We are trying to raise our children bilingual in Arabic, which is my husband's native language, and which I also speak. The children understand it very well, but we've had a lot of problems trying to get them to actually speak it. They will use isolated words in Arabic, or repeat something if you give them a choice, but won't form sentences on their own. I think, between us speaking with them, our Moroccan nanny, and the Arabic books and cartoons, that they're getting a lot of exposure, but the problem is creating need.
A big problem is that they speak English even with the nanny, who understands English, but doesn't really speak it, and so always speaks Arabic with the children. She'll say something to them or ask them a question in Arabic, and they will answer back in English. I realize now that the smart thing to do would have been to make an agreement with her when we first hired her three years ago that she would pretend not to understand English. But, obviously, that ship has sailed. So, my question is: Do you think it's too late? If she started pretending that she couldn't understand them when they speak English, might that work? She just started vacation and we won't be seeing her for three weeks, so if we're going to do that it seems like it might be a good time.
Does anyone have any experience trying something similar?
It doesn't hurt to try. Quick background on us. We are an English-speaking family only, but I wanted my kids to be bilingual. I put them in French activities and got a French nanny part-time. I also managed to get them into French bilingual school. It has been 6 months since my daughter started the school (she joined halfway through the year) and my son starts in September. My daughter understood a lot of French, but would respond in English. If I forced her, she would say the words in French. I decided to get an au pair and tell her ahead of time the au pair does not understand or speak a word of English (not true, but it was the only way). I realised my daughter would not speak French without having the need. So I prepared her by talking about how the au pair would be so fun and play with her etc, but doesn't speak or understand English. I said she will need to help her feel comfortable by speaking French, or the au pair might feel shy or want to leave. From the moment my daughter met the au pair, she spoke only FRENCH! I was so proud and shocked that it actually worked. They speak sentences and can speak for over an hour playing games. Of course my daughter still has a lot to learn, but she really does only speak French, not one word of English to the au pair. It's amazing.
You could try telling them that the nanny is away and now forgot all her English. Keep repeating this and say things like "She forgot English, so we must all speak Arabic to her or she won't understand." At first they might try English. But have the nanny just respond to any English with "I don't know, speak Arabic" in Arabic obviously. Hopefully this will work. Your kids are young enough that it could work. Good luck!
Karen - do your kids ever speak Arabic with you or anyone else? I'm asking because my daughter always responds in Spanish, even if the person she is speaking to doesn't speak a word of it. For instance, my mother came to visit for 10 days and the whole time, my daughter only spoke in Spanish to her (my mother is totally monolingual English...and we told my daughter this many times!). Since we have moved to France (3 weeks ago), my daughter just clams up anytime she is expected to say anything in either French or English. For example, we were at a café the other day and the waiter brought her a glass of water, so I asked her to say thank you (which she is quite capable of saying in French and English). When she refused, I asked her why and she said "yo hablo español".
Anyway, the point of this story is to say that maybe there is some issue about shyness/timidity in expressing themselves in the ml for the moment? I do think pretending your nanny doesn't understand Arabic is a great idea (please let us know how it works!), but I also wanted to say that creating need and desire seems to be a pretty common challenge...I guess we just need to persevere! Sorry, this isn't a very helpful post but I felt compelled to respond!
I guess I was REALLY lucky with this. I fully expected to have challenges with my daughter, especially since she only started learning French at school in January and me and my husband only speak English to the kids (we don't know how to speak French). I am learning as they learn, but obviously my daughter knows a lot more. I know the basics and would speak some basics to her, but of course she would speak English to me, unless I nagged her for simple things "Merci, oui" etc. Anyway, to my surprise and delight, from day one she has only ever spoken French to our au pair and not one word of English. I fully expected her to try English at first, but she didn't. Cross fingers it continues and yes I agree there is a bit of shyness to it, as she would be so shy to speak to her friends parents in French when they spoke French to her.
That is indeed great Marie! It would be so helpful to put the finger on just why your daughter has so embraced French...maybe it is because she feels some sense of pride to show her skills to you, particularly as you are learning at the same time? Maybe it is extra motivation somehow? What is her general personality like?
My sister and her husband came today and haven't seen my daughter with the au pair since when she first came. They said she has had a lot of progress and they said something that makes sense because I brought up this subject of kids not wanting to speak the language or when they only respond in English or like my daughter who with others who speak French to her she seems to clam up. They said if a child has already spoken to someone in English or associates them in English the brain associates them with that language, which is why they say it's best when you can do "one language, one parent" approach (if you can because not all can). I wouldn't be able to do this if I want to further my French, as I need to practice with my daughter. Although, I must admit I have been very slack on learning since the au pair has come. I need to get back to it. I know a lot of basics. But as my daughter talks and strings sentences together I'm not sure what she is saying. But at least I can pick up a bit of what she is saying.
My daughter is 5.5, Nellie, so that makes a difference I think because she is older and perhaps understands more. I explained to her how the au pair was coming to play with her and do fun things with her, but she might not want to stay because she speaks no English and would not feel comfortable if we can't communicate with her. I asked if my daughter could please help us with this, to make the au pair feel welcome by speaking to her in French. This way the au pair will not be worried and will be more comfortable to stay. I think this talk helped because my daughter was very excited about her coming and wanted her to stay. Teachers say my daughter is outgoing and has confidence in class. But I know she has a shy side as well. Everyone is different. But after discussing with my sister and her husband I agree, that once a child associates you with one language, it's hard to switch off. It's almost as if the brain automatically works out with out them noticing much. At the table my daughter will speak to us in English and turn her head to the au pair and suddenly say something in French and then English back to us. She is so quick and doesn't have to think. But when my friends who are bilingual speak to her in French, and my daughter has already spoken English to them, it's like she goes blank and has to think about what to say.
We go to France in a few days and she will visit her best friend. Of course they will probably speak English together, but I told her the father forgot his English and can now only speak French. So it will be interesting to see if she speaks to him in French or if she reverts to English, as she has only ever spoken English to him when they were in London. I will let you guys know how it goes!
And Nellie, I read your background and found it very interesting how you learned French. It will be interesting when your daughter makes the switch from speaking Spanish to French, because that will happen, as kids always speak the language that they learn at school with their peers.
I hope it's okay if I tag along in this post for a slightly similar question. I've been unbelievably lucky to meet a teen who is French, in our little French village, but spent the last 5 years in English speaking Canada. Her English is amazing, and she is interested in babysitting our 2.5-year-old daughter. I'm thinking I should aim for at least once a month, or maybe even weekly but short periods (so it's not too expensive!
I'm wondering about best practice: I've briefed her on our method: speaking only English, acting slightly confused if my daughter responds in French, giving her the first sound of a word (which makes her repeat the whole sentence in English) as well as telling her my daughter should never hear French from her. However I'm concerned that it will be hard for her to confidently use the method, she's so sweet...maybe she'll feel obligated to respond to her French? Any tips from similar babysitting, lessons, au pairs? I've considered asking her to spend time with myself and my daughter to show her how I do it...or maybe share a video?
English speaking Canadian Mom, French speaking Dad, happily transitioning to minority language at home (English) with our baby daughter in France.
In our case, it was the 'babysitter' -who came weekly in July one summer- who pretended not to understand "yes" in our ML (Spanish) and got my daughter to say it in the ml (English). After that, I had learned my lesson and started not to 'understand' Spanish either. She spoke both Spanish and English, so she did understand, but chose not to. I'm sure that if you stress how important it is that she never speak French, under any circumstances, and that she should pretend not to understand it either, she'll do it. You can always ask her to come while you're home so that she can see how things work in your family, but it shouldn't take her long.
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Nellie: Adam - will watch the video as soon as I can (living circumstances not permitting right now - we are still in temp accommodation and I can't turn on volume) - looking forward to it!
Sept 22, 2017 5:56:44 GMT 9
Mayken: Skyping with grandma last night had to be cancelled due to technological problems - I needed to talk my mom through a Skype update and her phone battery died. :-(
Sept 25, 2017 20:45:42 GMT 9
Joanna: sorry Mayken...this is sad but funny as I'm sure many skype Grandparents have the same woes !(mine..) For us this weekend: potty training has led to great quality time reading and chatting, and some pretty hilarious ml questions
Sept 26, 2017 6:20:44 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Mayken and Joanna, I can relate! My mother (Grandma) can't seem to get the sound on her computer working so when we Skype, we also have to use the telephone!
Sept 26, 2017 6:36:03 GMT 9
Mayken: Adam, and Joanna, it's good to know we're not alone in this!
Sept 27, 2017 2:46:28 GMT 9
Joanna: Planning a long Christmas minority language visit, so exciting!
Sept 30, 2017 14:46:01 GMT 9
Mayken: Yay! Skype is working again on my mom's tablet, meaning we can skype with ml grandma again!
Oct 2, 2017 23:12:24 GMT 9
Mayken: The other day my mom (monolingual ml) called while my daughter and I were out, so Daddy (monolingual ML) answered. My mom was amazed to find out he isn't monolingual ML any more after all, and praised his active ml ability.
Oct 3, 2017 23:28:39 GMT 9
Joanna: For each day my daughter is exposed to other people speaking English (here in France) I put a little star on the calendar...trying to fill it up!
Oct 8, 2017 3:52:17 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Nice motivating idea, Joanna! And Mayken, thanks for sharing your good news on two fronts!
Oct 9, 2017 7:11:50 GMT 9
Marisa: My daughter won't say number one in Spanish or English, but in German! She loves recognizing the number and saying it out loud... it sounds more like the word 'ice' in English, though, but it's 'eins.' Number 9, however, is 'nueve'. So funny!
Oct 11, 2017 10:33:45 GMT 9
Mayken: My dad's giving Adam's book to his Lithuanian friend's daughter, whose husband is sceptical about their little girl learning German.
Oct 14, 2017 21:10:20 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Mayken, thank you for sharing my book! I hope it can be helpful to them!
Oct 16, 2017 15:57:32 GMT 9
Marisa: Adam, another bilingual monkey is about to be born near me (one of my colleagues is giving birth tomorrow), so I also got her and her husband a copy of your book... this world needs more bilingual kids!
Oct 18, 2017 0:06:43 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Many thanks, Marisa! In my humble opinion, more bilingual kids = more empathy in the world = a more peaceful planet.
Oct 18, 2017 7:33:04 GMT 9