than no second language at all. You will give giving your bub such a huge head start. My grandparents spoke Russian to me as a child and even though I now have the equivalent language skills of a 3yo (they stooped speaking Russian to me when I started school), I can understand the "feel" of the language and I am convinced that spending a month of so in Russia would make me fluent. Also, after about an hours revision I can read and write to about a prep standard. And that is with only minimal "teaching" as a child.

    As for the development delay worry - I wouldn't stress - I know of one little boy whose mum is Italian and dad is Latvian - he apparently translates for his parents when he speaks to them. Forexample, if he kicks a ball in front of them, he will say "look mummy, I can kick a ball" in Italian to his mum, and "look daddy, I can kick a ball" in Latvian to his dad. And he is fluent in English too! Little smarty pants

  5. #5

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    My sister and her husband have taught English as a second language in Japan and Canada (to the Japanese) for over 5 years. Her two daughters (now 4 and 8) were both raised in the Japanese school system, so are both completely fluent. They learn their letters over there much earlier, so it meant that they were also reading japanese before english. So their Japanese was grammatically correct, and they were considered little blonde Japanese kids!!
    Earlier this year they moved back to NZ to resettle, and the elder daughter had some troubles at first with her English - particularly reading and writing. Within about 4m she was the top of the class and placed into accelerated learning.
    They still sometimes talk Japanese - to be honest they actually dont like it anymore - they would rather be the same as their friends.
    My sister and BIL also speak Russian as they lived there for a year, but that is their "secret" language. They use it to talk about things they dont want the kids to understand!!!!
    The funny thing is my sister failed languages miserably at school - it was only after uni she learnt Japanese and Russian!!

  6. #6

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    We aren't deliberately doing this but since my husband's first language is Dari Yasin and Imran are exposed to 2 languages. They also are exposed to a smattering of Arabic and Yasin has a few Spanish words as well.
    It doesn't cause any developmental delays but if they are at a stage where they could be expected to have 300 words they are likely to have 150 in one language and 150 in another not 300 in each.
    Generally bi-lingual babies don't start talking any later than other babies so if you're worried about your babies speech don't delay in consulting someone on the grounds that they are bi-lingual. Of course babies reach milestones in thier own time so delayed speech isn't a reason for panic attacks. In my Yasin's buddies group we have 2 bi-lingual babies. One of them is a really quick speaker and Yasin is lagging behind a bit.
    Since differant languages have differant sounds being bi-lingual stimulates differant parts of the brain in the same way as exposure to music does.
    Also if you learn a language while you are young if you want to re-learn it later (or a differant language) it will be easier for you than someone who hasn't been exposed to it previously.
    I wouldn't worry too much about your baby picking up your mistakes in German. lots of people don't speak thier first language perfectly and for communication purposes its amaxing how much we can understand even when people have very poor language skill.

  7. #7

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    I think its a fantastic idea. I speak in Spanish sometimes to Matilda & she has been known to count & say a few words to us in Spanish. We now have Dora to back me up & DH is learning along as well.... I just thought it was a good idea to expose her to another language & the only ones I know are Spanish and Italian (only a little of both though...).

  8. #8
    beastie Guest

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    do it!!! dont worry about mistakes, but there's nothing better as learning another language as second mother-tounge.

    never ever again would the kids learn easier.

    if i would have the chance, i would do it.
    but my english is too bad

    buut .. we sing a lot in english and xander loves dora the explorer (in germany they use a lot of english words), he is 2 years now and can count until 6 in english *proud* (he cant do that in german, but stuff it )

    its a good chance for your kids...

  9. #9

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    Thanks for all your encouragement!! I'm doing some research as to how we want to go about introducing it, etc, but it's great to hear about the successes you've all had. I have such close friends in Germany and some within the German-speaking community here, so it seems a shame that our little ones wouldn't be able to communicate with them (apart from in English, obviously). Cheers

  10. #10

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    My SIL is Japanese and my niece speaks Japanese and English beautifully. It's great as when her Grandparent come for a visit from Japan they can talk and they have a wonderful relationship. It was funny when she first started talking as she would tell my brother off in Japanese and he would have no idea what she was saying. She also speaks Japanese to her mum and english to everyone else. My mum was being taught Maltese by her father when she was young but her mum put a stop to it as she didn't understand what they were talking about and got angry. I say go for it - I'd love to be able to speak a second language - if only I had been taught at a young age (I did 2 years of French at high school and learnt how to say 'horse' I just didn't have an interest at that age! - oh to have a crystal ball). Do it while the bubba is young- before they have a mind of their own!

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