Hello, my name is Helen. I have been living in Germany (Westerwald) for 6 years now with my German husband. We have a 2 1/2 year old son. I have spoken English with him from day one but made the mistake of talking German with him too. I have since stopped and for the last 8 months or so have tried to only speak English. He hears me speak German when I am with other people but I really try to focus on speaking to him in English. He understands everything I say and listens and obeys my requests and commands in English. He just chooses to speak and reply to me in German. I continue to say to him‚ in English, and he sometimes translates what he has said. Sometimes he says he doesn’t know, or when he doesn’t translate, I repeat to him the English version of what he is trying to say. Which he then, most of the time, repeats.
He has started, however rarely, to ask me something or say something in English without prompting (small steps, but success all the same!). I am trying to stay consistent. I have days when I see progress and I have days that are hard and this makes me sad. I want him to be equally strong in both languages and to have all the benefits it brings to be bilingual. I have purchased ‘Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability' and look forward to reading it and being a part of The Bilingual Zoo community.
This situation where children understand the minority language (ml), but won't speak it, is very common. I believe it comes from the imbalance between ml and ML (=majority language) exposure.
If you're reading Adam's book on bilingualism, you'll see that it all comes down to exposure and need, and find lots of ways to improve both.
Regarding exposure, I have the following questions:
- Does your husband speak English? Would he be willing to speak it to your son? It doesn't have to be all or nothing, some English is better than no English. Just the fact that you aren't the only English speaker around would help (I think this would also address the "need" aspect of things). - How often can you visit your family back in Australia and how often can they visit you? I realize it's a long way there (I remember being 30+ hours on a plane, and it was no fun). If you can't visit and they can't either, and you can visit England, I would try and do so, especially when he's older and he's more interested in playing with other children. - Are there other English speakers where you live?
Need: - A lot of people disagree with my take here, but I've seen it work first-hand. My daughter at about 2 would only say "yes" or "water" in the ML. In just one day, her nanny for the summer got her to say "yes". I asked her how she did it, and she told me she pretended not to speak Spanish. I saw that my daughter was going back to saying it in Spanish with me, so I pretended not to understand Spanish and it worked. I never went back. I'm not saying "change the rules overnight", but I'd start by not understanding some things he wants and go from there. If he doesn't get them in German, he may want to make the effort to say them in English. - Finding other English speakers helps with need too. It shows them that this isn't just that silly thing their mom insists on speaking to them, but that there are other people out there who speak it too.
Helen, welcome! Your feelings are natural, but it's also true that your son is still quite small and your proactive efforts moving forward can surely fortify his development and use of English.
Over the longer term, too, it seems that English is an important part of schooling and society in Germany, with young Germans (even those without much English input from their parents) learning to speak English well. (We have hosted several German teens for homestays in Japan.) So I suspect the setting in which you live will also prove to be a source of support for your bilingual aim.
Still, as Raquel has mentioned, your efforts would no doubt receive a powerful boost if your husband is able and willing to use English within the family, too. On this point, your situation is similar to Kathryn in France, another new keeper at The Bilingual Zoo. So I would encourage you to look closely at her recent thread.
As I told her there, the situation you describe, where a small child isn't using the target language as actively as the parent would like, is very common. In fact, I would say that it's the most widespread frustration among parents seeking to raise a bilingual child. And for that reason, I try to offer as much information as I can to help address--even prevent--this issue in my book and in my writing online, both here and at my blog.
In this respect, I hope you find my book helpful and encouraging. At the same time, please take a peek at two of the main articles at my blog that also speak to this challenge.
Helen, we're cheering for you! And we look forward to hearing good news from you as time passes!
Adam Beck is the founder of Bilingual Monkeys and The Bilingual Zoo, and the author of the popular non-fiction book Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability amzn.to/22XKuCt and the humorous novel How I Lost My Ear amzn.to/2EsjVRS, both available worldwide.
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Veda L: A happy belated new year to all keepers! Any quick tips on how to edit profile (kids’ ages etc)? I’ve fumbled about with no luck. Thanks!
Jan 9, 2019 23:58:17 GMT 9
Mayken: Veda, when you go to your "Profile", there's a button at the top right that says "Edit Profile". Then click on the "Personal" tab (and other tabs) to edit the information. Hope that helps!
Jan 10, 2019 0:14:02 GMT 9
Veda L: Many thanks to Mayken for the tip. Finally changed my profile. To those who are celebrating Chinese New Year, a healthy and prosperous year of the pig in advance!
Jan 30, 2019 6:44:01 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Here's a lively list of 20 bloggers raising bilingual/multilingual children! (Recognize anyone?) buff.ly/2QT0eHL
Jan 31, 2019 9:01:41 GMT 9
Mayken: Hey Adam Beck, how come your photo on that list is bigger than everyone else's?
Jan 31, 2019 23:59:17 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Mayken, I don't know, but I wish I could say it's because I'm taller! My son (almost 12) is now nearly as tall as I am. Just yesterday I told him that I have to start growing again!
Feb 1, 2019 10:12:14 GMT 9
Mayken: Adam Beck, thanks for sharing the impressions of your trip to China! I love those duck boats and that doorway! And meeting those kids wanting to speak English with you is so amazing!(I won't enter the giveaway because I'm afraid of winning the chicken claws!)
Feb 6, 2019 0:24:50 GMT 9
Mayken: My friend S asked her bilingual 2.5-year-old daughter: What language do mommy & daddy speak? D: English! S: What language does Grandma speak? D: French! S: What language do the cats speak? D (*thinks, then answers*): Meow!
Feb 7, 2019 0:08:00 GMT 9
Amy: Bless!! how cute is that!!! Reminds me of a similar thing that happened with my youngest when she was 18 months: she said the sound right for every animal but the cow. She kept answering "Lola" because of a famous Spanish nursery rhyme about a cow!
Feb 7, 2019 0:40:09 GMT 9
Alba: My son caught us by surprise when we said thank you (in English) to a waiter in a Mexican restaurant, and he said "gracias" (thank you) to him too in Spanish, also signing it! He was having a blast and there was some Spanish music in the background.
Feb 10, 2019 18:48:58 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Sounds like a wonderful moment, Alba!
Feb 11, 2019 11:57:53 GMT 9