Bilingual Toddler

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melsbells
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Bilingual Toddler

Postby melsbells » Fri Apr 21, 15:33 2017

A long while back, I wrote about how we were attempting to get our kid to be bilingual Somehow, I missed TheDarkOne's reply at that time (sorry, it is a really interesting read). Anyway, I thought it was worth an update. I still find this whole thing fascinating. I have also gotten a lot more positive feedback and worthwhile advice, from other people in multi-lingual families, compared to when we were just starting out.

The kid definitely shows a preference for Finnish, maybe always has, but English is not lagging behind either. The difference is less noticable in vocabulary and more about which one is used in self-talk. Having two languages has been so useful in understanding what the kid wants, I would recommend bilingualism for that alone. Kids just learning to talk are always trying to say something that can't be interpretted, but then I can just ask the kid to go tell Father, and then we get a whole different language to figure out what the kid wants. Or when word we couldn't understand doesn't change in the other language, it lets us know that was just a word the kid made up.

One thing that we were told/made aware of from reliable sources, but have yet to experience, is language mixing. It's as though there has always been an awareness that there are two languages, instead of that awareness developing later, but it might be in the way we talk about it at home. There seems to be a little more direct translating going on and frustration over there not being a one-to-one vocabulary (such as a dinner plate and a dinner bowl aren't differentiated in Finnish). The way the kid phrases some things, especially questions, follows Finnish grammar more closely than English.

When we're out and about, just the kid and me, there's a reluctance to speak Finnish, even if it's what I'm speaking and we talk about and prepare for how we need to speak Finnish to the librarian or the store clerk ahead of time. It's as though English is so strongly associated with me, that a switch just isn't possible without a familiar Finnish speaking person. The kid gets really excited when someone associated with one language speaks another.

Animals are tricky. The dog I had in the U.S. is here with us. We taught it basic Finnish commands to makes things easier on my in-laws. The kids speaks to the dog in both languages, but also all other animals we meet, giving commands to cats and dogs in English and getting really angry when they don't respond.

It's interesting to be learning Finnish at the same time. There's a few things that I've still got the edge over, but not much. It has helped me learn a little more vocabulary, epecially thanks to toddler repetition. The downside is that I'm reluctant to practice speaking when the kid's around, so not to taint Finnish pronunciation and grammar.

A couple things that have helped get English (the minority language in this case) strong is frequent video chats with my parents, reading lots of books in English, and choosing to not send the kid to day-care (at least for now) where there wouldn't be English exposure.

I'd still be happy to hear any bi-lingual and multi-lingual experiences anyone else has had.

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Re: Bilingual Toddler

Postby rowan » Sun Apr 23, 20:19 2017

Cats don't respond to any language ;)

My kiddo is doing great in Spanish. She surpassed my ability long ago, but she also will only speak Spanish with me and not with my husband, which is kind of fun sometimes but also a little frustrating. But eh. It's fun with her girl scout troop, since they are kids from her school, they will switch back and forth sometimes while they're working on things. I don't even think they notice. I look forward to taking her to a Spanish-speaking country sometime. :)

Anyway sounds like things are going pretty well for your kiddo!
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Re: Bilingual Toddler

Postby Enigma » Mon Apr 24, 14:51 2017

This is really interesting. When we eventually have kids I'd like to raise them bilingual (English and Bengali) but I'm not sure how feasible that's going to be since my husband isn't super at Bengali and I'm terrible. Most family gatherings on his side are 90% in Bengali though so we'll see. I'd like our kids to be a bit less lost then me when that happens.
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Re: Bilingual Toddler

Postby Sonic# » Mon Apr 24, 15:16 2017

One of the ideas impressed in me early in linguistics courses was just how early kids are able to distinguish between different languages. Rather like gender, how adeptly they intuit the boundaries between the languages and even dialects around them is incredible.

A friend of mine is raising his children to be bilingual between Russian and English; he's fluent in Russian, but his partner isn't. According to my friend the kids speak fluent Russian, but when I'm around they tend to speak in English to their dad's queries in Russian. At most they might use single-word Russian replies. Perhaps this is an observer effect. (Are they accounting for my status as an English-speaker?)

Neither I nor my partner know enough of a language to offer a good bilingual experience to a young child. They'd learn basic conversational French or Latin. I've heard of case studies involving teaching kids dead languages or constructed languages like Klingon; the kids learn it but show a preference for natural languages in current use.

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Re: Bilingual Toddler

Postby rowan » Mon Apr 24, 15:45 2017

Sonic# wrote:Neither I nor my partner know enough of a language to offer a good bilingual experience to a young child.

Seriously immersion schools do a great job!
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Re: Bilingual Toddler

Postby Taurwen » Mon Apr 24, 19:02 2017

rowan wrote:
Sonic# wrote:Neither I nor my partner know enough of a language to offer a good bilingual experience to a young child.

Seriously immersion schools do a great job!


Funnily enough when my partner and I decided to try for a baby one of the first things he asked me was if I wanted to put our (at the time) hypothetical child is French immersion. The answer was an immediate and strong no. Obviously everyone is going to experience different things, but my experience in immersion school was nothing but bad.

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Re: Bilingual Toddler

Postby DarkOne » Tue Apr 25, 5:41 2017

Sonic# wrote: According to my friend the kids speak fluent Russian, but when I'm around they tend to speak in English to their dad's queries in Russian. At most they might use single-word Russian replies. Perhaps this is an observer effect. (Are they accounting for my status as an English-speaker?)


I noticed this behavior on my then 2-yr old. She'd be speaking to us in Spanish, and as soon as an English-speaker came in our house, she'd switch. We thought it was pretty interesting. Our kid would also get this amusing confused facial expression when people she expected to be English speakers spoke Spanish. Our friends initially mistook her face for "Wow, your Spanish is so bad I can't even make it out." But when we explained her face was "Why is Spanish coming out of that mouth?" they also found it amusing.

I have 2 kids now, aged 3.5 and 1.5. The 3.5-yo strongly favors English, which has replaced Spanish as her native language. Her vocabulary and syntax (and general grammar) are more sophisticated in English than in Spanish. Her English accent is that of a native speaker, but my Spanish speaking family has noted that she speaks Spanish like a foreigner (even though I can barely detect it). Like melsbells's kid, my daughter often follows the sentence structure for the native language, even when speaking Spanish. The best approach we have found so far to keep Spanish alive is to force it at home and exclusively use Spanish to address our family core. Insist she repeat in Spanish whatever she just told us. Our neighbors encourage her teaching them Spanish, so that's a big plus! They enthusiastically quiz her "what's this in Spanish? And this? And what's that?" And they cheer and ooh and aah when she responds. :) My 1.5 yo cares a lot less about learning Spanish, but we are forcing the Spanish responses as well. And after all this effort, between them, they still play and argue in English. :kill:
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Re: Bilingual Toddler

Postby melsbells » Tue Apr 25, 15:25 2017

Enigma wrote:When we eventually have kids I'd like to raise them bilingual (English and Bengali) but I'm not sure how feasible that's going to be since my husband isn't super at Bengali and I'm terrible.
It was emphasized to me that it's important for emotional development that each parent speak in their own mother tongue. The idea is that it's most natural to convey emotion in one's first/primary language(s). Someone has referred to this saying that I needed to speak my "heart language". There are certainly other methods than one language per parent (what my family is doing) and minority language solely at home (DarkOne's family). Immersion learning and saying everything twice, first in one language then the other, are methods I've seen used in families where the minority language isn't a primary language for anyone in the household. Whatever the goal is for the minority language would make a difference, not being completely lost wouldn't require the same input as literacy.
DarkOne wrote:Our kid would also get this amusing confused facial expression when people she expected to be English speakers spoke Spanish.
I know that face.
rowan wrote:Cats don't respond to any language
Surprisingly, the cats listen to the kid's Finnish "come inside".

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Re: Bilingual Toddler

Postby rowan » Tue Apr 25, 18:54 2017

Do they respond by running away? ;) Cats, oy.

Taurwen I'm sorry your immersion experience was horrible. :( The ones around here seem to be pretty good.
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Re: Bilingual Toddler

Postby Taurwen » Wed Apr 26, 6:10 2017

I think raising bilingual people is cool though, and supposedly does so much for the brain.

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Re: Bilingual Toddler

Postby Enigma » Wed Apr 26, 15:30 2017

Taurwen wrote:I think raising bilingual people is cool though, and supposedly does so much for the brain.

These days it seems like 90% of the kids I hear about are in French immersion. Usually it's for reasons like class size though. I was never in French immersion but based on my experience in non-immersive classes at that age I think it would have been a living hell for me.
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Re: Bilingual Toddler

Postby Taurwen » Thu Apr 27, 5:28 2017

I think my situation Ame about because I was in a small town, so if a teacher spoke French that's all that mattered. Not if they were good teachers, not if they liked kids, and later in high school not if they knew anything about what they were teaching.

My grade one teacher was a demon, and didn't speak any English. So everytime she had parent/teacher meetings she just played dumb, and we were too young to play translator, or to know some authority figures weren't to be trusted.
We did grow very close as a class and by grade seven we successfully drove a teacher we didn't like to walk out of class one day and never come back. But I don't think of that as a good thing.

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Re: Bilingual Toddler

Postby Nachos » Wed May 3, 16:19 2017

Bilingualism! This is something I know a lot about! My last job was to speak English to my class in a partial immersion school and the kids picked up English so fast but spoke back to me in German. We worked on saying different words in German and in English and it meaning the same thing and I read English books to them. They differentiated pretty well but most of them came from a mono-lingual family background.

I can still highly recommend this book: (https://www.amazon.com/Third-Culture-Ki ... 1857885252) for bilingual children. Some very good advice in there.

Also, keep speaking English! Toddlers forget fast when a language is no longer present.

Yay bilingualism!
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