Bilingual Babies

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Bilingual Babies

Post by melsbells » Fri Feb 27, 13:24 2015

I am mono-lingual. My spouse speaks English with me (and usually better than me) but speaks Finnish as his native tongue. I'm trying to learn Finnish. I'm pretty terrible, but still making progress. Our child isn't even a year old. As expected, the kid speaks no words except maybe sometimes when we pretend to hear things like "hubba hubba". We are raisng our child to be bi-lingual. For us at this time, that means that we always speak to the kid using our native tongue. While pregnant, our midwife/nurse suggested http://www.duoduo.fi/ and it has been a good resource.

I'm sure I would have more to say about this once our kid starts talking, but a lot of people have [wrong] things to say to me about this already. Some people like to pass on plenty of negative antidotes about bi-lingual children who had speech development difficulties. Others are quick to assert that our kid will automatically be smarter than mono-lingual babies. Some people default to attempting to speak English to our kid when Finnish would come more naturally for them. My mother has cried many tears over her inability to speak Finnish and therefore inability to ever communicate with her grandchild.

I worry that the kid will pick up my bad English habits (dropping verbs, misusing words, mispronouncing words, unnecessary qualifiers, etc.) with no other major influence to counteract them. I know our kid will quickly outpace my Finnish learning, having already surpassed my ability to say the Finnish 'r'.

Does anyone here have personal experience with bilingual babies?

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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by Sonic# » Fri Feb 27, 13:49 2015

Wow, people are quick to assume the superiority or inferiority of bilingual children!

Just to your last point, the one where you worry that your ordinary usage will be detrimental to the child, I don't think that it would be that bad. People drop words and garble things up in speech all the time. I know I do. Even so, kids are geniuses at generalizing rules. My family comes from two different dialect backgrounds, and even at a young age my brother could distinguish and switch between dialects, even though his only contact with one dialect was through my grandparents and (to lesser extent) my dad. I know the mileage may vary with more languages, but maybe there are ways to get more exposure through other bilingual families.

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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by Cúglas » Fri Feb 27, 14:01 2015

Mel, I wish I could introduce you to a friend of mine. She was born in Finland to an American mother and a Swedish-speaking Finnish father, so she grew up trilingual. It is but an anecdote, but she got her PhD from Yale and is now a tenure track history professor at Xavier University. I agree that duo linguistic babies are not automatically smarter, but I feel like...how can I put this?...that having more than one native language gives the mind a broader field to work in. I think it is a huge mental advantage to be able to intuitively understand complex linguistic tricks like puns and slang in more than one language.
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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by rowan » Fri Feb 27, 16:15 2015

Eh, everyone speaks weirdly in their own language. That's what language does. Don't worry about that.

My kid's not bilingual (as in we don't speak in home) but we did send her to an immersion school so that at school she only speaks Spanish. It's amazing how much she can speak, and learn (and teach us a little) even with zero experience in the outside world.
In all honesty if you:
* speak English to the kid
* let others speak to the kid in whatever language they want (English or Finnish)

The kid will speak both languages. The brain is amazingly plastic, more than we ever thought (people CAN learn languages well and build brain connections at older ages, there's lots of new research out there!). Kid will be fine. Kid is already immersed in Finnish - even if you and your spouse only speak English at home, that will be fine! And even so your spouse is speaking Finnish. Things will be fine.

wrt your mother, just keep telling her that you are speaking English with him at home, so she will be fine and able to communicate. Kids over there (and most of the rest of the world) learn a lot of languages, we're just crappy here in the US about doing that, and frankly, doing them a disservice. Kids are sponges!
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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by spacefem » Sat Feb 28, 5:26 2015

I guess my only anecdote is my husband, who grew up speaking Spanish - his dad is from Mexico. But years later, as an adult, he can't speak Spanish. If you don't use it you lose it. And there was a freakinomics on this topic too, where they looked at the stats to see if learning another language does generic good things to your mind later in life, like music lessons can... turns out not so much. There's no income difference, no long term intelligence difference.

I mean do what's right sure, it doesn't hurt to learn another language. Just seems like there's not a ton of payoff either.

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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by melsbells » Sat Feb 28, 6:40 2015

Cúglas wrote:I think it is a huge mental advantage to be able to intuitively understand complex linguistic tricks like puns and slang in more than one language.
That ability doesn't come simply from being multi-lingual. I would be surprised if you've never met anyone who doesn't pick up on puns. I think the ability to play with language might be a sign of intelligence, but having more languages to play with doesn't make someone more intelligent.
spacefem wrote:And there was a freakinomics on this topic too, where they looked at the stats to see if learning another language does generic good things to your mind later in life, like music lessons can... turns out not so much. There's no income difference, no long term intelligence difference.

I mean do what's right sure, it doesn't hurt to learn another language. Just seems like there's not a ton of payoff either.
There could be harm if we didn't. I just learned from DuoDuo that a lot of research in the 70's advised parents to have their kids be mono-lingual because learning multiple languages at the same time would be too confusing and result in various developmental and learning disabilities. That research has since been debunked, but what a way to suppress minority cultures in multi-cultural families. Speaking to ones kids in the native tongue is supposed to enhance the kids' emotional intelligence, because it's more difficult for the parent to accurately express emotions in something other than one's first language.
rowan wrote:The kid will speak both languages. The brain is amazingly plastic, more than we ever thought (people CAN learn languages well and build brain connections at older ages, there's lots of new research out there!). Kid will be fine. Kid is already immersed in Finnish - even if you and your spouse only speak English at home, that will be fine! And even so your spouse is speaking Finnish. Things will be fine.
I think the idea that kids are sponges is problematic. I don't think rowan was suggesting this, but the idea that a kid will simply pick something up via osmosis is not the case. My kid isn't going to be able to speak Swedish just because it's accessible. A person needs to actively engage with a language to be fluent and literate. I think it will be easier for us with English as the minority language, than if were living in the U.S. and Finnish was the minority language.

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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by metawidget » Sat Feb 28, 9:29 2015

Our kids will grow up bilingual, we hope — on this side of the Ottawa river, we're in the English-speaking minority, and if they stick around the region, French is handy on either side of the river. For us, it's not intelligence or enrichment directly, it's feeling free around the neighbourhood and having as many opportunities to interact with the local kids as possible.
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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by rowan » Sat Feb 28, 10:31 2015

What I meant is that any kid who is immersed in a language - which your kid will be simply by talking with you - will learn it. Kids do soak up all kinds of things "by osmosis" but that's because they're immersed in culture. This is why we have to spend so much time fighting against cultural things that we don't like, such as my daughter coming home and saying "trains are for boys" when she was younger, despite liking trains, and other things now that she's older. The phrase "kids are sponges" is actually I think very good way of saying they'll pick up things you don't even mean them to pick up, simply because they are immersed in culture. Yes, if you want to teach them something specific, you have to be deliberate, but they will pick up all kinds of other things whether or not you intend them to and whether or not they even realize it's going on. It's really important to recognize this.
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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by Nachos » Mon Mar 2, 13:38 2015

I am/was a bilingual kid. I am now a bilingual (in another language though) adult. My mother is Dutch and I was born in England so I grew up speaking and understanding English and Dutch. I don't believe I had any problems up until my first day at school when apparently I came home saying "I don't want to speak that funny language any more!" and since my mother was told my doctors and teachers to only speak one language to your kid, I ended up forgetting it all.

Later on (when I was 11) we ended up moving to a Dutch speaking country and even though I was immersed in school I had to learn it all over again. Funnily enough, after about 7 months something clicked and the language started to come back.

Next problem was then we moved to Germany and even though the languages are similar, they are not the same. It took me about three years (immersed again) while learning German too for something to click and I started to also dream in German.

My Dutch teacher in the Dutch country had a grandson who spoke 4 languages fluently at the age of 6. He could differentiate between them too.

I've become very interested in Third Culture Kids (read the book! http://www.amazon.com/Third-Culture-Kid ... 1857885252) and one anecdote in there resonated deeply with me since my sister at the time was having difficulties sorting out her languages. The anecdote in the book referred to an American mother and an Israeli father who had a child. Each parent spoke their native language to the child. When the child started school he automatically spoke English to females and Ivrit to males. The child was fluent in both languages, he just didn't know when to differentiate until he was taught to do so. In my family we told my sister that she was only allowed to speak English at home, and German at school (a German school, so she did that anyway). After about a year her languages were separated. She is now fluent in both.

Basically, do what you want with your child language wise, but being bilingual is pretty awesome and it means that your child will be able to communicate with their whole family and also be able to watch American TV series without subtitles or dubbing :P
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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by meepster » Fri Mar 6, 2:02 2015

I'm bilingual in Russian and English, but I picked up English at the age of 13. Not sure if it made me any smarter, but I do want to give my kid that advantage. My partner and I haven't really talked about how we're going to do it yet, but we do want to do it. If nothing else, he or she will always be able to make some money as a translator. I'm not a professional translator, but back when I was unemployed, I made some nice $$$ translating books.

I'm even thinking of hiring a Chinese-speaking nanny or babysitter, so that the kid will pick up Chinese as well as Russian and English. The kid is still gestating at this point, so we've got some time. :)

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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by Zeph » Sat Mar 7, 12:44 2015

Your kid will speak both languages perfectly. The world is pretty Americanized, so your kid will probably watch a lot of TV/movies in English. The kid's grandma will be able to communicate with the child just fine.

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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by melsbells » Tue Mar 10, 6:58 2015

Thanks everyone for your encouragement.

Rowan, thanks for the clarification. I thought that's what you meant and having to fight against cultural norms is a really great point. What I was concerned about, was people assuming a kid can learn something, without motivation to learn it. Being immersed in a culture provides lots of motivation to follow social norms. In that way, I'm lucky globalization/Americanization has progressed as far as it has. I don't need to try as hard to provide motivation to speak Enligh as my spouse would to speak Finnish were we to live anywhere else.

Even with globalization/Americanization though, English will still be the minority language in this situation and require more intentional input. The author of the blog http://bilingualmonkeys.com/ speaks English to his children as their minority language in Japan and gives me the impression that relying on circumstances of what English is casually available to motivate isn't good enough, especially once formal education starts. Spacefem's husband no longer speaking Spanish and Nachos no longer speaking Dutch, I think are great examples of lacking motivation. Likewise, I had mentioned that my kid is unlikely to pick up Swedish, despite 10% of the population being native Swedish speakers, Swedish being one of the offical languages and therefore alongside Finnish everywhere, and having a Swedish speaking uncle.

Speaking of which, Nachos, I know it's asking a lot to ask you to channel your 7ish year old self, but what kind of motivation do you think might have kept you speaking Dutch?

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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by Nachos » Sun Mar 15, 12:41 2015

melsbells wrote:Speaking of which, Nachos, I know it's asking a lot to ask you to channel your 7ish year old self, but what kind of motivation do you think might have kept you speaking Dutch?
I think if my mother had kept speaking Dutch to me I might still have spoken it, I remember being read Dutch nursery tales at bedtime and fully understanding them, and then one day... not.

Also, I had just turned 5 when I started school (UK) so I was still very very young.
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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by Aum » Sun Mar 15, 20:35 2015

In China I became friends with a woman who knew 5 languages and was learning Mandarin as her 6th. She grew up in a multilingual family and lived at the borderlands of several European nations. She always lamented that she was never highly proficient in any of them, so she felt like her ability to go deep with people in any language was tough. But she did have a lot of cross cultural experience, that's for sure. Her main problem was that she never used them all at any given life period so she would start to have language atrophy and feel disconnected from more or one language groups.

I don't think multilingualism is superior, it's just a practical requirement of certain upbringings. I do think monoculturalism is a big problem though, it keeps people pretty ignorant of other realities.
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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by lovernotafighter » Sat Mar 21, 23:47 2015

I believe that being at least bilingual really opens up a lot of doors for you as you grow older. Being able to speak another language at least gives you many advantages, social, cultural, speach-wise... I'm sure there are many studies out there that can prove these advantages. All I can pass on is my own experience growing up bilingual. And I'm sure whatever you decide will be a good choice for you. :) My first language was Polish, as my mother was born and most of my family was born in Poland. People spoke in English and Polish to me, well, since I grew up in the United States! I believe I spoke mostly Polish to everyone. However, once I entered preschool, I began speaking English much more, and I was not only proficient at it, but still spoke Polish to my family. I believe myself to have an extended vocabulary in English and good grammar skills, but I'm pretty sure that came mostly from school, and...learning. :) So, whatever you choose is fine because this child will be yours, but I can only give positive advice when it comes to raising a child who speaks more than one language. It was also so much easier for me to learn more languages in secondary school and university. These results I'm sure are proven in studies. I wish I had more to refer to here. But, good luck!
Also, even though I don't speak as much anymore, since I have more limited contact with family who speak Polish, I still remember quite a bit and can even still read a little. I believe it all depends on the person what and how you remember. :)
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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by Isabella357 » Sun Mar 22, 15:23 2015

My spouse and I speak Spanish exclusively in the house and since our kids our 3 kids aren't in school yet, you'd think they'd speak and understand only Spanish. Ha! After overhearing phone conversations, grocery store interactions, work negotiations, and watching YouTube, our kids speak primarily English. They still understand Spanish, but they usually respond in English. We make a point to use Spanish words for everything (especially emotions) because many of our family members don't speak any English. While being bilingual may not make the kids smarter or more successful, it will help them to build stronger and more meaningful relationships with members of their family like aunts and grandmothers.

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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by Nae » Thu Mar 26, 20:18 2015

As someone who only knows English, I am so impressed by people who are bilingual, trilingual, or multilingual. Only knowing English feels like you can only understand part of the world. The problem I've had is I don't really know what language I should try to learn.

I think it's a wonderful thing to be able to teach a child two languages. The part others have raised about being able to communicate with family members makes it that much more rewarding.

Don't worry about the naysayers - they always have to pick on something, and if it wasn't that, they'd just find something else. ;)

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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by DarkOne » Mon Apr 6, 6:26 2015

My husband and I are both Spanish-English bilingual speakers, with Spanish as our native tongue. We live in an English speaking country, with very few friends who understand or speak Spanish. After some minor research, we decided to speak exclusively in Spanish to our daughter at home, in the hopes that, immersed in English, she would pick English up without major additional effort on our part. She has been going to daycare until noon on weekdays since she was 3 months old. We searched for a Spanish daycare, but could find none we really liked, so she spends her mornings in an in-home daycare where no one speaks a lick of Spanish.
Our daughter is 20 months old and is a chatterbox. At first, she favored Spanish heavily, and her daycare provider often asked us about Spanish words our daughter used and which she couldn't understand. Sometime after 18 months, we noticed a switch from favoring Spanish to favoring English, with no change in our approach. Fortunately, we understand her in English, but we are still forcing her to address us in Spanish, and she seems to have a healthy vocabulary in both languages so far. Yes, she mixes languages constantly, but we just correct her and move along. From what I've read, language mixing is expected while bilingual babies are sorting things out.
All this background is just to justify my view that immersion in a language will almost ensure the child picks up that language. It is the secondary language that is most in danger of being lost, depending on where you live, I'd recommend focusing attention on the non-submersion language.
Finally, here's an article I found which talks about types of bilingualism; I thought the first 5 pages were very interesting.
http://www.ncela.us/files/rcd/BE020329/PIG22.pdf
Hope you enjoy it, too!

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Re: Bilingual Babies

Post by sakooon » Mon Apr 13, 5:41 2015

Spacefem's husband no longer speaking Spanish and Nachos no longer speaking Dutch, I think are great examples of lacking motivation. Likewise, I had mentioned that my kid is unlikely to pick up Swedish, despite 10% of the population being native Swedish speakers, Swedish being one of the offical languages and therefore alongside Finnish everywhere, and having a Swedish speaking uncle.???
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