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  #21  
Old 04.01.2011, 13:38
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

Coming from Malaysia, we had to learn two languages, English (2nd language) and Malay (primary language). During my school days, it was mandatory to pass my Malay language during exams with strong credit or repeat a whole year in one of the public exams (there were 4 during my time). I recalled a failed attempt during primary school to teach us Arabic. Those of us from the Chinese/Tamil schools had to clear a 3rd language, Mandarin/Tamil. It is one thing to learn languages in A, B, C but quite another in Chinese, Sanskrit or Arabic.

Along the way, I picked up Cantonese which was the language of transaction amongst the Malaysian Chinese in my hometown and Hokkien (well, since we were Peranakans, we had another mixed up language/dialect). My father's dialect group was Eng Hua, it's almost dead in China which wasn't that 'hot' amongst us siblings or mum. Decided to learn Mandarin in Singapore, and now ready to immerse in German and SG.

I think most Malaysians grew up in this land of colourful languages/dialects and learned to accept our diversity earlier on.

How's that for a change?

Don't mean to hijack your thread, just giving another perspective.
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  #22  
Old 04.01.2011, 14:14
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

My sister and I grew up in England; at home my parents spoke German to us and we answered either in German or English, the rest of our environment was solely in English. As Mrs Doolittle said: your kids are growing up completely bilingual and that's a gift
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Old 04.01.2011, 14:23
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

30 years ago some delegated came around to check if you really speak (swiss)german and not your first language at home! So I lost a lot of my english, sadly. When my daughther was born, I talked to her english, and the child protection service came around to tell me it's not good for the child. She'll have difficulties later in School. Today they say it's good if a child growes up bilingual. That's also my oppinion.
So it could be worse. I guess it's just cool for your kids at the moment to talk in german. It'll change, I guess.
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Old 04.01.2011, 14:37
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

Persist!

I like the suggestion of making english your 'home' language for a while - since you know your kids are already getting a good spread of German because it is the dominant language...

Oh, and the other recommendation would be to plan your summer holidays in an English-speaking country...and book the kids in at a kids camp or something similar, run in English, so that they can socialise with other kids who don't speak German...

And just keep on persisting...and reduce how much swiss-german you are using around the house...stick to English...
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Old 04.01.2011, 15:11
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

I grew up with my Dad only ever speaking to me (and my brother) in Swiss german. We always answered in English, he never complained, never pestered us to respond in Swiss-German.

When I came over here, it took about 3 months to be able to learn and speak Swiss-German comfortably (relatively). I always felt a bit guilty responding in english, but it worked out fine in the long run. Now I automatically respond in Swiss-German when he speaks to me, and a lot of the time he now talks to me in english (which is very strange to hear).

Ideally I would have loved to grow up in a Swiss school, where I would learn Swiss-German socially, high-german from school and lastly English (easiest to just pick up from TV or from parents).
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Old 04.01.2011, 15:27
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

My kids are still very young, so have no "problem" yet. The oldest one (2) automatically switches the second we enter his daycare. However, I have prepared myself a bit by reading up on the subject. They suggest you make them meet other kids, whose mother tongue is also your mother tongue. Otherwise, they sometimes think it's a secret language, that you only speak at home and there is no use for it anywhere else and they see no point in learning or speaking it.
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  #27  
Old 04.01.2011, 16:08
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

I speak Italian to our 2 yr old and my husband German, she goes to local Krippe where mostly SG is spoken and hubby an di speak English together, but not with her.

Very often she would say sentences to me in SG/Italian mixing things and same to her father.

When we genuinely do not understand then we tell her to try again (my German is quite good but hubby's italian is not )

When I do understand, I simply repeat back to her in Italian "Oh you mean this and this? This is how you say it to mommy"

We did not want to lie by pretending not to understand to force her as we feel she is too little at the moment to really know the difference between languages and we are happy she is speaking at all given the amount she hears

I would also say like others have to perservere: I learnt English when I was 11 and my parents moved abroad and it was made clear that even though we all spoke English, home language was to remain Italian and nothing else was tolerated. This was a blessing or I would have lost so much of the language

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Old 04.01.2011, 22:40
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

WOW! I never expected so many responses! Thanks to all for your stories and advice. I feel very encouraged to keep (or start) insisting on English. It's one more thing that I will be nagging at them to do (some days that's all I seem to do!), but I will try my hardest to persist and hopefully it won't take long for them to automatically respond to me in English. Just have to stay strong....!
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Old 05.01.2011, 09:15
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

My daughter is only 15 months old so is not at the stage of stringing sentences together but does say individual words. She attends a Swiss-German daycare and hears English only at home. Depending on where she is, she switches her language already!

I must admit, I'm dreading the day she is fluent in SG and I'm not as I worry that she'll be getting into mischief without me knowing
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Old 05.01.2011, 10:09
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

When I first saw your thread I was interested to make a comment - but due to lack of time I only come to it now - unfortunately too many replies for me to read at present - apologies if I repeat what has already been said.
Like you, I'm English speaking (Brit.) and my wife is Swiss (Deutsch sprache); and also like you, I use English and she S-G with our 2 girls (11 & 4). I am at home and she works. I think what may be key in your case, is the language you use to speak with your husband, as the kids will see this as the primary language (at least in the early years). My wife and I have always spoken in English (we met in a 3rd, English speaking country, before I could utter a word of Deutsch), and continue to do so. The girls are obviously exposed to more English in the home. They also watch a lot of English (BBC mainly) TV (comparatively to Swiss or German) - which tends to be on the whole a lot more educational/interesting than the alternatives for kids anyway. I think if you and hubby speak together in S-G, then by changing to English could help (making the assumption he is fluent in English(?)).
Also with 4 kids your problem is compounded by (I'm guessing) the fact that they speak S-G together. If you can encourage them to speak English more together, this will undoubtedly help.
Final point - when the oldest girl was pre-school, I was concerned that her S-G wasn't strong enough (despite wife's family and playing with local kids), as we always spoke about a lot of things in English. Needless to say it was, and has never been a problem - but that amount of English speaking at an early age was crucial.
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Old 05.01.2011, 15:46
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

Very interesting thread with some good suggestions and experiences.

As others have said, the best is to have a strategy that you and your partner agree on at birth. The strategy will depend on the language(s) spoken where you reside, the language(s) that you and your partner speak, and what you and your partners wish your children to speak. I've heard the expression "one person, one language" and although not 100% convinced by the idea, a lot of people are and incidentally it's what they do in the local kindergarten (one teacher - Hoch Deutsch only - takes the class for three days, and the other teacher - Swiss German only - takes the class for the other two days).

However, this does not always happen and so some people find themselves in the situation you describe now. First of all, do not panic. Your children already have an excellent understanding of English, as you have already said. And there are lots of stories of children doing exactly this - understanding language A perfectly, but replying in language B. Generally the child will at some point start actively speaking language B - when and where this is triggered, and how well the speak the language (grammatically, the pronunciation/accent etc) will depend.

In the meantime, you do not just have to wait for that to happen, you can help the process. In my mind there are three major criteria for a second language:
- motivation
- opportunity
- necessity

If the child is not motivated, or does not see the sense/value in learning a second language, things will be hard. Motivation can films/books/games in the second language, trips abroad, sport/cultural activity, relatives etc.

Opportunity - obviously the child needs occasions to practice (actively with you/other people, passively with TV etc).

Lastly, necessity can be a great help. If/when the child realises that the only way to communicate with certain people is in the other language, than can help greatly.

As for our experience, eldest daughter was born in Paris to an English father and French mother. The mother (very good level of English) even made an attempt to speak English at home at first with our daughter. Between us, in front of our daughter the language was English, and privately between the mother and I it remained French. Worked well for us, and for the first few years, both languages were near the same level (neither language was 'behind'). When school started (at 3 years old), the French started to be better than the English.

After the arrival of daughter number 2, things were more difficult (as in more French at home). So I just went more 'fascist', insisting on English at home and moaning when French broke out (or if they 'dared' to be speaking French when I got back from work). A few (the majority?) of bilingual books do not recommend this - they recommend one language per person, and letting the child decide what language to speak and when. I don't quite believe in this - children will take the easier route (language) - and I thought a bit of structure ('English at home!) was required considering the heavy French environment we were living in. Also - important - it made me feel better.

Here in Zurich, with both Germans, I'm a lot cooler But still I think I moaned about excessive French speaking on getting home on Monday night!

Finally, an anecdote that still brings a smile to my face. So eldest daughter is 3-4, and is in her first year at school (in Paris). She is more self conscious now, and like a lot of kids at that age wants to fit in and *not* be different. I was taking her to school at that time, and it was becoming difficult to get her to speak English going to and in school (had to take her in, take off her coat, change shoes etc). So one afternoon when I went to collect her, I speak English as usual. Then a group of older boys (couple of years) come along and hear me speak English. So one of them says something (in French) along the lines of "ahh, you speak English? that's really cool. how do you know English?". My daughter replies that her father is English. Then the boy starts speaking a few words of English he knew and his friends tried to follow. After that no problems for my daughter speaking English. She realised that although she was not the same as "everyone else", her difference was actually something positive!

Last edited by c123; 05.01.2011 at 15:46. Reason: Font size
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  #32  
Old 07.01.2011, 23:35
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

It is important to praise and be positive, that is very true. My child is trilingual and one has to cheer and always stress the advantage, since it is a major work for kids, no matter how easy we think they have it. They don't. They just don't think about their mistakes. It is important not only to keep your mother tongue, but also explain a lot. I first explain words in my mother tongue, then use other languages and make comparison and always end how nice it is she is able to switch, translate, and keep the ease in 3 languages. It makes a big difference.
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  #33  
Old 08.06.2011, 12:12
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

For the past few months, up until a few weeks ago, I gave it my all to try to get my kids to speak English to me. Whenever they started in Swiss-german, I insisted they switch to English. Eventually, I started to pretty much ignore them if they spoke German. The result? Conflicts, arguments, very little communication etc. The mood in our family became quite unbearable.

I've come to the decision that although I would love them to speak English, the fact is that we live here (with no intention of moving anywhere else) and they are at home here and growing up here. So I have changed my way of thinking. It feels much better to feel proud of them than be annoyed with them.

So I continue speaking English to them, but do not expect or insist on a response in English. After making this decision, I happened to stumble in on my daughters as the eldest was reading an English book to the others and I was shocked at how well and pretty much accent-free she could read- this from a girl who rarely picks up a book!

My 1-year-old, who spends more one-to-one time with me than her sisters did, just started talking. I couldn't wait to hear what her first words would be. So, a couple weeks ago, after holding her hands jumping down from a stool for the umteenth time, and my always saying "one, two, THREE!!" what did she say??? "Ace, zwoi, doo" of course!!!
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  #34  
Old 08.06.2011, 12:27
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

Kids hate to be different- mine and so many others rebelled big time and refused to speak French and respond to me in French. I did not force the issue as I thought it was counter-productive. A shame in a way- but they did develop a very good hear and are both bi-lingual now- but always will have a slight accent. As a teacher I've known many kids to rebel in the same way- as they were teased by others and just wanted to 'belong'.
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Old 08.06.2011, 12:56
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

Yes, I agree Odile. Kids just want to fit in and be accepted by others as well as their parents. My relationship with my kids is much better now that they see that I accept them for who they are and how they speak. I think it'll be enough just to hear English- it'll give them an edge and make it easier to learn later on should they choose to do so. I grew up in an English-speaking environment and it was my decision to move here and I did learn the language and I do feel well integrated. It's not really fair to force it on them. My parents often show their annoyance at seeing how "Swiss" the kids are and think they should be more "Canadian". This drives me nuts. Their life is in Switzerland and although I think it would be good for them to have the English and learn about Canada, it won't change the fact that they are Swiss and should be accepted for being Swiss.
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Old 08.06.2011, 13:02
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

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30 years ago some delegated came around to check if you really speak (swiss)german and not your first language at home!
What? They really came?

We always thought that our poor little immigrant parents made this one up!

Probably because mom always added " .. and make sure your rooms aren't a mess, the Swiss like it tidy ...".
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Old 08.06.2011, 13:02
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

I suppose it depends on how long or permanent your stay is. When our kids were born (me French speaking Swiss married to a Brit in the UK) - I was there for life and I felt it was important to belong. My OH did not speak French at the time- so me speaking French to the kids would have excluded him in many ways. We went to CH and France for holidays all the time and had many visitors so they got tuned into the language. One daughter chose to come and spend a term + Summer here in CH when she was 12, and became fully bilingual at that time. Other daughter did a Year part of Erasmus/Masters in France- and again found it very easy to acquire French. Kids going back to UK will very quickly pick it up again- just make sure they are put back a year to give them a chance to get up to speed.
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Old 08.06.2011, 13:06
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

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When we lived in the US I became increasingly frustrated with my older son when I spoke Spanish to him and he answered in English (which happened after he started school). My frustration led me to speaking more and more English at home and after I while we stopped using Spanish. Now I regret this almost daily after seeing how easy my kids have learned German... Don't make the same mistake I made!!!!!
I suggest that you keep speaking English to them even if they answer in German, I bet you they are understanding and retaining everything and the speaking part will come later. Maybe when they get older they'll be more willing to speak it with you. I am trying to spend some time now playing games and reading books in Spanish with my kids which keeps their interest and it doesn't feel like extra work for them (My oldest son is now 10 and he actually remembers a lot of words), hopefully this will begin to mend my dumb mistake.
Good luck!
You and your husband should speak only English in the house and eventually they will pick it up too, my son is 7 and speak 3 languages, he switch from one to another very easy.
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Old 08.06.2011, 13:10
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

Each to their own surely. If parents do not speak the same language, and do not understand each other's language, it is not so easy. In the end, if kids go through phases of refusing to speak another language than the local lingo, you can't force them without being counter-productive and get full on rebellion. We all choose our own priorities.
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Old 08.06.2011, 13:15
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

Up until the age of around six, my son would only answer me in German and I would talk to him in English. Then one day he switched and now only talks to me in English, it really was that sudden. I think with him he just wanted to make sure he was confident enough before he spoke it full time.
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