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Old 18.01.2010, 14:35
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Advice on bringing up children bilingually

Hi there,

I'm British and my husband is German. We've been living in Switzerland for 5 years now. We're expecting our first child in April and I have been reading a fair bit about bringing up children bilingually.

I grew up bilingually (English/German) and I'm especially interested to hear from anybody else who was themselves bought up bilingually and now has children. How is it working for you?

Hoping to get some advice through this forum and share experiences.

Best wishes,

Nicola
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Old 18.01.2010, 14:42
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

It's tough.

The rule in our house was always to not talk English to the child and speak our 'mother tongue' (Punjabi) because when they go to school they will learn English anyway!


We did this on my Neice and she speaks perfect English, hardly ever Punjabi, but she understands both perfectly!

She's just turned 3. I guess there isn't a formula which works with all!
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Old 18.01.2010, 14:44
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

hi! i am bilingual too, english and spanish; my son is bilingual, the same languages, but going on trilingual with french in school. i went thru periods of using one over the other, i use each language for different reasons and i've always been very proud of each one, both as a parent and as a child.i'd say the most important thing is to just use the language of your choice for communication and let them choose what language to use to respond in.eventually it all seems to even out and the multilingual kids always have an advantage to the monolingual!
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Old 18.01.2010, 15:07
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

I'm Hongkong Chinese and my husband is French. I talk to my daughter in Chinese and English. My husband talks to her in French and English.

She is now 2yrs & 4 months old. She understand French, English and Chinese but speaks more in English which is the common language in the family. She starts to speak more french after going to nursery.

I attended a seminar for 'raising multi-lingual' kids a couple of months ago and was told that it was wrong to have same persons speaking more than 1 language to kid but i really don't want her to lose her mother tongue and that up to now, it's still OK.

good luck to you.
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Old 18.01.2010, 15:14
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

Hi Muffin

did you do that training in Switzerland? if yes, could you please let me know where? I would be very interested. I grew up with English at home and French at school. My husband is Swiss German. I bought a book about the whole thing but I am finding it hard to keep up either the English or the French! Thanks
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Old 18.01.2010, 15:19
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

When one parent speaks English and the other Swiss German, your kids will understand English but not speak perfectly.

When both parents speak English, your kids will understand and speak perfectly.

As an English speaking parent, I sometimes get frustrated that my kids are learning English here from me but my Swiss isn't improving because I've put my kids' interests before mine.
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Old 18.01.2010, 15:20
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

Hi Muffin,

Yes, I'd also be interested in knowing more about where you did that seminar - sounds interesting.

Nicola
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Old 18.01.2010, 15:32
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

Yes, very well. 3 children, bilingual/tri-lingual.

Important that one person speaks only that one language to them until they sort out the languages well (usually around 4 years), or that the environment determines language (home vs. creche/school) for example.

Children were bi-lingual from creche (french) and home (english) from the time started talking. One child favoured french, other one english (exact same upbringing). Note, they may start speaking somewhat later (about 18 months) than monolingual children, but nothing to worry about, when they figure out the 2 languages, nothing holds them back. Although they do subsitute a english word in french phrase/ or vise-versa from time to time; important to correct this.

Have added third language (German/swiss german) at age 4; did not want to push/confuse too much/too early. Going very well. Know a few other kids with 4 languges, and some having major difficulty, would say children can handle 2-3 languages, but 4 languages at a very early age can be very difficult.
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Old 18.01.2010, 15:37
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

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When one parent speaks English and the other Swiss German, your kids will understand English but not speak perfectly.

When both parents speak English, your kids will understand and speak perfectly.

As an English speaking parent, I sometimes get frustrated that my kids are learning English here from me but my Swiss isn't improving because I've put my kids' interests before mine.
We had a different experience -- Our daughter understands and speaks English, high German and Swiss German fluently, at 6 years old. We were very consistent from the beginning that we each speak our mother tongue at home, the the Swiss German she picks up in the real world (krippe, kiga, playground, etc).
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Old 18.01.2010, 15:37
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

if a child is exposed to more than one language they will understand (and hopefully speak) more than one language. if both parents speak different languages to a child- the mother speaks spanish and the father speaks english, the child can learn both perfectly, there is not a clear formula for these things. as i said, my son is bilingual, as he learned to read in english, i taught him to read in spanish; as he learned to write, i did the same. he has strengths and weaknesses in both, of course, but it is much better than anyone learn their second or third language in school or later on. as for choosing one language to speak to a child in, this is only a theory and there is evidence both suggesting and denying this. my family speak a mix of languages now at gatherings, and childrenwho can decipher and organize the information they are getting accordingly. lastly, language acquisition is a really individual process; just like learning as an adult. there are so many different ways of learning and it's very dependant on the person/child. a seminar or course may give you some generalities, but often they are not acrossthe board and the moment your child is not following stages or learning as explained will be when we as parents start to stress, which is crazy b.c most of all language learning is a natural process, like learning to walk. if we leave kids to there own and just expose them to the target languages- they'll get it.

and this i know- because i was going for my grad degree in linguistics (syntax and lang acquisition) when my son just started talking- i was so careful and a bit worried and in 9 years of research; as a parent and as a linguist and as a teacher- i can see how natural it is!
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Old 18.01.2010, 15:41
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

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We had a different experience -- Our daughter understands and speaks English, high German and Swiss German fluently, at 6 years old. We were very consistent from the beginning that we each speak our mother tongue at home, the the Swiss German she picks up in the real world (krippe, kiga, playground, etc).
And it always helps to visit your "home" country so your kids have to use English etc... in everyday circumstances.

And not to forget, some kids are linguistically gifted, others are not.
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Old 18.01.2010, 15:48
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

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And it always helps to visit your "home" country so your kids have to use English etc... in everyday circumstances.

And not to forget, some kids are linguistically gifted, others are not.
Unfortunately we rarely get "home," but somehow it still works out....but I would also agree on your second point -- I think we were rather lucky that she's good with languages in general.
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Old 18.01.2010, 15:52
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

I can warmly recommend this book by Tracy Tokuhama-Espinosa.
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Old 18.01.2010, 15:52
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

We have two girls - 12 and 10. We speak English at home and they attend French schools (have done so for 5 or 6 years now). They are perfectly bilingual both written and oral. We hardly ever speak French at home.

I honestly believe there are only two main considerations from the children's point of view:

1. Who speaks which language
2. How often they are exposed to and use the respective language

As children get older they will be dominated by the language of choice of their friends. Parent in my opinion have about 7 or 8 years to install a second or third language and if left until after that it will be very difficult for a child to be "naturally fluent".

I also know a couple who are German/French and they live in the south of France. the father speak German to his boy but French is more dominant (his mother speaks it at home and he speaks it at school).

We are moving to Switzerland in a few months time and the big concern is how the girls will cope with German. I am also concerned they will start to lose their French.

My guess is if we stay in the German speaking part of Switzerland for more then 5 years then their dominant language will be German, then English, then French.
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Old 18.01.2010, 15:54
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

What's important is to only speak to your children in languages in which you are fluent, especially when they are very young. To do otherwise can harm their acquisition of language skills. That is, they may not learn to speak any language properly.

My wife and I fluent English and intermediate German and French speakers. We speak English almost exclusively at home. Our kids gained fluency in German quite quickly. And of course are fluent in English, and that is their dominant language.
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Old 18.01.2010, 15:57
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

When we arrived in France our pediatrician there told us the following..."It's fine to speak to the kids in french, but only french that you are sure is the correct pronunciation. Otherwise the kids will learn the incorrent way, and it will make it harder for them to re-learn it right later. That goes also for saying part of a sentence in one language, and finnishing it another." Our kids now speak english mostly perfect, french with an excellent french accent, Swiss german, and German. They also understand, but cannot reply in Portugese and Spanish.
I'll tell ya, it's VERY tiring correcting yourself, and them every moment of the day. Because if you don't they will think it's ok. But they are now speaking much better, and are very interested in learning new languages and cultural "stuff". We were also told by the pediatrician here that when a child tries to learn a 3rd langauge, even if he won't be using it the rest of his/her life, it opens up a part of the brain that enables problem solving and mathematics to come easier, because now the brain understand there isn't just one way of looking at a problem. I don't know. I think I am pretty OK in 3 langauges but don't ask me to add up the bar tab, cause I'll always come up short.
But I think it's worth the time invested with your child.
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Old 18.01.2010, 16:03
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

Nice thread. My wife was German and we brought up our first girl bilingual against the advise of the teachers in the German school she went to.
She speaks of course German and a beautiful Lancashire tinted English with a hint of a German accent. When she was younger there was a time when you could hear words like a Kammbrush and a Vogelbird or a Autocar.
Our second daughter was not so lucky as we got a divorce (thank you god) when she was still very young, now at 16 she has a hard time trying to catch up.
If you can then give your children the gift of being bilingual they can take it.
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Old 18.01.2010, 16:22
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

Experts say that real bilingual children do not exist or it depends on the definition of bilingual.

Being bilingual means conversing and writing in both languages which is truly extremely rare in infancy, with a great number of exceptions. Why is that so?

Because parents and educator took the liberty in training the child in speaking rather than writing& speaking in both languages which is not easy and very, very confusing for the child. It will be therefore advised to train the child in speaking the 2 languages as indicated by posts on this forum.

And once writing skills are established in at least one of the language, introduce the second. This can be done from kindergarten Though. My bigger child (now 14) attended a bilingual Montessori kindergarten (not in Switzerland sorry) where both languages were taught at the same time, which means that activity one is done in English and activity 2 in French (German, Italian). Same tomorrow until the activity is over. A new activity will be coached in any of the 2 languages. When introducing writing in each activity, it is indtroduced in the language of the activity in order to strongly structure the language via listening, repetition, codifications of sounds , handwriting codes and so on.

Most schools claim to be bilingual but they do not offer such conmplex arrangements (it needs 2 teachers per class at least). In most cases one language is dominant and the second is taught as a Foreign language, which is a totally different approach, and psycho-pedagogic system. Results might differ.
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Old 18.01.2010, 16:33
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

My children write in french, german/swiss german, and english. We work with them daily on it. They can read it too. They know the difference between the different words, being this language and that. I expect most other kids that are speaking 2 languages or more here in Switzerland are doing the same. Or alteast that what I have been told.
I however can't even write my own language correctly. I scarifice the need to be correct with the love of being yokal. Y'all!
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Old 18.01.2010, 16:35
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Re: Advice on bringing up children bilingually

Don't they do it at Obersee?
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