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Bringing up bi-lingual children

(101 Posts)
grandtanteJE65 Sun 29-Apr-18 12:33:33

My foster daughter and her husband are bringing their son up to speak English with his mother and Danish with his father, with no problems so far. The little one is two and will be three in June. (They are living in Denmark).

Now the health visitor has torn a strip off my DD for not speaking Danish with the boy, maintaining, quite wrongly that he is behindhand in learning to speak and that they should only speak one language in the home.

The boy clams up when the health visitor comes in, as he doesn't like her, and probably is picking up on the fact that his mother and the health visitor are at odds. He is also the kind of child who talks when he feels he has something to say, and not otherwise. His maternal uncle was just the same at the same age. And there was certainly no arrested development there.

My teaching experience is that that it is perfectly possible to bring small children up to speak two, or even more languages properly, as long as they are accustomed to start with to always speaking one language to the same person, as is the case here.

I would be grateful for others' views, both for and against in this matter.

Luckygirl Sun 29-Apr-18 12:46:01

Time to tell the HV to take a hike. Lucky little lad having two languages at his fingertips.

MawBroon Sun 29-Apr-18 12:50:50

May I say “Rubbish”?
I spoke German and English until I went to primary school when Mum stopped using it with me because Gserman wasn’t exactly popular in our small Scottish town in the late 40’s and early 50’s
My language acquisition suffered not one bit. I got an A in English in Sixth Form
I picked up German and also learned French at secondary school, went on do my degree in French and German .
I wish more than anything that Mum had kept up my German but respect her reasons for not doing it. But even in later life, phrases would come back to me which I know I was not taught at school.
There are also good physiological reasons for children being exposed to other languages and the earlier the better .
We had friends ( Czech Mum, half Polish half English Dad,) whose twins were born in Paris ,and in their early years understood and spoke Czech, Polish ( for the GPS) English and French with the nanny plus their own “ twin year” language.
Did them no harm, highly intelligent men in their 40’s with successful careers and an enviable ability in languages.
As long as your DD is using Danish both with the wee boy at times and working on her own fluency and not using English with the wee oneto escape speaking Danish, the little boy can only benefit.

Stansgran Sun 29-Apr-18 12:55:37

DGD was brought up bilingual and didn't talk much for 18 months but was understanding ( too much) in any language. She could easily make herself understood and I was often amazed by her imagination as she loved books and would get the relevant picture from a large selection to show me what she was aiming for. I once sat her in a garden seat and told her to wait while I got her an ice cream and thereafter whenever she felt the need for an ice cream she went and sat expectantly in that seat. When her new brother came along she started chatting much more in a mix , reading books in French or English to him. They are both very highly literate now and have excellent school reports. This is not a grandma boast ! They do have French accents when they speak English but improve quickly when they stay with us so politely ignore the health visitor. English is the lingua Franca and a Dane would have an advantage speaking fluent English.

eazybee Sun 29-Apr-18 13:04:38

My understanding is that the only truly bilingual children are those who learn their 'mother' tongue from a parent, in their home, because they absorb it naturally before they realise what they are doing. I am surprised at the health visitor's attitude, but as they are living in Denmark it would be best not to avoid conflict with her. Danish people, the ones I know in England anyway, all seem to speak English as a second language perfectly; their attitude towards foreign languages is good, and they put a high priority on them.

Floradora9 Sun 29-Apr-18 13:05:56

My DGC are bilingual and from tiny knew which language to choose when speaking to different parts of the extended family. It has been nothing but an asset to them especially going abroad to where they know the language well. They help their poor daddy out translating for him .

Jalima1108 Sun 29-Apr-18 13:19:15

We have at least one family member who have been brought up bilingual.
We also have family in Wales where some children speak both Welsh and English fluently and even in English-speaking homes, Welsh is taught and spoken as well as English at day-care from the age of 2.

He is also the kind of child who talks when he feels he has something to say, and not otherwise
I recognise that in my family too, with the boys who were late speakers, but not with the girls who all spoke very early!

tanith Sun 29-Apr-18 13:20:10

Two of my GC will be bi-lingual, the nearly 5 yr old seems to know when to switch between the two easily and the little one I’ve no doubt will be similar. Mum speaks several more languages and intends on introducing others when she feels the time is right.
I think it’s marveleous and how it seems to be seamless for GS the children who go to his school also speak both languages so it’s not only at home.

Jalima1108 Sun 29-Apr-18 13:20:29

sorry I should have said:
even in English-speaking homes, Welsh is taught and spoken in school as well as English and at day-care .....

Jalima1108 Sun 29-Apr-18 13:22:28

Does the health visitor need to keep calling?
Is it part of the routine in Denmark?

tanith Sun 29-Apr-18 13:52:38

Sorry I posted before I’d finished I was going to ask the same question as Jalima I’d go with your own instincts.

Sar53 Sun 29-Apr-18 13:54:54

My OH's daughter is married to an Argentinian. They converse in English and Spanish at home and their nearly four year old son totally understands the Spanish but prefers to speak in English, as 'my friends at nursery speak English'. Their one year old twins hear English and Spanish and hopefully will respond in the same way as their brother.
I think it is a wonderful thing to bring your children up to be bi-lingual.

glammanana Sun 29-Apr-18 14:01:34

My eldest two DGSs are bilingual they where spoken to in Portugese and English from birth and even though they have lived in UK since Primary school they still keep it up on occasions when their family visit.
I would tell the HV your DD will do it her way and ignore her suggestions.

Anniebach Sun 29-Apr-18 14:08:02

I spoke both Welsh and English from a tot . When I was a cub mistress I remember one little boy whose parents only spoke Welsh to him, and he attended a Welsh only school, when spoken to in English he would always pause before replying , when I spoke to him in Welsh he replied immediately. So growing up in a home where both languages are spoken is, I think, better for the child.

Nannarose Sun 29-Apr-18 14:16:05

Oh dear. I am a retired Health Visitor, and one of my former colleagues is working in Denmark, bringing up her children bi-lingually.
I find this a little strange, and certainly hope that no-one thinks this would happen in the UK, where Health Visitors have a great deal of experience in assessing the development of multi-lingual children. So strange that I wonder if the worker is actually the professional, qualified equivalent of our own health visitors?
I certainly think that your DFD & her husband need to speak to this worker's manager and sort this out. She should be able to be allocated another worker and this one given training. I think that they especially need to do this so that no concerns are missed because of the focus on spoken language (something HVs in the UK are very alert to)

I would add that in my experience of assessing language development in multi-lingual children, there is a period of time (about 2-3) when expressed language can be somewhat 'behind' monolingual children. These are the pointers to consider:
Is the child's hearing OK?
is the child's receptive language (understanding) OK?
Is the child eating, chewing etc. OK?
Are there any other developmental concerns?

Multi-lingual children of this age often 'miss a beat' when responding, as if they are 'putting their brain' into the right language! Many people think it helpful, at this stage, to have a clear routine of what language is spoken when. This can be:
'one mouth, one language'
'English at home, Danish for visitors and when out'.
Some genuinely multi-lingual families have different days or times of day. I knew one who spoke Norwegian in the car, and another spoke French at meal times.
It just helps the little ones to know where they are.
Broad rule is that by about 4-5 they should be up to average development in whatever their main languages are.
Hope this helps

SueDonim Sun 29-Apr-18 17:11:51

Two of my GC are being raised bilingual. The 3yo's speech was somewhat delayed but he very obviously knew everything being said to him in both languages. Then when he was 2.5yo, it all fell into place and now he gabbles away for England - and France!

Let's not forget, too, that in the U.K. many children are brought up speaking more than one language, if they are part of migrant families. They may speak their parents' language at home and English at nursery/school.

I cannot think of any way in which being able to speak more than one language would be a disadvantage.

Granny23 Sun 29-Apr-18 17:30:41

All children in the Outer Hebrides are bilingual Gaelic/English. Some also have a third language if their parent/parents are not native English speakers. Then they learn French or German at Secondary School. It is said that this expands the pathways in their brain and explains their consistently higher than average results in all school subjects.

Panache Sun 29-Apr-18 17:41:28

I was brought up in a home where my foster mother spoke mainly welsh,it was her mother tongue,but my foster father spoke only english.
I picked up both languages naturally and was certainly fluent in both prior to primary school.
At High School I chose french as another language,finding I had quite an aptitude for languages.

In one specific area of my County here in Wales the chief language spoken has always been welsh,yet the other half of the county are very much english speakers.

Most of our schools are bilingual and there is a great urgency for more welsh to be taught it seems.

However there is a big wind of change.
Over the last handful of years there has been an increasing influx of people moving in from across the English/Wales border, and so it may very well be the welsh language will find it a struggle to survive in a few years hence.....although I very much doubt it will ever get eradicated.
The welsh are very resourceful and VERY proud of their language!

Menopaws Sun 29-Apr-18 17:45:50

My sisters grandchildren speak Swedish with their mother and English with their father and Afrikaans in the middle, what a great opportunity for later life and comes so naturally to them, my own grandchildren sign to each other and us, brilliant all round

Hm999 Sun 29-Apr-18 17:54:03

I think I remember reading that children brought up to speak 2 languages may be a little slower to speak than their peers. Is that what's worrying the Health Visitor?

Personally as a retired teacher, I think bi-longualism is a wonderful gift that leads to a love of other languages. The little ones are so lucky.

Anniebach Sun 29-Apr-18 18:01:22

Well said Panache , we fought hard to have Welsh signposts 😀, Welsh is an official language of the UK. Yes there is a danger for the language with the number of holiday homes here and some counties are popular for retirement

SueDonim Sun 29-Apr-18 18:21:03

I read some years ago that children who learn a second language before the age of five use different pathways in the brain from learning at an older age, and that learning a second language when very young facilitates learning other languages later on.

I'd be interested to know if that's true - does anyone know?

Jalima1108 Sun 29-Apr-18 19:13:26

^and so it may very well be the welsh language will find it a struggle to survive in a few years hence^]
I don't think it will Panache, at one time it struggled because there were not enough teachers of Welsh but now that it is a compulsory subject at GCSE level I think its use will increase.

I read some years ago that children who learn a second language before the age of five use different pathways in the brain from learning at an older age, and that learning a second language when very young facilitates learning other languages later on
SueDonim that is what the teachers have said when some parents have questioned why children should spend time learning Welsh instead of eg Spanish or Mandarin.

I have a relative who is fluent in three languages (plus speaks two others) and, in fact, has been mistaken for a Frenchwoman by French people so it is possible even if the language was only learned from the age of 11. DH's friend is Welsh but speaks fluent German and worked as a translator.

Cold Sun 29-Apr-18 19:51:22

The Danes are very strange about this - very zenophobic about everyone doing things "the Danish way". I say this even though I am married to a Dane - when I lived there years ago these old fashioned attitudes were common. It is agreat place for a holiday but it is not always diverse place when you live there. When I lived there people were openly critical of parents not speaking Danish and a friend from the US was shouted at on a bus for speaking English with her toddler. It was an eye-opening moment for DH.

We decided that Denmark was not for us and moved to Sweden and there was a totally different attitude. The HV was very keen for us to pass on our languages and being bi or multilingual was regarded as a very positive thing. We chose to bring our children up as bilingual Swedish/English - their classmates were envious of their guarateed A grades in English at Sweden's GCSEs and A levels.

SueDonim Sun 29-Apr-18 20:35:44

Oh, that's interesting, Cold. Our neighbours were posted to Denmark with work and they didn't find it easy to settle in. They both had Danish lessons and tried to speak the language but found they were constantly criticised for mispronunciations and errors, despite doing their best.

Eventually, they decided to return to the UK and the working partner commuted to Denmark on a weekly basis instead.