So let’s talk about bilingualism…

In my self-declared Year of Talking About Bilingualism, one thing I would like to encourage is “audience participation” on my blog.
I have a lot to say about bilingualism, but I’m sure that many people who read my blog have a lot they want to ask about bilingualism. When I do seminars and workshops it often looks like popcorn in the room, with hands going up all the time, all over the place. I always encourage the audience to ask questions, and do my best to answer them in my allotted time frame. Inevitably, this leads to some (or many) questions not being answered, especially the ones pertaining to unique family circumstances.
I’ve noticed the numbers reading my blog creep up over the last weeks (thank you!) but so far, no discussion.
I’d like to invite all my readers to use the comment section to ask questions, to dialogue with each and to let me know what subjects are of pressing concern to you. Above all, I want this blog to be useful to my readers, so please, Dear Readers, let me know what useful would be for you!
I’ll be waiting for the first question/comment and make my next blog entry on that topic. First come, first served!

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16 thoughts on “So let’s talk about bilingualism…

  1. I read every post from your blog (wich I discovered when I assisted to your workshop by the Delft mama kids fair last december) and it is really helping me a lot.
    I am from Spain and my husband is from Mexico. My son attends a creche and peuterspeelzaal that are pure Dutch. Before I used to talk to him is Spanish and Dutch but since your workshop I use only Spanish ( my husband is usually on abroad so I am the only source of my mother language to him), since then he talks less than before. I take it as an adaptative fase ( mamma speaks no more Dutch to me) but is also worrying ( he also speaks less to the carers in both kindergardens) Is it normal? Do you have any advise for us?
    And thanks a lot, you have been the light in the dark for us!
    Best regards
    Tamara

    • Hi Tamara,

      Just a quick, specific answer to your post. I wouldn’t worry about your son just yet – he is very young (many boys his age hardly speak at all yet!) and he does need to adapt to the fact that you are no longer using two languages with him. He will get enough Dutch from being in creche/peuterspeelzaal during the week, and as you mentioned, you are his only source of Spanish, so it is important to give him as much input as you can in Spanish. He will get used to the new system, and then both languages will continue to grow, instead of just his Dutch, which was what you were risking before. Keep me updated and feel free to ask if you have more questions!

      • Thanks a lot! If I have questions I will ask you for sure 😉
        And I’ll kerp on reading because through other reader’s questions I am also learning.

  2. Dear Eowyn

    I am so glad this blog exists ! I read it when I need to raise my morale in the (not so easy) journey to raise my 2.5 yrs old son as a trilingual.
    I am Greek, my husband French and we now live in the UK. We speak exclusively to our son in our mother tongue (me in greek, my husband in french) and let him learn english at the nursery.
    He’s been full time to an english speaking nursery since the age of 5 months and he now speaks mainly french and greek and very limited words in english.I find that quite surprising given the fact that he practically spends more time in the nursery than with us.
    I am beginning to get worried as his level is below his peers (in all three languages) so I am wondering whether we are doing a mistake introducing him to three languages so early ?
    One lady at the nursery suggested that I start speaking english to him but I am afraid this might confuse him even more ?

    Many thanks
    Areti

    • Hi Areti – I think you guys are doing a get job! Three languages is a challenge but you are doing exactly what you should be doing. Firstly, it’s normal that your son uses more Greek and French right now. Although he spends more time in English, when he is with you or your husband, he gets much better language input. Children acquire language best from one-to-one speech, and they don’t usually get a lot of that in nursery. You probably give him a lot more input, and much richer input, in the time you are with him, so he is learning Greek and French first.
      He is also still very young, so I wouldn’t worry yet about his not being up to his peers – there is a very wide range of language ability at that age. What I would suggest is that you continue to pay attention to his speech development in Greek and French – is he regularly adding words? Is he starting to put two words together? AS long as you can see growth, then keep doing what you are doing.
      You should definitely not start speaking to him in English! He needs you to continue what you have been doing with him. The reality is that if you live in England, he will get ample English input over the years, and you will need to work to maintain his other languages (especially Greek) so a solid base is very important. You can always refer his nursery workers to my post on the importance of Mother Tongue – I wrote an article on it a few months ago for a local newspaper and I’ll post it here later.

      • Many thsnks Eowyn for the answer! Much appreciated.

        p.s. I got to know you when we were living in NL. We moved to the UK when my son was 9 months

  3. Hello, Eowyn, I saw you at the Delft MaMa Info Fair and enjoyed the lecture very much. I’m in a similar situation as Areti Rizou. We are raising our children (aged 2,5 years and 10 months) with 3 languages (Polish, German and Dutch) using the OPOL method. I worry about the children’s Polish (they will have Dutch and German at school). My worries are that my children will, after havinhg learned additional languages like English and/or French, drop Polis ( a language that is not held in high esteem in the Netherlands) in favor of other languages they might consider more useful. Also my husband or his family don’t understand Polish and I speak German on a nearly-native speaker level. I’d like to add that I have family in Poland who are extremely supportive but they also speak good German. They are bilingual themselves (my father: Polish-French, and my mother Polish-English) So what motivation will my children have to speak Polish if everybody speaks other languages as well? Besides, I am very interested in reading stories from other readers. Please share!

    • Hi Olga – I wanted to let you know I haven’t missed your question! A few other people have the same questions about minority language maintenance, so I’ll try and make a post for all of you soon. In the meantime, have you read my post entitled “OPOL: The Minority Language Dilemma”? It’s a good place to start, and you can ask me if you want me to clarify or expand on anything. I’ll also address your question about losing your Polish – it’s a very interesting issue!

  4. As a mother of an autistic son I am being given the advice to learn dutch and speak only dutch with him. What do you think of this advice.
    A speech therapist previously told us she thought our son would have no problem being bilingual.

    • Hi Catie,
      This is an area where there is a lack of research, but overall, it doesn’t seem that children on the spectrum are “harmed” by bilingualism. However, there is research showing how important it is to all children to have a strong first language. In your son’s case, his first language is English, and this needs to be maintained at all costs. You definitely should not learn Dutch and start speaking Dutch with him!
      This blog is a very good resource for parents/therapists and you should share it with whoever is giving you that advice!

      Good luck and if you have any more questions please feel free to email me.

  5. Speaking from personal experience, patience is the key. When my son was born I decided and we stuck to our guns: English with Mama, Dutch with Papa. Then we moved to Colombia and he got Spanish at playschool and with his playmates. We stuck to our guns – and since Papa was not at home as often as Mama, invested in countless Sesamstraat videos. When my daughter was born – idem ditto. Often, actually, more than often, until my son was about 5 I would say something to him in English, his father in Dutch and the answer was fleunt Spanish. At some point the switch took place and he answered in the appropriate language. Comprehension was always there.

    When we returned to the NL the children played in Spanish until school started – then they made the natural switch to Dutch. It was sad to see the Spanish fall away – but ‘keeping it around’ seemed forced to us. Perhaps it will come back, who knows.

    Then we hit the age when children do not want to be ‘different’ and they ‘refused’ to speak English. Here is where patience comes in! A wise Danish friend, with older children and also two languages at home, advised me not to ‘stress’ – as I did (especially before the first cup of coffee). Indeed she was right. As they get older they see, feel, the benefits of another language and move on to it being ‘cool’ to be different in this manner. Now we mish and mash it all and are slowly returning to the pattern of them speaking in English to me and Dutch to their father. Comprehension always there!

    Did not know you then Eowyn, but support whole heartedly what you do.

    Perhaps one final note: until the children were about 7 my husband and I only used one language in our own conversation (at least when the children were around), and were patient with that one as well.

  6. Hi, I’m from UK living in Australia with my German husband, and we’re raising our 1yo daughter bilingual using the OPOL method. Folks seem keen to suggest out that once she goes to school she’ll lose all the German she’s learned because the dominant language will be English from there on in. In your experience does that have to be the case? Also, I am interested in how we should approach reading and writing. She will be in an English speaking school, should we be looking for German classes for her and if so at what age? We don’t want to overburden her and we’re more interested in the spoken German. Must get around to reading the book I have bought on this topic but would be very interested to know your thoughts! Thanks in advance 🙂

    • Hello and welcome, from the other side of the world! I’d love to know how you found my blog – I’m just starting and most of my readers are local (have attended my seminars etc.) Have you had a chance to check out the post entitled “OPOL, The Minority Language Dilemma”? I think it is a beginning to answering your question – of course it’s not a certainty that your daughter will lose her German, but you will have to plan for continued bilingualism as it is a risk with minority languages. A couple of other readers have had similar concerns, so I’ll try and make a post specific to your concerns as soon as I can. In the meantime, feel free to keep reading and commenting!

  7. I am a mother of two bilingual children in Australia. our mother tongue is Arabic but the children use English mainly together because they spend most of the time in school. I am doing my research on the challenges that bilingual children and their caregivers face in Australia. I am trying to analyse your blog for a wide knowledge on what is challenging parents to maintain their mother tongue.

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