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Old 08.09.2011, 12:19
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daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

Hi guys,

Thought Id throw this out there and maybe parents who are 5 to 10 years ahead of us (ie with older children) could give their been-there-done-that input.

My daughter is 3. At home we speak swiss-german (my husband is swiss) and english (me). I work parttime. During this time she is in a local creche that she thankfully loves. She now talks all the time. But its all swiss german.

Recently after reading to her (in english) she was asking me something about the story in swiss-german and I said "darling you should speak to mammy in english" (or something to that effect) and she said "iiiiii kaaaaaaaa nür dütsch rede weiiiiiissssss". It was actually very funny but made me feel very sad. I didnt say anything just went on and answered her question. I suppose Im worried about communication going forward. Im already not understanding her as her german has passed mine. I am doing lessons but they are high german and she is speaking swiss german. Im also worried about the teenage years which are notorious for poor communication even when you speak the same language.

Im not complaining. She is healthy, she loves the creche (which is the other major source of swiss-german), she will go to local school so its great that she is competent in the lingo and I dont have to worry about her settling in and making friends (other than the usual worries) - I suppose Im just lonely for the chatter that could be in english.
Its making me homesick !!!

So, can other parents shed light on what itll be like down the line? We are trying to be very consistent, mammy speaking english, daddy swiss-german. If she asks me anything in swiss-german I repeat the question in english and then answer. So our converstaions are like this:

3yr old: machst du?
mammy: you mean - what am I doing?
3yr old: yah
mammy: Im.....

Sometimes I get her to repeat the question in english but I rarely force the matter. Other than that - any hints. Am I right to be more worried about the teenage years (than I already should be....iykwim)

Input much appreciated
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Old 08.09.2011, 12:22
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

A friend of mine has a 12-year old who has been raised German/French bilingual. She is not as nice as you though and simply ignores the child if she speaks French to her, only answers if she speaks German. Maybe someting to try, tell her that you only understand English?
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Old 08.09.2011, 13:10
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

My mum refused to speak or understand any German, so I quickly learned to make an effort with my English. She also provided me with English story cassettes, books, films, the lot. Despite growing up in Switzerland, I speak English with no accent (sadly also without any regional colour at all) and have a pretty decent vocabulary. It was of course easier to do this as my mum raised me without someone speaking German in the house but I reckon if you are strict about not understanding any German, then that should work. Maybe get your husband to speak English as much as he can too?
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Old 08.09.2011, 13:22
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

She's speaking German because it's what seems most natural to her - it's the language of her friends at the creche and also of half her family. Swiss German is going to be her first language (unless you move somewhere else of course), and I don't think you can or should do anything to stop that.

Even if she doesn't want to speak English, she is assimilating it all the time you are speaking to her, and at some point (when she chooses) you will probably find that she will start talking in English as well.

My daughter grew up in France with a French mother and English father. Both of us spoke to her in French most of the time (I would say 80% French, 20% English) and never made any attempt to use English in a structured way. Despite this, she still assimilated the language from the bits and pieces she picked up in everyday conversations that happened to start in English, and was fluent by about the age of 8.

My conclusion would be: don't worry, she is learning English and will use it when she feels that there is a logical reason to do so - though I can understand that this is tough for you.
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Old 08.09.2011, 13:39
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

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Even if she doesn't want to speak English, she is assimilating it all the time you are speaking to her, and at some point (when she chooses) you will probably find that she will start talking in English as well.
I disagree with this, my mother didn't follow the same strict regime with my younger siblings and they speak English reluctantly, with a fairly strong Swiss-German accent and a much smaller range of vocabulary than myself. They understand most things, of course, but they don't have such a broad active vocabulary.

Last edited by Kittster; 08.09.2011 at 13:50. Reason: Swiss-German rather than Swiss... :-)
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Old 08.09.2011, 13:48
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

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I disagree with this, my mother didn't follow the same strict regime with my younger siblings and they speak English reluctantly, with a fairly strong Swiss accent and a much smaller range of vocabulary than myself. They understand most things, of course, but they don't have such a broad active vocabulary.
I agree with this. Most stuff I have read has said that each parent should rigidly stick with his or her mother-tongue and don't mix up languages. If two parents are each speaking a different language then that's fine so long as each keeps to their own tongue.

I only speak English with my son and he only ever hears me speak German if we are out and about and/or with people who don't speak English.

Lately he's heard a few words in school in German that he doesn't get and asks me what they are in English. Unfortunately he'd never heard the words in English before either and gets frustrated that neither language can help him understand something.

Nonetheless, we intend to stick to our various mother-tongues at home.
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Old 08.09.2011, 13:48
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

I am very concerned too. My 3 years old can speak to us in our own language but I am very scared of what it will happen soon.

I speak to her in french, hubby speaks to her in turkish. We speak and watch TV in english. So 3 main languages in the house at all time.

She is starting preschool next week in Catalan. We don't know Catalan. Hubby and I will start our spanish classes.

So she will be in 4 languages and by the age of 6 (when the schools switch to Spanish) she will learn a 5th one.

I really don't see how this will work out....
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Old 08.09.2011, 13:51
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

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I am very concerned too. My 3 years old can speak to us in our own language but I am very scared of what it will happen soon.

I speak to her in french, hubby speak to her in turkish. We speak and watch TV in english. So 3 main languages in the house at all time.

She is starting preschool next week in Catalan. I don't know Catalan. Hubby and I will start our spanish classes.

So she will be in 4 languages and by the age of 6 (when the schools switch to Spanish) she will learn a 5th one.

I really don't see how this will workout....
A good friend of mine was brought up jointly with French/German/Swiss German, studied in English in the UK and is married to a Portuguese-speaking Brazilian. She is fluent in all of those languages with almost no accent.

Lucky cow.
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Old 08.09.2011, 13:52
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

I grew up in England with German speaking parents, so - sort of - been-there-done-that kind of situation.

I started speaking English in Kindergarten and obviously picked it up just as your daughter is picking up Swiss German. My mother couldn't speak a word of English when they moved over there, so my sister and I rapidly overtook her. At home conversations were always a complete muddle of both languages but my parents didn't mind. I read books in English and German, we visited our family in Germany, at home with my friends and at school I spoke English. It was the most natural thing in the world to speak both completely interchangeably.

Over the next couple of years obviously one language will start to dominate the other, but I wouldn't worry about it too much yet. Just keep on speaking to her in English and get her to read (once she starts) children's books in English or watch CBBC or something like that. She'll absorb the language from you. At the moment she probably doesn't want to be "different" from her peers, but that's natural. Once she grows out of that phase she'll be proud of her advantage and hopefully start speaking both languages.
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Old 08.09.2011, 13:52
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

Don't worry, Nil, she will get it, if she can master three languages already, then two more won't make a difference. If anything, she will be incredibly lucky in later life, imagine what an asset an employee who speaks so many very different languages is!
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Old 08.09.2011, 14:01
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

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Hi guys,

Thought Id throw this out there and maybe parents who are 5 to 10 years ahead of us (ie with older children) could give their been-there-done-that input.

My daughter is 3. At home we speak swiss-german (my husband is swiss) and english (me). I work parttime. During this time she is in a local creche that she thankfully loves. She now talks all the time. But its all swiss german.

Recently after reading to her (in english) she was asking me something about the story in swiss-german and I said "darling you should speak to mammy in english" (or something to that effect) and she said "iiiiii kaaaaaaaa nür dütsch rede weiiiiiissssss". It was actually very funny but made me feel very sad. I didnt say anything just went on and answered her question. I suppose Im worried about communication going forward. Im already not understanding her as her german has passed mine. I am doing lessons but they are high german and she is speaking swiss german. Im also worried about the teenage years which are notorious for poor communication even when you speak the same language.

Im not complaining. She is healthy, she loves the creche (which is the other major source of swiss-german), she will go to local school so its great that she is competent in the lingo and I dont have to worry about her settling in and making friends (other than the usual worries) - I suppose Im just lonely for the chatter that could be in english.
Its making me homesick !!!

So, can other parents shed light on what itll be like down the line? We are trying to be very consistent, mammy speaking english, daddy swiss-german. If she asks me anything in swiss-german I repeat the question in english and then answer. So our converstaions are like this:

3yr old: machst du?
mammy: you mean - what am I doing?
3yr old: yah
mammy: Im.....

Sometimes I get her to repeat the question in english but I rarely force the matter. Other than that - any hints. Am I right to be more worried about the teenage years (than I already should be....iykwim)

Input much appreciated


When my family and I moved to Canada years ago, my little sister was very young and refused to speak English; she insisted that she will forever only speak Romanian

My parents only spoke English to her, however, and even though it seemed like she was not getting anything out of it (she would only respond in Romanian), one day she suddenly started speaking in (perfect) English. Your daughter is absorbing the language even if she doesn't want to speak it right now, I wouldn't be too worried. Children can learn languages extremely fast, so as long as you keep speaking to her in English, you will definitely be able to communicate when she is older.
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Old 08.09.2011, 14:11
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

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My mum refused to speak or understand any German, so I quickly learned to make an effort with my English. She also provided me with English story cassettes, books, films, the lot. Despite growing up in Switzerland, I speak English with no accent (sadly also without any regional colour at all) and have a pretty decent vocabulary. It was of course easier to do this as my mum raised me without someone speaking German in the house but I reckon if you are strict about not understanding any German, then that should work. Maybe get your husband to speak English as much as he can too?
I totally agree with this. In our case, the kids grew up in the Middle East and went to English schools. They only spoke English at home and our concern was that they would forget their mother tongue and the national language. At home, we refused to speak anything but the mother tongue. Not being strict or anything - just pointing out, sometimes jokingly that we didn't understand English. It worked like a treat.

Subsequently, they came to CH. Now as adults, they speak English like natives, the mother tongue and our national language. Additionally, they are fluent in Swiss German, High German and French. They are very pleased with the way things have gone since they can now see the benefits of being multilingual.

Dont worry about young children - they have enormous capacity to absorb and learn.
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Old 08.09.2011, 14:20
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

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I am very concerned too. My 3 years old can speak to us in our own language but I am very scared of what it will happen soon.

I speak to her in french, hubby speaks to her in turkish. We speak and watch TV in english. So 3 main languages in the house at all time.

She is starting preschool next week in Catalan. We don't know Catalan. Hubby and I will start our spanish classes.

So she will be in 4 languages and by the age of 6 (when the schools switch to Spanish) she will learn a 5th one.

I really don't see how this will work out....
It will dont worry. I had the same discussion with a colleague just yesterday. His daughters were in the same situation as yours and by the time they started school they were fluent in four languages
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Old 08.09.2011, 14:23
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

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I am very concerned too. My 3 years old can speak to us in our own language but I am very scared of what it will happen soon.

I speak to her in french, hubby speaks to her in turkish. We speak and watch TV in english. So 3 main languages in the house at all time.

She is starting preschool next week in Catalan. We don't know Catalan. Hubby and I will start our spanish classes.

So she will be in 4 languages and by the age of 6 (when the schools switch to Spanish) she will learn a 5th one.

I really don't see how this will work out....
My best friend here is technically Spanish, but raised in France and considers French as her main language. She is married to a German guy, whom she met in Ireland, so as a couple they speak English together (but both also know each other's languages).

They have two young kids, who speak perfect French with their mother, perfect German with their father, clearly understand the English that the adults speak together and use this sometimes too at a reasonable level for miniature non-native, never-taught speakers, and have sufficient Spanish for communication with their Spanish grandparents, which comes on in leaps and bounds whenever they spend a couple of weeks there.

Astounding things, little kids.
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Old 08.09.2011, 14:24
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

Thanks for the input guys,

So a couple of things.

I do only speak english to her. Its easy to do this as my German is rubbish!
It wont be long now where when I say "I dont understand can you say that in english" Ill be telling the truth.

I do also read in english to her (I love books and hope that she will learn to love them too) and Im the one that does the bedtime story. Also if I turn on the television it is cbeebies.

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I disagree with this, my mother didn't follow the same strict regime with my younger siblings and they speak English reluctantly, with a fairly strong Swiss-German accent and a much smaller range of vocabulary than myself. They understand most things, of course, but they don't have such a broad active vocabulary.
This is my fear. I know she will get some grasp of it. I would like her to be fluent though. Im also worried that it will become a tool when she is a teenager to isolate herself, ie my mum doesnt understand me - literally!!!
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Old 08.09.2011, 14:27
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

When my son started going to infant school at three he got a bit stubborn about not speaking English with me but as he grew up he learnt it had it's uses- speaking with friends, family and even with children of other nationalities who know English...
It does sort itself out in the end but use English yourself to keep her exposed to it, cartoons, films, tv etc. in English only at home as an extra incentive perhaps.
Try not to give in to pressure from her to use German, (though I wasn't too strict about rules on that, but drawing the line in the company of other English speakers).
Now he is older it is him who always, always speaks English to me and he is so proud of it too!

Last edited by mabern; 08.09.2011 at 14:54.
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Old 08.09.2011, 14:33
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

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Lately he's heard a few words in school in German that he doesn't get and asks me what they are in English. Unfortunately he'd never heard the words in English before either and gets frustrated that neither language can help him understand something.
Yes we have similiar issues.
For example recently with my 3 yr old we had to do a time out step session (for punching her sister who is 11 months). She did the time out and at the end I did the whole "do you understand why mammy put you in time out....we dont hit eachother....can you say sorry to your sister etc."
She muttered something and I said "please say sorry" this went on a while when I realized she was saying "entshuldigung" ie Sorry in German.
I felt terrible that I hadnt accepted it the first time and just moved on.
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Old 08.09.2011, 14:36
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

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I am very concerned too. My 3 years old can speak to us in our own language but I am very scared of what it will happen soon.

I speak to her in french, hubby speaks to her in turkish. We speak and watch TV in english. So 3 main languages in the house at all time.

She is starting preschool next week in Catalan. We don't know Catalan. Hubby and I will start our spanish classes.

So she will be in 4 languages and by the age of 6 (when the schools switch to Spanish) she will learn a 5th one.

I really don't see how this will work out....
Dont be concerned at all. And dont make a big deal of this in front of her. In fact, whenever possible, in a non patronising way, keep pointing out to her how much fun (and some times even funny) it is to be able to say the same thing in so many languages. Perhaps make a game out of it. We would play such games when we had to travel long distances by car. The kids loved it.
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Old 08.09.2011, 14:52
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

The key is to keep at it and persist. very soon the kids also understand that its a huge advantage over their friends in that, they can actually speak to their parents in front of their friends without their friends understanding a word. ("Don't say a word about the mess in my room", "keep some cake for me for tomorrow, don't give it all away")
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Old 08.09.2011, 14:57
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Re: daughter only - predominantly - speaking swiss german

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Dont be concerned at all. And dont make a big deal of this in front of her. In fact, whenever possible, in a non patronising way, keep pointing out to her how much fun (and some times even funny) it is to be able to say the same thing in so many languages. Perhaps make a game out of it. We would play such games when we had to travel long distances by car. The kids loved it.
We do!

She can count to 15 in 3 languages and to 10 in Spanish! And she was very proud to show it off to our friends last night! Everytime we go up and down the stairs I count in all those languages with her, she loves it!!!
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