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Old 07.09.2012, 23:24
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Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

Hi guys,

My kids are exposed to 5 languages on a daily basis (French, English, Turkish, Spanish and Catalan). I find it a bit too much, somehow. My daughter, who understands all of them speaks to me in the local language (Catalan), which I don't understand.

So I guess I am asking two questions here;

1- how do you manage with a child who speak to you in the local language when at home?

2- I am thinking to cut off the French and speak English to them. As no one else beside me and my parents (over the phone or webcam) speak to her in French. I understand Turkish but my husband doesn't understand french, so I pass my time to translate to him anyway and it is our "couple" language. So what do you think?

Nil
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Old 07.09.2012, 23:27
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

2 words: don't worry
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Old 07.09.2012, 23:33
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

Hey Nil. Pretty remarkable mix! I think the mother/ father tongue is so special that it cannot be overridden. Since coming to CH , I hear that the current theory is that each parent speaks her/ his language exclusively,no matter in what language the kids respond. The local language, they will not be able to avoid , except if they are living in an expat bubble. English, they will learn some version of anyway. How's that?
My dad didn't talk to me in his own language , and I reallly missing not having learned it. It would have been another door opener.
Now, I speak my mother tongue to my kids. THe first and second child (11 and 8) speak it to differnt degrees, but we still got time...Just my two cents.

Last edited by Simeon; 08.09.2012 at 00:21. Reason: Typo
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Old 07.09.2012, 23:35
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

I may be totally wrong here, but I would say the important ones are:

- French (your language)
- Turkish (your husband's language)
- Catalan (school/friends/local language)

English will come over the years given the international environment you are in, and it sounds like Spanish is there or on its way already.
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Old 07.09.2012, 23:43
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

I worry about that with my baby boy. His father speaks 5 languages, and I only speak 1.2775 (if you count my bad German). My husband's mother speaks Italian to the baby. So I fear he's going to grow up confused.

I've heard, though, that children pick up languages really easily. I wish I could.

But I do think it's great that your children are exposed to so many languages and cultures. I wish I had been, when I was growing up in the U.S. I sometimes feel a bit ashamed of the fact that I only speak 1.2775.
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Old 08.09.2012, 01:02
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

Really good thread about this here:
Multilingual problems - can baby learn 4 languages???

I'd say just the same as I did there - there's areas of the world where it's really common to learn 4, 5, 6 languages as a child (India, some areas of West Africa). You will end up with different levels of fluency according to how much you use each one, but there's no limit as such.
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Old 08.09.2012, 01:28
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

Don't worry, my first daughter had German and English, ok we had a Vogelbird for a while and a Kämmbrush and a balloon was a Luftbaboon but it sorted it's self after a while, number one speaks the finest Bavarian tinted Blackburnese you could hope for, number two daughter did not get the chance and is sorely miffed at number one.
This tread reminds me of this little comic.
Attached Thumbnails
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Old 08.09.2012, 08:53
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

I don't understand the problem of your daughter talking to you in Catalan. If she wants a cookie, she'll have to talk to you in a language you understand. "Sorry sweetie, I don't understand that language". She'll soon learn that "Catalan to mummy" = "No cookie".

If she does it to annoy - ignore her. If she throws a tantrum - ignore her. The lack of attention will soon bring her into line.
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Old 08.09.2012, 10:07
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

I just think it is important to stay consistent. No problems to expose her to many languages but it will be confusing if Mom sometimes speaks French and sometimes English and sometimes... The brain should not first have to figure out from what language library the words should be retrieved. One face, one language. I would not sacrifice the French.
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Old 08.09.2012, 10:07
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

I've heard from several separate sources, including my son's teacher and I attended a seminar on multi-lingual children advocating that mums should speak to their kids in mum's mother-tongue as it's the most natural.

That's not to say you can't speak to her in whichever language is appropriate with other people around (i.e English when your husband is around or Spanish when you are in the local shops) but when it's mum and daughter time you should stick to your mother-tongue.

Basically it's to make sure that kids get a native flawless base-level of a language in which they can benchmark the rest of the languages they will learn.

I always talk to my son in English but he knows I switch to German if his friends are over or we are out shopping but as a result, his English is probably on a par with his peers in the UK. I don't make a big fuss if he messes up his word order or slips in a German word, I just repeat his sentence back to him (as a kind of affirmation) but say it in the correct way.

"Is Daddy bringing me to school?"
"Yes, Daddy is taking you to school tomorrow."
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Old 08.09.2012, 10:11
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

As long as you are speaking your mother tongue to your child, everything else will 'click' into place. The loss occurs when the parents speak a 'broken' language to their children.

we have 3-4-5 year olds at work who come with zero english or German, and within a year can speak more english than their parents. The parents who try to speak 'broken' english or german to their children, undermine the process because the child copies their poor pronunciation and grammar, and have to 'unlearn' this.

I have been told that my children have wider vocabulary and better pronunciation in high German, than their swiss counterparts, because the swiss kids mush the two together, whereas my children have very separate categories because neither is their mother tongue.

Not sure if that helps, but the way I explain it to parents is that the mother tongue is the foundation for language development in the brain - the mother tongue is broad, deep, rich, emotional, humorous, contextual, well pronounced and correctly articulated. It has logic, sequence and concepts that are part of the culture as well as the natural process of communication. When the parents deny their child their 'mother' tongue they are placing a limitation onto the child. But I understand in some cultures, mother tongues are discouraged (German was lost to English within two generations in my family)...

The mother tongue gives a constant base for your child, against all the other changes as you move around the world. It also connects us to our roots.

I would encourage you to keep French as your mother tongue, Turkish for the father, Turkish as your 'couple' language as he doesn't understand french, (or do you speak english as your 'couple' language?).

That's based on a belief that if a child has a broad, rich, deep mother tongue, they layer on the other languages more easily.

If she's under 12, I'd assume mostly that speaking to you in Catalan is spontaneous, rather than deliberate, and shows that she's picking up the new languages very quickly. If kids at work speak to me in German, I repeat what they said (if I understood it) back to them in English:

Child: in whatever language other than english asks for a cookie:
Adult: (in english) "Oh, would you like a cookie? Cookie please ?"

Then we move on. We don't force the child to repeat. We deliver the words they need. Sometimes they will spontaneously repeat back what they need, and sometimes they won't.

It's also 100% normal for kids to develop a method where they speak in their 'school' language, and the parents always reply back in the mother tongue. I do this at work - other adults speak to me in German, I speak back in English... we understand each other because we are mostly all bilingual.

Sorry to rant on..I love this topic, it's such a great stretch for the brain...
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Old 08.09.2012, 10:43
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

I know many disagree with me - but i agree with Stephen is this is backed up by lots of research- three is great, any more and you get confusion which can be very long-term, in the vast majority of children.

I really think that you should not drop your mother tongue and speak French rather than English.
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Old 08.09.2012, 10:53
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

Right! And it would be a good chance for hubby to learn French
Many people critisize that I shouldn't speak to my kid in German as it is not my main language, but I feel he is exposed to enough English in other forms (music, youtube, radio, grandpa, books, etc.). But once my husbands' school is finished... well all I can say is, there will be a lot more English here at home (I know his language, I think it would be great for him to learn mine too)

PS... I just wanted to add that I think it is important not to forget that French is a national language of Switzerland and will only give your kids an advantage if you plan on living here long term (or forever)

Last edited by Puhutes; 08.09.2012 at 11:55. Reason: added PS
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Old 08.09.2012, 11:01
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

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I really think that you should not drop your mother tongue and speak French rather than English.
I completely agree with this. It is so easy for you as a parent to make a mistake in a foreign language and create a subtle barrier without realising.

I really wish I had the chance as a youngster to be exposed to so many languages. You are not pushing these languages on the child in a classroom, it is coming from the environment, so it doesn't "count" as towards overload in the same way.
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Old 08.09.2012, 11:31
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

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I agree with Stephen is this is backed up by lots of research- three is great, any more and you get confusion which can be very long-term, in the vast majority of children.
That's not really what I was trying to say... what I meant was just that the priority languages should be the parents' mother tongues plus the local language.

I don't think that defaulting to English as the "lowest common denominator" would be a good idea, given that it is not the mother tongue of any of the people involved.
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Old 08.09.2012, 11:48
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

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Right! And it would be a good chance for hubby to learn French
Many people critisize that I shouldn't speak to my kid in German as it is not my main language, but I feel he is exposed to enough English in other forms (music, youtube, radio, grandpa, books, etc.). But once my husbands' school is finished... well all I can say is, there will be a lot more English here at home (I know his language, I think it would be great for him to learn mine too)
That is also an important point - I think first and foremost parents should speak the language with which they feel the most comfortable and/or is appropriate for their situation at the time.

Experts are great for looking at the general cross-section but I firmly agree that parents ultimately make the best decision for their own kids.
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Old 08.09.2012, 12:09
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

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... but say it in the correct way.

"Is Daddy bringing me to school?"
"Yes, Daddy is taking you to school tomorrow."
Except in England you'll often here the first one. So is it really incorrect?

The expert opinion is that if you primarily speak to your child in a language in which you're not fluent, then you harm the language acquisition abilities of the child, and they will be less fluent in ALL languages. There's a generic language acquisition skill, and there's specific language skills. It's important to lay a proper foundation.

Of course experts get it wrong. But non-experts are more likely to get it wrong.
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Old 08.09.2012, 12:13
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

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Except in England you'll often here the first one. So is it really incorrect?
I've never heard it in such a context, though... You'd say "Daddy's bringing you home" i.e. from there to here but you "take" someone from here to there.

I was looking at it from a "false friend" point of view between English and German where the two have been confused "since" years...
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Old 08.09.2012, 19:40
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

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Really good thread about this here:
Multilingual problems - can baby learn 4 languages???

I'd say just the same as I did there - there's areas of the world where it's really common to learn 4, 5, 6 languages as a child (India, some areas of West Africa). You will end up with different levels of fluency according to how much you use each one, but there's no limit as such.
Agreed. Have a friend who is half Swiss/half West African. Grew up in West Africa until circa age 12-13. Then spoke English and 3 tribal languages. Moved to Switzerland at 13. Learnt German, Swiss-German and later French. Today speaks West African main Mother Tongue tribal language, English, German, Swiss-German and French fluently.
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Old 08.09.2012, 20:54
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Re: Multilingual kids- when is it too many?

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I just think it is important to stay consistent. No problems to expose her to many languages but it will be confusing if Mom sometimes speaks French and sometimes English and sometimes... The brain should not first have to figure out from what language library the words should be retrieved. One face, one language. I would not sacrifice the French.
Couldn't disagree more - I know plenty of people who have had spoken two or more languages to their children, and it's worked out perfectly fine.

Typically, they used the rule of one language at home, one on the street and ended up fluent in both.

Children often go through a phase where languages get muddled, but it's amazing how quickly they learn to separate them - even when they hear a word in isolation they've never heard before, more often than not they'll work out which language it belongs to.
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