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Bringing up baby to be multilingual

(33 Posts)
Sunflower54 Tue 21-May-19 13:36:54

One of my sons and his wife are expecting their first baby in October.
They both live in Germany, he is English and she is Romanian. They both speak all three languages fluently and tend to speak English at home when alone, swapping languages according to the company of their visitors.
They obviously want to bring their baby (boy, they have just been told... My first grandson amongst three granddaughters. smile ) to speak all the languages, as they intend to stay in Germany, but want to do this right without confusing their son. Has anyone here succeeded in this and can give some advice? Their other grandparents speak only Romanian and I only speak very basic German. (holiday German)

Riverwalk Tue 21-May-19 13:44:56

Not personally, but a friend's British son lives in France with his Spanish wife.

Their children are trilingual - as far as I understand, from the beginning each parent spoke to the children in their language and French is absorbed by living there.

giulia Tue 21-May-19 13:49:47

Each person with intimate contact with the baby should communicate only in their mother tongue. If you look up the life of George Berlitz (founder of the Language schools), he learnt six languages before the age of six because of the different origins of his family members. At age six, he tried to invent his own Language as he thought that was everybody did!

I live in Italy but only speak English to my (very small) grandchildren. It's not easy with everyone else speaking Italian but I'm sticking to it.

The important thing is not to mix languages with them but it doesn't matter if the children hear you talking to Others in another Language. The concept is that they connect YOU to that one Language.

alchemilla Tue 21-May-19 14:17:05

And the other thing to remember is that some dual or trilingual children can be a bit slower to read/write (though clearly it didn't affect Berlitz!) Presumably because their brains are organising all the extra information from an additional language or two so it's no concern. Perhaps OP you could ramp up your German? I envy you your future multilingual GS.

LullyDully Tue 21-May-19 14:17:41

A wonderful opportunity for the children and good for brain development, so I understand.

giulia Tue 21-May-19 14:28:29

Alchemilla is right: my own two daughters (who heard English from me and Italian from my husband) were slower at school to start with.

tanith Tue 21-May-19 14:33:55

My two youngest GC live in Gibraltar Mum speaks several languages so she speaks to them in Spanish sometimes Italian but my son speaks mainly English to them as do I, the eldest is six and switches between them all seemlessly but does remember that ‘Granny London’ only understand English 😂

luluaugust Tue 21-May-19 14:38:34

My DIL has always spoken to the GC in her own language and we are all speaking English seems to have worked very well, DGS did his GCSE two years early.

silverlining48 Tue 21-May-19 15:02:10

Wish my mum had spoken to me in her native language but times were different then. I speak it now but very badly with many mistakes because am self taught, so an opportunity missed. Agree with everyone so far, children soak language up, go for it.

wildswan16 Tue 21-May-19 16:05:33

Children are very adaptable. Just speak to them in any language that comes naturally and the child will soon sort it all out. Being bi or trilingual is a wonderful advantage and helps the brain to develop pathways it wouldn't otherwise get.

B9exchange Tue 21-May-19 16:17:03

I have one son in Spain. At school the children are taught in Spanish and Valenciana. At home they speak English. Works fine for the children who are thriving, but son rarely goes out, and uses the children to talk for him, even when entering a restaurant, so his Spanish is not improving!

grandtanteJE65 Tue 21-May-19 16:39:26

Bilingual or multilingual children are sometimes slower to start talking, but once they do, they talk as well as other children their age.

Three languages should not cause problems.

To the advice already given I would add that it is important to make sure that the child knows the same words and concepts in all three languages. Insist that the child answers in the language he is addressed in, otherwise you have no real way of knowing how good his vocabulary is in it.

However, I doubt the child will be as fluent in German as in the other two languages unless there is someone in the household who speaks German to him. Perhaps the parents would consider a set time for speaking German?

Something along the lines of "We all speak German when we are with people who don't speak Romanian or English".
Their German friends should be asked to play along with not understanding English.

polyester57 Tue 21-May-19 16:48:53

My two grandchildren are being brought up trilingual and there´s no problem whatsoever, not even being late in learning to read and write. Mum speaks one language, dad another and the language of the country they live in is the third. It does help, however, that the parents´ languages are quite similar so neither parent feels left out when their partner is speaking to the children and is able to respond. You say that your son and his wife both speak each other´s language, so this should be OK. It must be quite difficult when one is speaking Italian and the other Mandarin (for example) and they don´t understand each other. I should mention a problem this does bring up, however, and that is Third Culture Kids (look it up on the internet and there is also a very good book called just that). It refers to children being brought up in one country, speaking different languages, they grow up on the outside very confident and able to talk to anyone, but inside they don´t quite know who they really are. I should know, I was one of them, when I was reading the book, I had tears rolling down my face.

felice Tue 21-May-19 16:59:11

Tri-lingual here, English with a big bit of Scots thrown in. French, Flemish and a smattering of Portuguese too.
Just spoken naturally within family and friends.

Nannarose Tue 21-May-19 17:46:38

Not personally, but a lot of professional & wider family experience, as well as being brought up in a community where lots of kids were bi-lingual.
Giulia - the advice you give was very common and well grounded. However, many parents I knew found it difficult to follow in the bustle of family life. What seems to work better for some is to be clear about the situation in which each language is used. The commonest I know is something like:
Mum: French; Dad: Spanish. Family speak English when guests are present and when talking about school or community events. When discussing a film or a book, use the relevant language. They may also say 'Today is a French day' or something similar.
One family I knew, where mum deeply wanted her child to know the Gaelic (whilst living in England with dad only speaking English) decided that when on her own she would talk in Gaelic. English when anyone else was present, and never as a 'private' language.
What these methods are aiming for is to minimise confusion. Some is inevitable - most young multi-lingual kids will pause for a beat as they process the language. But avoiding the 'alphabet soup' of not knowing which language is spoken is helpful. However, do expect that they sometimes will forget which language is which!

In development terms, broadly, multi-lingual kids tend to be slightly slower with their spoken language, but are fine with their understanding. Usually settles out by about 5-6, although they will occasionally make understandable slips of grammar or word order. I have a Welsh friend who every so often says something in English, but in 'Welsh order'! Should any concern rise about development (hope not!) ensure that assessments are done by workers who appreciate this.

Many British people forget that most of the world is multi-lingual, and that a large number of British children are also bi-/multi-lingual. I hope that you will end up with a bit of 'nursery German' as well!

varian Tue 21-May-19 18:23:31

Very young children seem to have an innate ability to learn two or three different languages simultaneously without ever getting confused.

We once spent several hours on a flight where we couldn't help hearing the conversation between two passengers behind us. It was obvious that they were a mother and a quite young child. It was a strange conversation, with each of them speaking a different language (English and Finnish) but with no hesitation so it was clear that they were both perfectly fluent in both languages but just spoke in the one they preferred.

Abuelana Tue 21-May-19 18:41:03

My daughter was two when we moved to Spain - she was in Spanish nursery from 2. We spoke only English at home and she learnt her Spanish at School.
She’s now just about to have a baby and she will talk in English and her OH will speak to baby in Spanish. Baby’s just get it (fingers crossed)

chelseababy Tue 21-May-19 19:43:01

I had the same experience as silverlining but regret that I didn't learn my mother's native language. My father thought it would confuse us.

notanan2 Tue 21-May-19 19:59:02

Google "one parent one language"
Its a popular method with bi/tri lingual babies/toddlers.

The idea is that adults dont switch. She would speak only Romanian to him, dad would speak only English to him. Preschool teachers speak only german to him.

Grandparents only speak their mother tongues to the child etc

Avor2 Tue 21-May-19 20:01:09

my son lives in Portugal and is married to a lovely Portuguese girl, their daughter has always heard both languages as a matter of course, obviously she uses Portuguese mostly, but she is spoken to in both languages at home and when we go to visit. She has managed very well and even tells her English teacher when she is wrong (not a good idea) she is also learning Spanish, they absorb everything so much quicker when they are young and it will be second nature for her eventually.
My other granddaughter lives in Somerset, no idea what she is saying (joke).

Sunflower54 Tue 21-May-19 21:43:39

Thank you so much everyone. Everything you say makes a lot of sense and is along the lines we were thinking regarding family speaking in their own language. Hopefully he will be exposed to a lot of German too.... That may require a little more effort but will be worth it.
Is quite an exciting prospect.

JackyB Tue 21-May-19 23:01:23

Where to start? Well, everyone else has already said the main things - I am a militant bilingual parent and think that anyone who doesn't speak their mother tongue to the fruit of their loins should be severely punished. Especially if they don't have a good command of the language they are using in its place.

My children were raised speaking English and German, and they are carrying on the tradition. Having two languages from the start has made it easier for them to pick up other languages and they all have a working knowledge of French and Spanish and, thanks to Erasmus, one even mastered quite a bit of Turkish.

In the early 80s, when they were little, I was fortunate enough to find half a dozen other expat mothers in my area and we started a playgroup. We found a church hall and once a week, taking it in turns to plan the morning, we played traditional games, read stories, sung nursery rhymes and did different activities to cover all sorts of vocabulary.

Although with DS1 it took until he was 16 before he actually replied in English to me, not until any of my DS married did I speak a word of German to them - and now I only do so if I am addressing them and their wives as a couple. (I have always spoken to the DiLs in German.)

The DGS, of course, I speak English with.

What I find impossible is to speak to someone in a different language from the one I am used to. For example, I couldn't speak to my DH in English. It would be like speaking to someone else.

One of our playgroup had an Italian husband and the children managed the three languages easily.

JackyB Tue 21-May-19 23:05:21

And one important point which Polyester has pointed out: Give them roots!!!!!

Mine are bilingual and bicultural but as they are scattered all over the world, I like to think that we brought them up confident that they have an identity and a place they can call "home" here in the Palatinate.

Floradora9 Wed 22-May-19 15:17:02

Right from birth my DIL spoke French to their DC and their dad spoke English. Even from very young they seemed to know which language to use and it is a great joy they can converse with all thier French speaking relatives. Their cousins ( brought up the same ) have moved to Spain and are learning Spanish. THe youngest one is picking it up so easily and the others not far behind.

nonnasusie Wed 22-May-19 15:40:55

My DH's ex wife wouldn't let him speak Italian to their children and now neither of them can speak it much! Such a wasted opportunity! His neices and nephews in America and Canada swap from English to Italian easily! We know many Italians in Britain whose children learned most of their English at school and they are doing well!
Many years ago I was on holiday in with my parents and the family that owned the apartment were mixed nationality. The husband was scandanavian ( can't remember what) the mother was British and they lived in Italian speaking Switzerland. Their son could speak all 3 languages and switched from one to another with ease and he wasn't very old! I was very envious at the time!!