Raising children bilingually

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I can just speak from own experience, having been brought up bilingually (German/English). I never really struggled with eiher language at school (German "Abitur"), had both English and German as "Leistungskurs" and passed both with a "sehr gut" (A). I went on to study languages and now work as a voice and dialect coach.

 

However, I have to admit that both my English and my German are sometimes a bit strange. My English tends to sound German, my German tends to sound English, if you get the drift. Depending on where I live, I adapt pretty well, and I speak both languages accent-free (or better: I sound rather Glaswegian speaking English and "Ruhrpott" speaking German ;) ).

 

In theory and down to my job, I know all the rules of both languages, but if I just speak/write without overthinking matters, the odd mix-up happens. This can sometimes just be vocabulary (speaking German but using an English word in the middle of a sentence - not an Anglicism btw, really a mixed up word) and vice versa. More often it's the way I build sentences though. My English is usually longer and more "winded" than that of a monolingual, whilst my German sentences sometimes come out back to front (still out of my mouth obviously :P ).

 

So yes, being bilingual has its challenges - far outweighed by the advantages though.

 

I would also say that two things play a very important role:

 

1. Native language of the mother/parent with the most contact time. My mum is German. I think the mother's language (maybe that's why they call it mother tongue) will very often be more influential than that of the father, provided the upbringing is pretty traditional. If the dad stays at home the first couple of years, it will be the other way round of course.

2. Schooling. I was born in Scotland and lived there for the first five years of my life, but started school in Germany. When we moved back to Germany, I spoke both languages equally well (at least that's what friends and family tell me). The fact that my mum was more infuential regarding my "vocal upbringing" was probably evened out (or even outweighed) by the fact that everything else around me happened in English for the first five years of my life. Starting school in Germany definitely gave my German a boost however, although communication with my dad was still exclusively in English.

 

I think both points will probably determine a slightly stronger language, even in a true bilingual. However, I also believe that we will always adapt quite well and much quicker if we have to switch. I have been living in the UK since my early 20s, with one short(ish) interruption of 3 years in-between, so I am definitely dreaming and thinking in English, even though my linguistic "Praegephase" was probably more German.

 

Don't know if any of this makes sense, it's just own experience ;)

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I have concerns with this even though I don't have a child yet. We hope to have a baby sometime next year and all I can think about right now is what language will we speak ? I speak English and Spanish fluently and my husband is German. At first I thought I would speak Spanish and my husband German and he/she would learn English in school but my husband and I speak English to eachother so that would be confusing. I thought about leaving the German to the school to teach but the family here will already be speaking German and I don't want to have my child enter the school system not knowing the local language. Now I'm considering only English and German at home in the beginning and Spanish later, or as someone previously suggested using the 3rd language only on the weekends. So confusing!

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We are trying to enroll our son into private and state kindergarten, and many state ones are asking what is his language. I have no idea, he is 19 months, and not really talking yet...expect for screaming "NO". They keep on asking if he need "integration"...um...into what? Speaking?

 

His delay in speaking is possibly due to the fact that we speak four languages at home, I speak English (fluent) and Chinese (a little shady but still fluent) and his dad speaks German and Serbian. He is only uttering bits and pieces of each language, and to be honest, I am getting confused, I can't remember what language I spoke to him today. I figured that every child ends up speaking some language eventually and if all the other bilingual kids turn out ok...then mine will too. I see he responds to strangers speaking Croatian (its like Serbian) and seems to respond to his grand parents. Confused as he may be now, I am confident he will grow up understanding all the languages, just hope the Bavarian school system will be kind to him before that - I don't want them to place him into an "integration" kindergarten - whatever that might be.

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I wouldn't worry about the integration aspect. By the time the youngest was in Kindergarden, integration courses were obligatory for any child whose parents spoke a different language. So kiddo sat a couple of weeks with a few other kids in extra german classes - it certainly didn't hurt him though I doubt it helped him much since the other kids apparently really did need a bit of help.

I guess it depends a bit where you live, I had complete faith in my kindergarten and knew that they concentrated on the kids who needed help.

If they offer support in improving his German, then why not? Of the four languages that is the one you want him to be strong in when school comes around!

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@ddbug

I would want whatever kindergarten he goes to help him speak - in general. He is still babbling, and to be honest knows about 10 words that don't belong to any language. Aside from "No", "bubbles" and "dangerous", he can only say "wowo" (dog), "Maw Maw" (cat), "Ooo Ooo Ooo Ooo" (Monkey), "ca ca and pooooo-pee" (you know), "CzzzCzzz" (snoring noise - to sleep), "mmmmmm" (delicious), and "wasser"(rain, water, milk, bath - anything liquid) - oh and he calls me "honey" and Daddy is "buddy". We moved back here when he was 3 months so I'm really hoping that's not going to require him to be integrated. I think they are just assuming based on my poor German skills.

 

Damn these waiting lists. I really think you have to apply to kindergarten before you conceive.

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well, it sounds like he is communicating! lol. He's a bit too old for baby sign, but that's something that I've heard people have a lot of success with especially for bi or more lingual kids.

 

I don't know where you are, Toronto, but yes, the kindergarden / nursery waiting lists are a PITA. I think they've changed the set up a bit allowing under 3s in which may have eased the strain on the nurseries but I'm sure made the kindergardens even more difficult to get in.

 

Anyhoo - When I was dealing with the nursery from hell in Munich I finally ended up looking for a tagesmutter - and found the most angelic woman in the world. Even better, she didn't speak a lick of English (only Münchnerisch) and kiddo's german (well, Bavarian) improved immensely. And his English didn't suffer at all. So would that be an option? (Mine was only part time, but totally worth it)

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I wouldn't worry too much Toronto. Stick him down as speaking German on the form and let him, and them, get on with it. As you say, children of 19 months don't typically converse much anyway.

 

Our friends - both English but fluent in German - always spoke only English to their children at home. The kids played with local children and went to the local Kindergarten where they picked up German.

 

They both got integration support at the Grundschule to fill in whatever German linguistic gaps were missing and the youngest (who has just had her 10th birthday) will be joining her older sister at a Gymnasium in September.

 

I remember my friends getting a lot of stick for not talking German with the children at home and I think at times they worried that they were making a mistake. It's been nice seeing things work out well for the children.

 

I've also admired this couple for not getting remotely stressed that their children don't hit a constant '1' in their English lessons.

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Toronto - I really do think you should cut the languages down to two. Or if not, three. Poor baby. You're short-circuiting his brain. He can learn all the rest later. My hiusband didn't learn anything except German until he started at school at 11, and he's now on language number 9. I had a really bright Turkish lady in an English course who spoker only German to her kid at home as she didn't want him to end up "semi-lingual" like her brothers.I thought this a bit of a shame. But four!

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@Toronto:

 

We have multiple languages at home as well, I speak Spanish, Portuguese, dodgy English and broken German, the wife speaks English, Malay and broken German. Our extensive (Internet) research showed that it s a good idea that each person stick to one language because that's the way the kid learns to differentiate them. We have a 21 months daughter and I speak Spanish to her, the mother speaks English and she goes to a German tagesmutter. So far it is working, she managed to understand all the 3 languages but she did not speak that much, and then suddenly she started talking non stop. She mixes words from all languages in her sentences or she repeats the same word in multiple languages. And you should stick to speaking only your mother language to the kid.

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I agree with LaVraieEcossaise.

But I think a very important thing wether you are monolingual or bilingual is reading. A lot of kids these days are not in full command of their own language in writing, and that's pretty sad. Even if your native language is english and you live in germany your english will become sort of german (like LaVraieEcossaise wrote). But I think it doesn't really matter if they learn a few mistakes if there are other influences.

Reading (good) books on a regular basis is one of the most important learning experiences. Just the steady repetition of reading the correct spelling and syntax as a kid will do the trick if you want to achieve linguistic competence.

 

My five nieces speak english, irish and german. But english is the strongest language, even though they go to an irish school and their mother speaks german at home.

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I'm a native english speaker in a german kindergarten. All I can say is - it works! 11 new kids (2&3 yr olds) started 1 month ago and they are already grasping the basic concepts of English. It's insane. Don't worry about kids not understanding. It's something they work out for themselves. I also have a few great "translator" kids in my group. Even they are only 4 and 5 years old.

 

The best thing I heard was that a little boy in my group (age 6) went on holiday to Greece where most people speak English. He went to a kids clb everyday and made friens with a lil English boy. He could understand what his new friend was saying and could sort of make himself understood.

 

Kids are more intelligent than you think.

 

Edit. What I mean to say is, that it works both ways German English / English German. :) :)

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Basic communication in a second language is one thing. Using the second language in academic situations is quite another.

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In my experience, the "one person, one language" approach only works if one of the languages is the same as the one the parents use with each other. This because, eventually, there has to be a common language for the family, even if it's not the local language.

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MariaB has a point. My husband speaks exclusively German with Jr, English with me. When we were in Germany, Jr would answer him in German, but now that we are back in the States, he won't speak German. So common language is important, not just of the immediate family, but of the neighbors as well.

 

I used to speak Spanish [as well as English] with Jr, and gave that up when we moved to Germany, figuring it would be too much. Our next door neighbors speak only Spanish, and consequently now he has asked me to teach him Spanish (presumably because he is annoyed he can't be part of the conversation). Oy. I guess I should have never quit using the 3rd language!

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My experience with my nieces is: Kids will pick their language. They use german as a secret language in Ireland, but at a certain age they don't want to be different and want to talk like their classmates talk.

But even if one language is neglected after a few years it will be much easier to learn more when they grow up.

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In my experience, the "one person, one language" approach only works if one of the languages is the same as the one the parents use with each other. This because, eventually, there has to be a common language for the family, even if it's not the local language.

 

I'm not sure if this is generally true, but perhaps I am misintepreting your statement.

 

We know several tri-lingual families where the children speak a different language with each parent, and the parents speak in a third language to each other. For example, German parent speaks only German with children, Japanese/Finnish/French/Italian/Greek etc... parent speaks only that language to the children, and the common language between the parents is English. In these situations though, most, but not all, of the children all learning English, either at an international school or as a foreign language in elementary school. Also, the German parent usually does not speak the "exotic" foreign language in the Japanese, Finnish, Greek case. What I find fascinating is what the children decide to speak to each other and in most of these families with siblings, it really is the "mother tongue".

 

I think the key here is consistency and support, and of course, it will always depend on the language abilities of the individual child. We are only raising our children with two languages, using OPOL, and each child's rate of acquisition, level of writing, vocabulary and grammar, as well as his/her feel for the language is completely different.

 

 

Basic communication in a second language is one thing. Using the second language in academic situations is quite another.

 

I completely agree! It is not very difficult for young children to pick up a foreign language and even start communicating within a short period of time, but children's conversations are usually quite simplistic. As they get older and approach the Middle and Upper School years, the differences among children become noticeable in the sophistication of their writing and their ability to comprehend higher level texts. However, this isn't surprising given the vast differences even among monolingual children. In a given class in the US or UK, for example, some children have superior language abilities while others' abilities leave much to be desired.

 

My husband and many of his friends were raised bilingually by speaking one language at home and learning a different language at school. That also worked well, but again depended on the individual child's language abilities. In several cases, the children, now adults, were academically better at English and quite poor in their native tongue if they did not receive extra or proper academic support for the home language. In other words, they were completely fluent in their "mother tongue" which they continued to speak and perhaps read at home, but their knowledge of grammar and writing ability in their mother tongue was not at the same respective level as the "second" language.

 

Anyway, one can probably find as many examples as their are children, especially if one lives in an international community. My children are fully bilingual, having been raised with the OPOL method. Regardless, the areas I continue to focus on with them are: 1) English vocabulary because it is more extensive than the German vocabulary, 2) German grammar because it is more complicated than English grammar, and 3) writing skills.

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Reassigned posts from Can my kids go to school in Germany?

 

 

My husband speaks some German, but he has not lived in Germany for any extended period of time. He speaks German to kids at home, but it's just everyday life simple stuff.

A bit off topic. Parents who teach two languages should be native in it and only speak the respective language to the child. Throwing a few German words in here and there, probably not always in the correct way could be counterproductive.

The general rule of thumb is to not mix two languages.

 

The result could be what you see with some arabic kids here. Mashing up german and arabic when talking to each other. Neither clean German, nor clean arabic. Which sounds funny. #*#*#*###*** oma ##+#+ 30 euro ##*#*#* Grundschule ###*** einkaufen.

 

If you want them to speak German, get some native speaker/teacher to exclusively speak German to them.

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I think your kids are going to need much greater reinforcement back home if they are to benefit long term from 10 weeks in Germany than merely having a non-native speaker discussing basic things with them. I'd suggest a native speaker tutor a couple of times a week and play dates with German kids in your area back home as well as during your time in Berlin.

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I've heard about this strict not mixing languages rule and I think it's a little extreme and doesn't reflect the complexity of many families. I grew up in a three language household which eventually came to include some Spanglish (the French ultimately being dropped because it wasn't so useful in an everyday context). My brother and I are both bilingual and maybe purists will find occasional mixing of languages disturbing but frankly I think such attitudes are borderline xenophobic/racist, especially in reference to Arabic speakers in Germany.

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Mixing two or more languages in conversation is called "code-switching," and it's a pretty common phenomenon in speakers who are at home in two or more languages.

The idea that is "mashing up" languages due to linguistic incomptence is an outdated one.

 

Now, I do think Wikipedia has its shortcomings, but nonetheless, what it has to say on the topic is by no means useless:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code-switching

 

FWIW, there are plenty of places in the world where such usage is the norm. Watch any Hindi-language TV program, for example, and you will be seeing huge amounts of code-switching going on between Hindi and English. This reflects how most middle-class urbanites speak in northern India. They can, however, use only Hindi or only English if the need occurs.

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