I am looking for some ideas/advice on the following. My husband is British and I am German. My daughter (now 4) was born in England and we managed to raise her perfectly bilingual by using our mother tongues (husband English, and I always spoke German). We lived in England but moved to Germany in August.
My daughter now attends a nursery which is mainly German speaking - the lack of English speaking schools is astonishing!
I am the main caregiver and slowly but surely her level of English is dropping. I suggested to her that I will now speak English - which she is mainly refusing. She only wants to speak English to my husband who is away a lot. Is there any way you can suggest to “win her around” and speak English to me? I have studied and lived in the UK for 14 years - so it should be decent enough, even though it feels a little weird speaking English to her after all this time.
We also have a 3-month-old son now and I have started speaking English to him - as our environment is now German and he will pick up the German anyway.
Please advise on how to convince our very determined and spirited 4 year old that speaking English to me will help her in the long term.
I know you're asking Adam Beck , but in the meantime, I thought I would share some ideas, in case it helps.
I'm no expert on this, just a mom with a -also very determined and spirited...stubborn? - 5yo daughter and a 2yo son.
If I put myself in your shoes, I don't think reasoning with my daughter would help; she's too little to understand. But children know what they want, so if you can make fun stuff only available in English, she may slowly accept the change, after some complaints, whining, etc. For instance, I would start with TV: TV time is only in English. Then, books are only available in English. If you want me to read you a book, I'm sorry but they're all in English, so I have to read it in this language. Then: Look, I'm playing this game you love, but I'm playing it in English; do you want to join me? German is not allowed in this game, etc... You slowly change your language of communication from German to English. You could also argue it's a way for her brother to understand you both, because he doesn't speak German, so you both have to speak English to the baby. I would even go as far as praising her in English. It's easier not to complain about a language when what you're being told is something you want to hear. The trick, for me, is slowly making things she loves only available in English: TV, books, praise, sweets (if you want a sweet, ask in English).
I think Amy can definitely help you with this, as she made the transition from allowing the ML at home to banning it. Even though she kept speaking the same language to her daughters, they were no longer allowed to speak in the ML.
Raquel I simply loved that beautiful gentle transition scheme you suggested! It is so smart and I'm sure in the long run convincing with a child. I wish I had thought of it myself for my eldest daughter!
Our circumstances are a bit different, but if it can help, here is our story.
We live in France (ML), my Spanish husband rears our 2 daughters in Spanish (ml1) and I rear them in English (ml2). When my eldest was born, we followed OPOL but used the ML as our family communication language. My eldest grew to be a passive trilingual who understood her mls but did not speak them. She found the ML easier (so she told me) and since we spoke it she did not bother using her mls.
When she turned 4, I made a brief try without telling my husband or daughter, and spent a whole day speaking just ml2 at home. Amazingly, by the end of the day, my eldest started to try replying in ml2! It hit us there and then that we had to stop using the ML (not a problem since my husband and I speak each other's ml). That's how overnight we came to ban the ML.
We explained the change to my daughter by giving her a “mission,” contained in a pretty golden envelope: 3 tiny flags for each one of our languages. We asked her to stick the two ml flags on the outside of our front door, to remind her which languages she should use when she walks into the house. On the inside of the front door, we had her post the French flag to remind her that, on the way out, she could now switch to using the ML. This very visual concept really helped her to understand the change occurring in our home, and acted as a reminder whenever she deliberately slipped up and we sent her to look at them.
She still prefers the ML and recently asked me if we could speak ML at home again...and it's now been 2.5 years since we banned the ML!! So you see, she is obstinate. But she abides by the house rule that we set for all the family members to follow. We also regularly remind her why we insist so much on languages, and particularly English as she does not understand why her French mother insists on speaking English to her. We explain to her the importance of the English language in society, how it will help her later on at school and in life. We never miss an opportunity to point out minority language speakers, especially children like her.
It took roughly 6 months of this to completely eradicate her use of ML as she filled her gaps of ml knowledge with ML words.
Now, many bilingual parent bloggers are against forcing children to speak the ml so as not to antagonise them (I'm actually preparing a blog post on that very topic. Funny coincidence! ). Personally, I disagree a little: it cannot be made a general rule. It depends on each family's personal circumstances and the child's personality.
We chose to "force" our eldest because it is for her own good and she cannot make an informed decision at her young age. A bit like the decision of feeding your child healthy food (thank you Raquel for this analogy you recently gave me ). She might not like it but you still do it for her own good. We also did it because we could see she'd eventually follow, once she pulled herself into gear to make the effort. And we were right. She is now an active trilingual and her sister (who was 4 months old when we switched to [email protected]) has grown in her 2 mls and so far seems to accept them (no resistance yet).
So this is our story for you. I do want to encourage you not to give up. Here are 3 suggestions for you to explore:
1 - I think Raquel's suggestion is great and worth a try. You will need to spend a lot of that fun time together to re-build your relationship in that language.
2 - I would strongly recommend shifting to the [email protected] as a family rule. Setting the example as a family sends a strong subliminal message to your child.
3 - The Time & Place strategy - Nellie used it very successfully with her daughter who refused to speak their ml1. All the family members had their dinner in ml1, even the ML daddy had to make the effort. Their daughter protested a fortnight but eventually got used to it and now speaks to her mum in ml1 85-90% of the time (from the latest update I read ).
Hope this helps. Please keep us posted at the Track Your Progress board. We love meeting new Zoo Keepers but even more to hear the good news and give support when you reach out for some.
First of all, congratulations on managing to raise a bilingual child using ‘normal’ OPOL! I think this is pretty rare actually - most of us find that the ML is very pernicious and takes over easily. So you are starting off on a good footing!
As for your situation now, it is fantastic that you are acting NOW. You definitely will be able to rectify it if you act quickly!
Here are my two cents: In a situation where you are the main caregiver and your husband travels, and she attends an ML school, it is imperative that you make some adjustments that ensure that she gets a decent amount of input in English (preferably around 20 hours a week). I would absolutely recommend that you start by speaking English to her. You can justify this change by saying clearly to her that now you are in Germany, your family language will be English, because it is important to you that everyone communicate in English. She will resist, but be firm!
Secondly, I love what Raquel said about making it fun. This is key to getting her on board!
Here is what we did: We were living in Latin America, so had Spanish as our ML and English (me) and French (husband) as our mls. My daughter ONLY spoke Spanish, although she understood the three. When she was 3, we moved to France and she started a bilingual French-English school - but where the main language used by the kids is French.
We moved in August and by December she was speaking French, but still refusing English. At that point, we decided to take the “drastic” decision of imposing, whether she liked it or not, that everyone - including papa - would speak English at the dinner table. She fought, refused, sulked, cried...everything you can imagine for the first couple of weeks. One day in the metro, she told me (in Spanish!): “English is not important. Only Spanish”. Her main anger was not over herself being asked to speak English (although she was not happy about it!), but mostly about her father speaking it! She kept saying “papa doesn’t speak English, NO, papa doesn’t speak English”. To try to make it fun, we introduced a rule that if anyone spoke in French, everyone else would point and make a funny noise. She loved this - well, not so much when it was her, but when we could make the noise at papa!
Then all of a sudden she started to find it funny to hear her father speak English, rather than getting angry. Then she got into it. And now, she pretty much always speaks in English with me! And the amazing thing is that it has spilled over - now that we speak English at the table, we often end up speaking English with my husband at other moments too - so extra input for my daughter who hears our conversations!
So that was a big lesson for me.
My other experience relates to the process of a language being lost. When we arrived in France, other than the first month when we were settling in and I arranged for my daughter to stay with a full-time Spanish-speaking nanny, once she started school she basically was spending Wednesday afternoon (5 hours) with a Spanish speaker and 4 hours on the weekend. So 9 hours total, spread out over only two days. Four months after we arrived, we spent three weeks in Australia, with zero input in Spanish. When we got back to France, I realized that she was starting to resist Spanish - which until just a few months ago had been the ONLY language she would speak. I immediately went into rescue mode! I ordered a ton of books in Spanish that I knew she would love, and decided that I would read at least one to her every day (until then I only read in English). At the time, I was on maternity leave, so I had no need for a nanny every day, but as soon as I went back to work I arranged for a Spanish-speaking nanny to pick her up from school every day. I found playgroups and tried to find friends for her who had Spanish as a language. And we went on holidays to Spain. Now, she gets around 17 hours a week of Spanish in a “normal” week, which is about the best I can do without encroaching on “English” time! And although her vocabulary is probably not as extensive as a native speaker her age these days, I think she speaks well and she certainly loves the language! But there is absolutely a constant need to be vigilant - and if you speak the language to your daughter yourself, this will actually be really helpful as you will be able to identify immediately her gaps and strengths, so you will know what to focus on.
Silke, I'm sorry for my slow reply! I was in China, to attend a wedding in Beijing, and have been struggling to catch up with the rest of my life since returning to Japan.
I'm thrilled, though, to see all the very helpful advice that you've received from our community of "keepers"! Well done, everyone!
Since so much good advice has already been offered, let me just stress the bigger picture of this current challenge:
Your daughter's resistance is only natural, but with time--and patience, playfulness, and perseverance--you will no doubt successfully transition to using English as the home language for the whole family. And, as you're aware, this is a vital evolution in your bilingual journey because, given the circumstances you describe, where your husband is unable to spend as much time with the children, the English exposure you can provide is vital to sustaining your bilingual success.
So Silke, stay patient and playful, and persevere through this challenge by keeping your eye on the larger arc of your children's bilingual lives. I expect you'll experience the sort of positive movement you seek over the weeks and months ahead.
Please let us know how things go! We're cheering you on, and we're here to help!
**NEW! Bearded Dragon Daydreams Coloring Book, created by me and my son, is now available at booksellers worldwide!** Adam Beck is the author of the popular nonfiction books "Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability" and "I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL!" (illustrated by Pavel Goldaev) as well as the award-winning humorous novel "How I Lost My Ear" (illustrated by Simon Farrow).
One other tool, which I know is polemic in some sectors, is forcing TV to be in the language you want to strengthen. It won't teach your child a new language, but it can help shore up a language she already speaks. In your case it would be particularly helpful because a lot of what kids watch is originally in English anyway -- and once they develop an ear for it, they won't tolerate dubbing.
I don't have experience with German, but in my home we speak English and Spanish, and have found that different languages have specific strengths when it comes to material. For example, rhyming books in English are far more common and fun (think Julia Donaldson and Dr. Seuss), and we haven't found any sort of Spanish equivalent. So we make use of things that are "better" in languages we're looking to strengthen.
That's interesting about looking for what's best in each language, Jordana.
I agree with what you said about TV too. Children learn best when they're having fun. If someone fun is available in only one language, they have a "need" for that language, which will strengthen it. Sure, TV alone isn't going to help, but I find it to be a very helpful complement of everything else we do. Recently, I've even allowed 20 minutes of TV time before bed on school days, for this very reason. They get exposure to native speakers for a short time, and they do learn lots of things from it. Just the other day, my daughter woke up her brother with a "rise and shine!" that I know she hasn't learned from us.
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