Raising Bilingual Kids

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Parents talk about raisining bilingual kids.

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ORIGINAL POST:

"My husband and are raising our now 14 month old bilingual (English-Italian). I speak to her in English and he in Italian; however, he works in the restaurant business and is therefore not around a lot so we are both a little concerned about how well she'll be able to absorb Italian.

I am also fluent in Italian (though it's not my native tongue) so my husband and I speak to each other in Italian in front of our daughter. We figure she gets exposed to the language this way too.

For any experts (or those with experience) on the topic, do you know if it's too late for me to start speaking to our daughter in Italian? Would you recommend it?

Thanks!"

RESPONSES:

"I'd be interested in people's thoughts on this too. We're also a two-language house with a (very early) 2-language kid (15 months, French and English). Would love to know how people's experiences have gone, who are further along. What works, what doesn't, what anxieties and pitfalls you experienced...
I speak English to my son, my wife speaks French, and we go back and forth between languages when we speak to each other. For direct talk, to me it makes sense that my son associates one language with one parent and another language with another, so that even if an object has two different sounding words, there's a consistency he can hang onto. So I generally stick to English when I speak to him. But maybe that's not the right or only approach...
D. (H., who's mightily enjoying his handful of words in both languages...)"

"My husband speaks to our five-year-old daughter exclusively in Italian and I speak to her in English. He and I speak to each other in English. My daughter and I spend at least a month in Italy every summer and I speak Italian to everyone there so she knows I can speak it but I still speak English to her. My husband spends at most an hour a day with her during the week and often no time at all due to his work schedule however she is completely fluent in Italian. I believe the reason is because he always insisted on her answering him in Italian, she NEVER speaks to him in English and never has. She has many friends whose parents speak to them in a foreign language and they answer in English and their level of fluency and comfort is nowhere near hers. I was told to stick with my native language so that is why I don't speak to her in Italian and, frankly, when I do she makes fun of my accent.
I believe he must ALWAYS speak Italian to her and insist that she ALWAYS speaks Italian to him until it is just natural. I'm not sure if anyone can back me up out there but in my experience that has been much more important than the fact that he doesn't spend a lot of time with her. My daughter can switch mid-sentence...even mid-word...when she is in conversation with both of us without batting an eyelash because it is just natural for her at this point."

"I would like to offer some advice, although it my not be strictly "by the books". I am bilingual myself (Polish-German) and my husband and I are raising are daughter bilingual (Polish-English).
In both cases there was one "stronger" language, the official language of the country of residence (in my case German, in my daughter's case English). So there is always a struggle for the "weaker" language to break through. In my case it was easier. We spoke Polish at home, and German anywhere else. I still struggled with Polish: I would understand it, but I was refusing to speak it. But when we moved back to Poland when I was eight years old I picked it up with no effort.
I feel that with my daughter the challenges will be greater. She only hears Polish from me (my husband does not speak it), and she picks up lots of English at daycare. If my husband spoke Polish I am 100% convinced we would speak Polish exclusively at home.
This is why I would recommend that you do switch to speaking exclusively Italian with your child, to expose her as much as possible to the "disadvantaged" language. And spend us much time as you can in Italy with her, which does not sound like a terrible chore :) Buona fortuna."

"I have a 22 month old daughter who speaks mostly in Spanish right now, but understands everything in English. I am at home with her all day, so we speak Spanish. My husband speaks to her in English, and he and I speak English to each other. There is no mixing of languages. Either we speak English or Spanish, so there is a clear distintion between languages. We also go to a Spanish music class once a week, and try to be around friends who speak Spanish. I buy children's books in Spanish when I travel to Mexico, and I read to her all the time in Spanish.
My sister has a daughter who is almost 11. They were very consistent with her - no mixing of languages. She spoke Spanish with my sister and family, who live in California. She spoke only English with her dad. They read a lot, sang songs in Spanish, etcetera. My niece is fluent in both languages, with a very slight accent when she speaks Spanish and an excellent vocabulary (most children raised bilingual have noticeable accents when speaking the second language, or mix up a lot of words). Consistency is key, because as soon as they start school, English will become the dominant language and then it can become a battle to keep them interested in the second language. I think that taking trips to one's country of origin with some frequency is also very useful, as well as surrounding them with books in the both languages."

"We’re raising our kids bilingual French-English. My husband is native French speaker and speaks only French to the kids. I am a dual national (my mom is French) and am basically fluent. My main piece of advice is that, if you want to speak Italian to your daughter, start soon! By the time I decided I wanted to this, my son was 2 and too used to me speaking English.

Though I speak French, my English is still much better than my French, so I decided to speak English to our first child. By the time our second child came along, 2 years later, I regretted “wasting” my ability to speak French and tried to switch to French. But, my then-toddler was angry when I spoke French to him. So the compromise was that I switched to speaking French with my husband and this way the kids do indeed have greater exposure to the language. The biggest challenge is for me – I always have to “decide” who I’m addressing when I speak – English for the kids, French for my husband – so it’s some mental gymnastics. I’m with the kids more, plus they have English-speaking babysitters and are in regular English public school – so they are definitely English dominant. But, they understand pretty much everything in French. And, our older child, now 8, will speak French when he’s with French-only speakers. We try to go to France once a year, and have French books, movies, etc.

I myself regretted that my mother, who is native French-speaker, stopped speaking French to us when we were growing up mainly because my siblings and I badgered her to stop. She started out speaking out only French, but because we were growing up in a very homogenous American suburb (with very little, if any, non-English speakers!), we were typical kids wanting to be like others and didn’t want to be the “weirdos” speaking French at home. Only later did we appreciate how lucky we were!  

What helped me really learn the language was spending time in France.  Our kids’ French also always improves a lot when we spend time there (though we don’t stay for visits longer than 1-2 weeks). Even if there is not total consistency at home (that is, if they are only hearing the language from one parent, etc.) being around the language from an early age definitely makes a difference – even after my mom stopped speaking French to me, French class in school was much easier for me than for my classmates. People always talk about the need for consistency and I agree that is the ideal but I think even imperfect exposure to the language is very helpful though for sure, the more immersion the better. Oh, and I found the concerns about language delay to be a non-issue. Our first child was pretty verbal early and has remained so. Our second took a bit longer to start speaking but was not delayed per se and both of them have strong English language skills."

 

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