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Old 03.01.2011, 22:25
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I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

I searched this subject but didn't come up with anything. Sorry if I have missed anything.
I was wondering if anyone else has the same "problem". I have been living in Switzerland a number of years and have become pretty much fluent in swiss-german. I am married to a Swiss guy and at home he speaks swiss-german to the kids (8, 6, 4 and 1) and I speak english. I only switch to swiss-german when they have friends over to avoid repeating myself.
The problem is, since they've been born they have always responded in german. This occasionally, depending on my mood, drives me crazy. I am constantly saying "how do you say that in english? Speak to me in english!" which is annoying to me and to them!

Sometimes they, especially the eldest one, will make an effort at one or two sentences (after being reminded), and they can hardly put two words together that make any sense.

I am beginning to wonder if they, after all these years, have ever understood anything I have said to them!!!

I read to them mostly in english and if they watch tv I try to get them to watch english programs or the english version of movies.

Does anyone have any advice besides sending them to english school?
I am drowning in a sea of swiss-german....
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Old 03.01.2011, 22:37
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

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I was wondering if anyone else has the same "problem". I have been living in Switzerland a number of years and have become pretty much fluent in swiss-german. I am married to a Swiss guy and at home he speaks swiss-german to the kids (8, 6, 4 and 1) and I speak english. I only switch to swiss-german when they have friends over to avoid repeating myself.
The problem is, since they've been born they have always responded in german. This occasionally, depending on my mood, drives me crazy. I am constantly saying "how do you say that in english? Speak to me in english!" which is annoying to me and to them!

Sometimes they, especially the eldest one, will make an effort at one or two sentences (after being reminded), and they can hardly put two words together that make any sense.

I am beginning to wonder if they, after all these years, have ever understood anything I have said to them!!!

I read to them mostly in english and if they watch tv I try to get them to watch english programs or the english version of movies.

Does anyone have any advice besides sending them to english school?
I am drowning in a sea of swiss-german....
Well you have the right idea ... make them tell you what they want in English. I guess you can't use the trick anymore "I don't understand. Could you say it in English?" because they know you can speak Swiss German. But kids can learn to easily switch from German to English.

You have to find an interesting way to keep English active for them. Does the older one like any music in English? Perhaps she wants to know what the singer is talking about. Keep reading to them. It gets across the sound and rhythm of English and perhaps check with them, ask questions, to make sure they understand. Is there anyone in an English-speaking land they can be pen pals with?? Relatives? They could send emails. Play a board game in English. Get a sitter who speaks English (and who 'doesn't understand' German).

It has to be insisted upon from your side because kids like to speak what their friends are speaking. Keep trying
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Old 03.01.2011, 22:45
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

A British friend of mine whose now adult daughters are half-Swiss and were born and raised here, claims never to have spoken a word of German or Swiss-German to either of them in their lives. Only English. Even though he has said this on several occasions, I still find it hard to believe.

Your situation has got me thinking as to how he dealt with them answering him in German to his English when they were kids. I am pretty sure it must have happened and I am interested to find out his response when we next speak .
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Old 03.01.2011, 22:45
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

Years ago, my younger step-son always answered in SG (he lived with his father).

So, once we went on a two week vacation, with his maternal grandmother and aunt, who did not speak anything other than English and Quebecois. Anyway, he wanted to watch TV, so we said that he'd have to ask his grandmother, and so finally he relented and did, and the rest is history!

Anyway, stick at it. Ignore them when they respond in SG. Make it clear that it's great that they speak SG, but just not with you!

My kids are the opposite, they don't like it if I speak Italian to them. Even when they have friends over, they always speak English to each other, then translate for their friends!

Of course, I always speak Italian to my daughter's boyfriend, even though when we send email or sms messages it's in English! But I also work with people that we speak one language, and email another (ex-girlfriends as well).

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Old 03.01.2011, 22:49
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

If you live here, raise kids here, they will speak Swiss-German.
Period.
Wether you come from Berlin or Zimbabwe.
I'm from Germany, my GF is from Russia - and if we have kids, I have no illusions that their "native" language will be Swiss-German.
(And she complains about my Swabian dialect...)

I've got a co-worker from Italy and he says that in order to teach his kids "proper" Italian, he sent them to Italian lessons and only spoke Italian to them at home until they were sent into regular (Swiss) school.

I guess, either they learn it proper as children or it will always be a 2nd language like English is for me (though I believe I have no problem "thinking" in English and switching to it, if somebody talks English to me - but I've had nine years of English at school, most of the literature in my field (IT) is English and I really wanted to learn the language since I was a kid).

If your kids don't have English-speaking friends or relatives that they see often (and _want_ to talk to), it's going to be difficult IMO.
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Old 03.01.2011, 22:54
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

Every since they were born, I insisted on speaking english to my kids. My other half speaks swiss german to them. They automatically speak english to me, and swiss german among themselves and my other half, and high german with their german friends.

Kids can learn this very fast. My kids understand pretty much everything in english. I suspect your kids are the same way. I would suggest you speak only english to them and insist that they speak to you in english. At first, it is a "weird" situation for them, but if they get used to speaking english to at least one parent, the iceberg has been broken, so to speak. Don't be surprised if they end up speaking Swinglish, i.e. german grammer with english words. This is very common and mine do it too. Once emersed in an english only environment (e.g my family in the US), the swinglish is replaced by much more proper english, only to be replaced by swinglish when we are back in CH.

Good luck.
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Old 03.01.2011, 22:58
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

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If you live here, raise kids here, they will speak Swiss-German.
Depends where 'here' is.

My kids speak English to their SG speaking brothers, as their brothers don't speak Italian, and they only learned German, and not SG, at school, and don't see the point of speaking German to them!

An ex-girlfriend described my German as high-German with a Swiss-American accent (which freaks out most Germans, who immediately start speaking English when faced with such an alternative!)

Tom
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Old 03.01.2011, 23:18
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

I'm in the same situation.

Even though my oldest never spoke to me in English, she picked it up through our visits to the States and my constant English. She even has an American accent.

My second oldest doesn't have the same language skills and speaks a pre-intermediate English. His English sounds as Swiss as it could be.

I've found that the best I could do is speak to them in English and put them in situations where they have to speak it ... and that at an early age.

It is true that since your kids hear more Swiss German than English, that will be their "mother tongue". Just keep speaking English to them and some will 100% rub off.
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Old 03.01.2011, 23:51
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

My mum only ever accepted English from me, same with my dad and French. As a consequence, my spoken English has no Swiss German accent in it, my French has a slight English twang to the native speaker but then my parents are divorced and I hardly spent time with my dad.

So my mum got remarried and had more kids and despite both parents of my half-siblings being native English speakers, my brother and sister have a strong Swiss German accent and a much smaller vocabulary, most likely because they were never forced to speak English unless the other person didn't actually speak German. I think it's a shame, of course it's ANOTHER battle for the parents but it's definitely worthwhile. I secretly love those moments when English speakers ask me where I'm from and are surprised when I say Switzerland.
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Old 03.01.2011, 23:59
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

I had this issue with my older daughter, when she started speaking only in German. It was probably because, as I was learning German, she heard me speaking German and I would help her with German and answer her when she spoke German. When she made the break through, I was excited. Until I realized that she only wanted to speak German. We made a total break, I spoke only English, we watched English DVDs only for the next three months and now she won't allow me to speak German with her- to her, the correct thing is that Mama speaks English, Papa speaks German and she and her sister use English and German interchangeably. I hear a distinct German accent, but I'm hoping that is due to her losing her front teeth.
We'll be in the US for two weeks this spring, so that will help with the accent. But in any case, you need to insist on English responses and probably take a stand on speaking only English yourself, even if you don't want to.That's the whole One Person, One Language concept.
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Old 04.01.2011, 08:02
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

Your children are still at the age where they can still pick up languages relatively easily - please do not give up...push and insist on the issue. My suggestion is to align with your partner that both of you take a harder and more consistent stance on this. Swiss German from him, English from you. Period, no discussion. Remind them a few times (and only a few times) and then just ignore them if they speak to you in anything but English. Pretend you did not hear them and only give them your attention or a response when they respect the rule of the house. It may not be easy but I tell you in the long run, they will gain a skill set that will really help them, meaning active knowledge of a language (speaking) not just passive knowledge (understanding).

Even when they have friends over, continue to speak to them in English. Have them translate if necessary but it is very very important that you do not switch (with them) because that will only confuse them. If you are speaking directly to the friend, then perhaps some swiss german is okay but once you lay out the rules, do not speak to the children in anything but English.

Kids learn quickly in so many different ways, you need to be strong and consistent. Tell your partner how important this is to you and he can support. Also, you only need to win over 1 or 2 (perhaps the older ones) and the rest will follow / immitate...or reward the ones that follows the rules.

Good luck.
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Old 04.01.2011, 08:06
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

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If you live here, raise kids here, they will speak Swiss-German.
Period.
This is not the case. Two of my children speak Swiss German. The eldest understands it but does not speak it - Schriftdeutsch only, even with his Swiss friends. At home, as my wife and I are both native English speakers, they only speak English - unless they've friends over.

To the OP. Continue speaking English to them. Eventually, they'll start learning English at school and begin to see the advantages of talking English with you. As far as insisting they speak to you only in English - well, if you can. On the other hand, a principle of parenting is: only fight battles you will win. If you won't win the battle - don't fight it.

You could point out to them that if they don't speak English well as adults, it will harm their career prospects, and, more importantly, they will seriously regret their current behaviour.
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Old 04.01.2011, 08:23
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

We have some nice threads about multilinguism here, search around.

I'd say now, when you established SG as you home talk, and they talk SG well, you do too, if you want them to start speaking English, the fastest would be have English at home as your family language for a while. Then, after some time, they will get the idea and start communicating English with you. I think, right now if you insist on English only with you, after you have been communicating SG with them and their dad and practicing your SG, they know you speak it and so they won't take you too seriously. What really works, is from their birth, stick to your mother tongue, to give them the habbit. It is not easy for some kids, since they have to constantly "perform", and if you oher half is not good in your mother tongue or not willing to learn, he might feel not included. If he is willing to cooperate, I would speak English only now, to everyone. Do it for 6mo and see. If you are already fluent in SG and don't need the practice (or take some Migros courses instead), do it hardcore and immerse your family in your mother tongue. If you just chase them around and nag them with "say it in English" they will laugh. Take them all home, as well, for long family vacation, so they are exposed to your family and so they see English is actually used at other people's home, Skype talk, phone calls with your family should help, TV in Eng, cartoons, rad them books, sing songs, celebrate the other culture with traditions..Good luck. It's a lovely process.
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Old 04.01.2011, 08:27
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

My wife is Dutch, I am English. Our 3 y.o. was born in CH and attends a local Kinderkrippe (daycare) (i.e. Swiss-German / Schriftdeutsch) and he is fluent in all three languages.

At home he never speaks German to us - my wife and I are quite strict that we only speak to him in our respective languages - and (even though I speak / understand Dutch fluently and ditto my wife for English) we insist he speak to us in our respective languages. If he says something to me in Dutch I tell him I don't understand (even if I do) and he has to tell me in English.

In interactions with German speakers, he will of course use German - and the Kinderkrippe tell us that he speaks and understands German very well. The German is important because he will eventually attend a local school / kindergarten.

The way we do it might sound a bit strict, however the various websites I have read about multi-lingual upbringing (and I can't be fagged to post links) recommend the approach we are using as it means the child separates the different languages. And note: we started with this almost from the minute he was born.

The value of our approach was brought home to me when he was about 18 months when I went to collect him from the Kinderkrippe. The Erzieherin (care assistant) gave me the usual run-down in German of how the day went including what he ate at lunch - and he kept on nudging me and telling me in English what the Erzieherin was saying!

Cheers,
Nick
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Old 04.01.2011, 08:34
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

Your children have the advantage of having two mother tongues. I know children who are trilingual. As parents we should speak to our children in our mother tongue, and the kids make the switch. Your husband should be supporting you by insisting the children speak English with you. Later on they will thank you for this, when they get 6 in English at school.
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Old 04.01.2011, 09:43
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

I want to give you my own experience as the child.

I was also a stubborn child. My dad is danish and my mother is french. Both spoke to me in their mothertongue and they spoke french together (but my mother understood danish and could speak it too).
I did not answer to my father in danish until I was 9 years old. That's 9 years that this patient man spent trying to teach me danish and me always replying in french. Of course, I understood everything he was saying, since I replied correctly in french.
When I was 9 he sent me to my godmother in denmark where I went to school for a couple of weeks (school there started earlier than mine after the summer holidays) and I made great friends, went to school by bicycle and the schooldays were very short so lots of time for playing. Noone spoke french or english (which I was being taught in a saturday morning school since I was 4) so I had to speak danish to communicate. This worked fine as I was fluent, even though I never spoke it. I made grammar mistakes but was perfectly able to communicate well.
I went back to the school every summer until my "class" graduated. Then I went back as teacher's assistant.

Today, at 28, I am working in my 5th language and am fluent in 4 languages.

From my own experience, I can say that making friends in the language I was stubbornly refusing to speak was a very smooth and easy step. From then on, I always spoke danish to him. I'm very happy he was patient enough to speak to me in danish for those 9 years.

Keep at it!!
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Old 04.01.2011, 10:03
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

As a child in an expat family I learnt to speak Swedish first, as my mother is Swedish. I spent my Kindergarten year and to the first 3 school years in a German school in Africa and was quickly fluent in that language (I wish I could learn languages that quickly nowadays, it would have helped when I was posted in Shanghai), to me it was no problem switching from one language to the other. Dad's company then sent us to Asia, where I went to English school and was quickly fluent in that language as well. We still spoke only Swedish at home, except when we had visitors.

In hindsight it was right for my parents to insist on Swedish at home - from the very beginning. If children aged 8 already have enforced German instead of English at home, it will be difficult to convince them otherwise (exception: Pernilleskokken ;-)).

But I agree with you that making friends in a different language does help learning that language, a hundred years ago I had an Italian girlfriend and was able to handle most linguistic situations within a couple of months.
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Old 04.01.2011, 10:14
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

One suggestion....perhaps you could get your partner to switch and only speak English to them as well for a limited period? Would intensify the language exposure and maybe give them a model.

However I know this does vary from family to family. My 2 speak English to each other by preference but I know others in your situation.
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Old 04.01.2011, 11:08
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

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My wife is Dutch, I am English. Our 3 y.o. was born in CH and attends a local Kinderkrippe (daycare) (i.e. Swiss-German / Schriftdeutsch) and he is fluent in all three languages.

At home he never speaks German to us - my wife and I are quite strict that we only speak to him in our respective languages - and (even though I speak / understand Dutch fluently and ditto my wife for English) we insist he speak to us in our respective languages. If he says something to me in Dutch I tell him I don't understand (even if I do) and he has to tell me in English.

In interactions with German speakers, he will of course use German - and the Kinderkrippe tell us that he speaks and understands German very well. The German is important because he will eventually attend a local school / kindergarten.

The way we do it might sound a bit strict, however the various websites I have read about multi-lingual upbringing (and I can't be fagged to post links) recommend the approach we are using as it means the child separates the different languages. And note: we started with this almost from the minute he was born.

The value of our approach was brought home to me when he was about 18 months when I went to collect him from the Kinderkrippe. The Erzieherin (care assistant) gave me the usual run-down in German of how the day went including what he ate at lunch - and he kept on nudging me and telling me in English what the Erzieherin was saying!

Cheers,
Nick
This is how it is with my kids, my daughter is now 30 and my son is 27 they wer born here in CH but I've only ever spoken to them in English and my OH spoke to them in Italian.
They both speak English together even now(with a geordie accent)
So from day one they had 2 languages and they learnt SG playing with other kids.
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Old 04.01.2011, 11:54
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Re: I speak english to my kids, they respond in german

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I searched this subject but didn't come up with anything. Sorry if I have missed anything.
I was wondering if anyone else has the same "problem". I have been living in Switzerland a number of years and have become pretty much fluent in swiss-german. I am married to a Swiss guy and at home he speaks swiss-german to the kids (8, 6, 4 and 1) and I speak english. I only switch to swiss-german when they have friends over to avoid repeating myself.
The problem is, since they've been born they have always responded in german. This occasionally, depending on my mood, drives me crazy. I am constantly saying "how do you say that in english? Speak to me in english!" which is annoying to me and to them!

Sometimes they, especially the eldest one, will make an effort at one or two sentences (after being reminded), and they can hardly put two words together that make any sense.

I am beginning to wonder if they, after all these years, have ever understood anything I have said to them!!!

I read to them mostly in english and if they watch tv I try to get them to watch english programs or the english version of movies.

Does anyone have any advice besides sending them to english school?
I am drowning in a sea of swiss-german....
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!
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