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Old 17.03.2012, 19:20
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Bi-lingual toddler matters...

First of all, I know there is a thread similar to this, but I can't find it, so if someone can point me in the right direction would be appreciated.

My little one is 21months and has been starting to speak for a while... at first she started in English, but now it's about 98% French, and I can't help but feel really sad.

She spends 3-4 days a week at French speaking childcare, and my partner speaks French, along with his family, her cousins, and people all around me/her. I keep talking in English, I know the importance of that, I even studied bi-lingualism aswell as child language acquisition, but I still can't help feeling worried English will just be a token language and she won't be able to express herself fully to me.

English childcare is an option I'm thinking seriously about, it, but the thing is, it's not really available where I am. We have a so-called bi-lingual creche in the next city, but I'm not convinced they take it seriously as I called them up and the lady couldn't string a sentence in English.

I'm fed up of hearing "Ouais" or "non" for every response! I want it to be "Yes!" or "no!". She even replaced "poopoo" to "caca"

I'd really like some advice or experience from others who have been in the same predicament. I can't see years down the line... has anyone else been through the same?

From an anxious mummy.
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Old 17.03.2012, 19:39
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

Does she hear two sides to the english conversation ? Do you speak English or French with your partner ?

As you know, the theory:
- only use 100% english
- find situations where you can speak normal english conversation in front of her with other people (english friends, playgroup).
- *TRUST* - your child is absorbing it all from you
- plan a holiday to an english-speaking country, where you will only speak english !
- read books, sing lots of songs.
- respect that at the moment her main objective is to communicate to her with what she knows - she doesn't consciously separate the languages (that takes at least to 3.5 years old - if not 4.5 years. My youngest is just now starting to match the english/german sentences or concepts against each other).
- remember, expressive language is about 2 years behind receptive language - she understands far more than she can say....

I can't emphasise the trust enough - don't give up, and don't let your fears get to you.

My kids would come home from preschool with words spoke with a Chinese, Sri Lankan, Indian or 'broad' Australian accent - I could tell who had taught them that word! - these days, they say words they've only read from books, and have never actually heard out loud.... their pronunciation is so far out, you have to laugh - then you just give them the 'mother tongue' pronunciation, and they have it!

My kids are 12, 10 and 4. One thing I didn't ever understand until my first child hit that age, is that reading gives children (and adults I guess) a massive input to their oral language - when they start to read, suddenly they way they speak also changes - they get better grammar, sentence structure, even 'punctuation', much more vocabulary and an endless supply of new ideas, concepts, and expressions...

yes, it's a work in progress. yes, your child will be able to 'express themself' to you.

I have a close friend who was born in Australia, of German background, lived in Australia for 3 years, went to Germany. For 6 months said not a word to anyone, then at the 6 month point, suddenly started speaking fluent German. Moved back to Australia at 6 years old, did the same thing, refused to say a word to anyone for 6 months, then suddenly started speaking completely fluent in English again...

If your daughter is at all frustrated with trying to communicate with you, please know that this is perfectly normal for toddlers - and one of the driving forces that leads them to learn to speak - the need to communicate is so strong, they do this massive acquisition from age 2-3, and by 3 they can speak in whole sentences, in as many languages as are around them...
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Old 17.03.2012, 19:40
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

My daughter is bi-lingual before coming here so...I understand some of your concerns. Don't worry, I don't think classes are not needed as long as you continue to speak and read english to her, correct her and force her to speak english to you. I have the reverse situation in my house where English is my language and my child speaks it well, but my husband frets as you do about the dominance of the second language. My response to him is that, well, have you ignored her today until she speaks your language? She trys to speak your language to me at times and (though I do know what she's saying) I tell her she needs to speak my language, English, to talk to me. He grumbles, but...he's getting better at forcing her to talk to him in his language. It's hard work...try ignoring her until she talks to you in English. She knows...but she's likely lazy like mine.
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Old 17.03.2012, 19:41
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

Don't worry about it, speak your language to your baby, your husband speak his language and be strict about this. Ther baby wil soon work out what to speak to who, mine speaks 3 languages, one different alphabet and she runs rings around everybody.

Chill out and don't worry about it. Any case even sending baby to English creche she will stiill hear/speak French all around.

The essential thing is baby is happy, shell soon communicate exactly what she wants to you, your husband or anyone else for that matter !
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Old 17.03.2012, 20:07
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

Concur - our girls were able to understand Berndeutsch from the word go, though when they started talking they responded in English. That didn't take long to change, and now both (two and four) can switch back and forth depending on who they are talking to. Keep up the language is the best advice, and don't sweat it - if the responses are correct even if the language isn't, then you still know the understanding is sinking in!
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Old 17.03.2012, 20:22
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

It is normal that the community language takes precedence. To avoid this, you can artificially manipulate the home language. With my first child, we lived in the UK. I am British, OH is French. My child was in 4 day a week childcare from 10 months. We only spoke French in the home environment from the day he was born. His first words were almost exclusively French, but these first words coincided with him going to childcare and he soon started speaking English too (but not to us). For as long as I spoke also in French, we had a good balance and by the age of 4 (when we left to come to CH) he was truly and properly bilingual, with neither language dominating.

Since moving to CH, I have reverted to English (this was hard!) and as I am a stay at home mum, now age 9, his English is far in advance of his French (with his German being equal to his English).

My youngest son has developmental delay particularly in the area of communication. One of his language therapists said two things to me that are pertinent to all of us who are trying to bring up multilingual kids:
  • language in equals language out. If there is less "language in" of one language then do not expect them to come out with so much.
  • language acquisition is like watching a plant grow - we know the plant is growing, we just can't see it growing.
Keep speaking and enjoying the English language with your child, but you may have to accept as she grows older that her lesser exposure to English (in comparison to French) will mean that English will always be a "second" bilingual language.
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Old 17.03.2012, 21:11
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

don't you worry - a 21 month old has to concentrate on getting one language straight, and that is usually the one spoken by their peers.
Our older son refused to talk to his father in english until he was about 2.5 yrs old and now, half a yr later, he's more fluent in English than in Swiss German.
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Old 17.03.2012, 21:43
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

No good advice from me. I tried, but totally failed. I'd been in the UK for 3 years when our first was born. The relationship with OH, my life, friends, neighbours, etc, totally based on English. I was in the UK on a permanent basis, and that was my priority. OH didn't speak any French, so speaking French with baby/toddler would have been difficult. It seemed totally artificial to me to speak French in England. Both our daughters did end up being bilingual at a later stage- but they resisted all the way into their teens.

I suppose it would have been very different if I felt that we might go 'back' to live in Switzerland or France. (Yes, I know, I am back now - but it was never ever planned and our daughters are both adults in their late 30s, lol).

Last edited by Odile; 17.03.2012 at 22:04.
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Old 18.03.2012, 07:09
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

One thing I noticed with our girls was how long it took them to start talking properly in any language. That can be upsetting, since it appeared on the outside that they just couldn't talk well for their age. But in reality, of course, they were learning to process two languages, and when they finally did get their beautiful little heads around speech their ability to talk launched like a rocket.
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Old 18.03.2012, 10:28
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

We speak our respective languages - English and Dutch - to NickatbaselJnr and are "konsquent" about it.

He also attended a Swiss "Kinderkrippe" since 6 months old.

Only empirical observations of course, my impression is he took a little longer than his monolingual cousins to speak in whole sentences early on, but now aged nearly 5 he is fluent in all 3 which will be a huge advantage in later life.

Different kids develop at different rates - and your daughter obviuosly understands you. The key is to be patient and insist your daughter only address you in English - and have your partner support you with this.

Cheers,
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Old 18.03.2012, 12:31
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

My two children were born here and they are now 3 1/2 and 1 1/2. My husband is Swiss, and both have attended full time Kinderkrippe since they were babies (starting at 4 months 60%, then 100% by the time they were 8 months and 12 months, respectively). He and I mostly speak in English at home, though he will often switch to Swiss German to discipline or explain things to them.

Here's our experience:

My older daughter now speaks pretty much perfect Swiss German, and very good English. She peppers her English with some German words: Ich for I, nicht for not, auch for also. I always speak to her in English, and when she mixes German words in, I generally repeat the sentence back to her correctly, as in:

Ich want to go to the Spielplatz.

You'd like to go to the playground?

Yes.

Okay.

My younger daughter mixes everything, and speaks mostly Swiss German, though there's a good amount of English in there too.

We read daily at home, mostly in English, to both girls. They also have a weekly playdate with two other kids from the Kinderkrippe (and the adults get some time to have adult conversation too!) though all the kids speak mixes of Swiss German and English.

My advice is much the same as the other posters:

Read, often, and in English. Expose your daughter to conversations in English (and TV doesn't count). Also, don't speak in "baby voice" to your daughter. Use complete sentences and encourage her to do the same (but don't say no or get frustrated).
i.e.
her: Ich bin thirsty (I don't know French, so I'll mix it up in German)
me: Would you like something to drink?
her: Ja.
me: Would you like a cup of water?
her: Water.
me: Here's your cup of water.
her: Cup water.

That's basically where my younger daughter is now, and this worked really well with my older daughter. It is a long process, and my American relatives are still confused by the way the girls talk, but I think it will work itself out in the end. My older daughter even says: You talk English and not German. So, not grammatically correct, but she understands the concept of two languages.

And both are getting better every day.

So, good luck and don't sweat it too much!
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Old 18.03.2012, 13:09
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

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Different kids develop at different rates - and your daughter obviuosly understands you. The key is to be patient and insist your daughter only address you in English - and have your partner support you with this.
I would disagree with this. Patience definitely, but not insisting. My wife tried that, and our daughter clamped shut and refused to speak in Swiss German. When the pressure was let off she opened up and started to use words and phrases eventually on her own.

When there is an insistence for a toddler to use a specific language it immediately becomes a in issue of good or bad behaviour, and they can become scared of trying. No pressure.

Over time she will respond appropriately, but it might take until she is three or four to work out the languages. Don't forget, she's only young, and there is plenty of time to learn! Regular exposure to all languages, and support. Praise when she responds in the same language she was spoken to in - at least, this is how we have done it, and it has worked for us.
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Old 18.03.2012, 16:13
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

Thank you all for your replies, I'm already feeling more confident and trust that things will work out in English. Thanks a lot. I do know that if we continue to live in CH, French will be the stronger language, even if she is bi-lingual.
I've been teaching English to kids that are supposed to be bi-lingual, but they cannot wait to switch back to French, they lack even simple vocabulary and grammar is quite mixed up... I think that made me freak out a bit.

So, I'm going to keep chattering away in English, even though I'm the only one, and maybe reply to myself to make it two-sided for her to understand conversation!

A bit of conflicting advice about insisting OR being patient with her not responding in English, so I'm a little unsure whether to ignore her (which to me seems a little harsh as she's not even two!) or maybe to keep saying things in English, maybe explain often that mummy speaks English and this is what we say etc...
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Old 18.03.2012, 16:21
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

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So, I'm going to keep chattering away in English, even though I'm the only one, and maybe reply to myself to make it two-sided for her to understand conversation!
This is actually vital - both for my son who has language problems and for all children (although as a parent you often do not realise you are doing it).

In the example of the slightly muddled conversation that Swiss in Training gave, it is important for you as a parent not to correct the muddled language but to repeat back what the child should have said. It's called modelling - so in reply to the child saying "cup water" you say "Yes here's a cup of water" (instead of saying, for example, "here you are"). You may feel a bit silly at first but when a child is learning a language in isolation, there is only you to model it for her - meaning you will end up having conversations with yourself (but then I do that already ).

In short, let little one answer as best they can then repeat after them in correct (but simple language - ie the languge that your child would have used if she could) what she actually should have said.

Hours of speech therapy not wasted - thank goodness!
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Old 18.03.2012, 16:41
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

I perfectly understand you!! Our children are tri-lingual.

For English you have infinite resources:

1) A very nice one is CBEEBIES from BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/) They can watch TV or play in the website. There are nice things for toddlers. They usually adore In the Night Garden at her age. They use very basic language and the contents are adequate for their age and development.
2) You could also buy lots of DVDs in Amazon.co.uk.
3) Also read her story books in English and sing easy songs. Toddlers love music!!
4) When starting to read, the collection of books from Jelly and Bean is just great.
5) Take her to English only environments a couple of weeks a year: maybe visiting grandparents, cousins, etc
6) Concentrate in speaking in English only and never say anything negative about other languages. If she says "caca" then you can follow by saying "poo-poo" so she relates both words, etc etc.

I am packing lots of English resources before moving to CH because I don't want them to loose their English, a language that will be very useful for them in the future.

Don't give up. If you are the only English speaker around it is not easy to make her interested in English, at least this has been my experience.
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Old 18.03.2012, 16:54
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

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For English you have infinite resources:

1) A very nice one is CBEEBIES from BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/) They can watch TV or play in the website. There are nice things for toddlers. They usually adore In the Night Garden at her age. They use very basic language and the contents are adequate for their age and development.
Television of itself has not been shown to be effective in language development. However, you can make it more useful if you sit and watch with the child and speak to the child about what is going on/ask the child questions etc. It makes a nice alternative to book reading, but book reading is the activity par excellence.

My little one loves Show me Show me (also on CBeebies) and also a great programme (Mr Tumble) for kids with special needs. This programe works a lot on language and communication and can be enjoyed by all kids (and their parents!)

An interesting sidenote; in France tv aimed at the under 2's (I believe it is under 2 but it might be under 3 - anyone?) is not permitted as the government were convinced of the argument that tv watching for the under 2s was likely to be more harmful than good, and at best conveys no particular benefit. It's a hotly disputed topic and my line is to include some tv watching but not to overdo it. A little of what you fancy goes a long way
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Old 18.03.2012, 17:05
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

An interesting point. My two were born in 73 and 75- so no internet or TV available - so no French input possible apart from me - which didn't help.
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Old 18.03.2012, 20:57
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

Thanks again for more input, I'm definately taking all this on board. I'd love nothing more than for my little one to make friends who speak English, again not really easy around my parts... I think it's very important as children get older too.

Odile, you're totally right, and England isn't the most pro-multi-language country, right up until I left, I heard of people saying there was no point in wasting time on foreign languages, when English opens all the doors (..). I find it a shame if people don't learn a language that is so connected to their roots, (I'm one of those people!) but the important thing is that they know it now.

The most important thing to me, is that we can communicate the most effectively. My french is fine for day to day things, but not fine for intimate emotions and feelings. This is the most important relationship I've ever had in my life I guess I'm just worried our relationship will suffer because of language differences.
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Old 18.03.2012, 22:44
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

Hi,

I reread the OP - the kid is only 21 months so patience is the key.

My 4.5 yo is now old enough to know the difference - and "insistence" means I only understand what he says in English - even if I do understand the other languages. It isn't like I send him up the chimney each time he speaks Dutch to me. Well, only when the fire is not lit.

Cheers,
Nick

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I would disagree with this. Patience definitely, but not insisting.
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Old 19.03.2012, 08:07
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Re: Bi-lingual toddler matters...

As others said, don't worry about it too much. If you continue to speak to her in English, she will pick it up, it just might take longer for her to speak it, but believe me she is absorbing it. Be consistent, and always speak english with her, let her other parent, childcare, etc. speak their native language.

I had the exact same situation with my daughter. From early age went to french speaking daycare, I only spoke english to her 100%. Every word out of her mouth from age 0 to 3 was 100% French. It was indeed frustrating, but I could tell she understood English, just preferred to speak french. Went to visit relatives in english speaking country just after age 3, and miracle, she started speaking english after being submerged in english environment for several weeks. Thereafter, always spoke english with me.
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