Bilingualism

A big challenge for bilingual and multi-lingual families is that each family’s language situation is unique. This means it’s almost impossible to give general advice because there are so many factors involved. There’s no one size fits all which can be a little frustrating I know. I remember my husband bemoaning most parenting books because they never seemed to answer the specific question he had!

In the bilingualism posts, I’m going to answer questions about very specific situations that people have talked to me about. Hopefully, you’ll find something useful for your own situation. If you’d like some answers to your questions about your own child’s language situation, just leave a comment below to get started or you can email me at marypat@talknua.com. I’ll do the research and write a post just for you!

So the first post is all about older children who have dyslexia acquiring a second language And you can read it here .

The second post is about stuttering in bilingual and multilingual families and you can read it here .

And here’s a post that I wrote for Trilingual Mama (a blog for multi-lingual families). It covers 4 things to reassure you about raising bilingual children: http://www.trilingualmama.com/4-things-that-will-reassure-you-about-raising-bilingual-children/

If you’re worried about your child mixing languages, this post is for you! You can read it here http://talknua.com/all-mixed-up-language-mixing-and-switching-in-young-bilingual-children/

Here’s a recent post that I wrote for Multilingual Parenting- it’s all about early language development in bilingual children: http://multilingualparenting.com/2016/01/27/early-bilingual-language-development-facts-and-fictions-guest-post/

If you’re worried about your child and think they might need to see a speech & language therapist/pathologist, read this to help you decide: http://talknua.com/the-3-times-you-should-definitely-ignore-your-doctor/

Here are 12 tips on what to say when someone tells you that being bilingual is a problem: http://talknua.com/what-to-say-when-the-doctor-gets-it-wrong/

I’m delighted to be a blogger with Multilingual Parenting. My first post is about bilingualism and learning issues. You can read that here: http://multilingualparenting.com/2016/05/22/qa-can-learning-difficulties-be-due-to-bilingualism-and-how-to-assess-this/

And here’s one about early language development in bilingual children: http://multilingualparenting.com/2016/06/02/qa-what-are-the-milestones-of-normal-language-development-for-a-bilingual-2-year-old/

And here is an interview I did with Olena Centeno of Bilingual Kids Rock with lots of tips about building language skills http://bilingualkidsrock.com/034-speech-pathologist-mary-pat-omalley-on-language-development-of-bilingual-children/

Here’s a post for parents of children with a diagnosis of speech, language, and communication challenges who have been advised by a teacher or psychologist to drop a language http://talknua.com/talking-with-your-bilingual-childs-teacher-or-educational-psychologist/ 

I’ve also guest posted on Bilingual Kidspot about language development and delay: https://bilingualkidspot.com/2016/09/14/language-development-bilingual-children/

And I’ve guest posted there with a review of recent research on bilingualism and children with autism, Down Syndrome and other developmental delays: https://bilingualkidspot.com/2016/10/17/bilingual-children-autism-downs-syndrome-developmental-delay/

Here’s another post with Multilingual Parenting;  all about encouraging your child to speak the minority language: http://multilingualparenting.com/2016/10/09/qa-how-to-get-a-toddler-to-use-the-minority-language/

If you like them, I’d love if you passed them on. And if you’d like your own question answered, either comment below or email marypat@talknua.com

 

Let’s get talking!
MP

21 Comments

  1. Hi Mary, I saw your post on FB and in fact I do hsve a question.
    Our situation is this: I’m German, but was raised speaking german and Spanish. My husband is turkish, but was raised turkish/ English. He also speaks German, hence our mutual language is German (most of the time, sometimes we slip in English, especially in heated discussions;))
    We don’t know where we’re gonna be living and now comes the question. Are three languages too much for a baby? Our son is 1 year old, and we want to each him German and turkish, but my husband thinks Spanish would be a good thing for him to learn, and I’d like him to speak English in this very global world. Also, our son doesn’t say one single word. Is that reason to be concerned?
    Thanks so much and many multilingual greetings from istanbul
    Bettina

    • Hi Bettina- How lovely to get a comment from Istanbul!! Basically, my understanding of the research is that children are wired/designed to acquire languages- so three is not too many! The question is what does the child need the languages for- communicating with parents, extended family, for education, for religion etc. They don’t get confused because they’re busy getting with acquiring languages!There is also variety in the advice with some people advising a one parent one language approach and discouraging mixing of the languages. I’m quite fluid in my approach and I think it’s best to communicate with your baby in a way that feels most natural to you. Language is for connecting emotionally with your baby and you need to feel comfortable doing that. I have a colleague who speaks fluent English and German too I think. Serbian is her first language and that is the language she felt most comfortable talking to her baby in- she said it just felt strange trying to do it in English. English is my first language and I speak Irish too but never spoke it to my little girl when she was a baby as it didn’t feel right. Hope that helps!

      First words usually emerge at around 12-15 months and how you know it’s a word is when it’s the same sequence of sounds used to refer to the same thing every time. For example, baba for bottle or wawa for water. It won’t necessarily sound like the adult version. Leave it with me and I’ll write a post with more details. Thanks again!
      MP

  2. Hi Mary-Pat,
    I also saw your post on FB…it was in the right place 🙂 I have two boys, one is 5 and the other tiny, who are Swedish and I am an expat child, mostly British. We have tried to do OPOL but all the adults my older boy comes into contact with speak both languages – English and Swedish (except Grandma who seems to understand whatever he says…she speaks five languages but oddly not Swedish!). So, at 5, he still blends both languages a lot of time. This makes communication with other children harder. He can separate out Spanish and French words though (not languages we use much). Do you have any advice for a) helping him separate out the languages and b) any thoughts on reducing the risk of his brother doing the same? Thanks from sunny Stockholm 🙂

    • Hej sunny Stockholm! Thanks for your comment- will have to do a little research to give a better answer so I will be back soon with more details!

      MP

  3. Hello Mary Pat!
    I have a question for you. How can we encourage my daughter to speak the minority language? Primary language for my husband and me is English. Secondary language is Spanish for both of us. My husband learned Spanish as a child and I learned it as an adult (mostly–though some as a child). My daughter is two and a half and spends half of her day with my in-laws and they speak Spanish (mostly) and some English. She spends the other half of her day going to a Spanish-immersion pre-school. We live in the U.S.

    It is very important for us that my daughter learn Spanish as it is a very important part of our culture. Additionally, our area of the country is increasingly bilingual, and we know that she will benefit greatly from being bilingual.

    My daughter is extremely advanced in speaking English but almost never speaks Spanish. I know that she understands it completely.

    My husband and I reluctant to speak to her in Spanish too much as we both recognize the limitations of our ability and do not want her to pick up any bad habits or poor grammar from us. We do read books to her in Spanish and try to speak to her in Spanish occasionally, but would really prefer that she learns the bulk of the language from native speakers. Are we harming her by not speaking Spanish to her? Or is it worse (as we thought) for us not to speak to her in the minority language? Do you have any suggestions on what else we can do to encourage her to speak in the minority language (Spanish)?

    I appreciate any help you could offer!

    • Hi Julia- thanks for the comment- I sent you an email with some suggestions- let me know that you got it!

      • Hello again! I just posted in the Facebook group about ideas to encourage the minority language and will put them all together into a book in the next few weeks so you can have that when it’s ready. It’s great that she spends so much time with her in laws- lovely opportunities there for learning Spanish in the context of important family relationships. And the immersion pre-school is great too. You are most definitely not harming her by not speaking Spanish to her- it’s really important that you feel comfortable communicating with her and it can feel strange to that in a language that you don’t feel totally competent in- I’m like that with Irish and my little girl. It sounds like you are doing lots already- books and story telling are great for building language skills and songs too- there are lots of them on Youtube- a really nice thing to do is sing the first line of the song and then leave a gap at the end for her to fill in the word – for example: twinkle twinkle……..and wait.

        At the end of the day, all you can do is focus on giving the best quality input and children’s use of the minority language does fluctuate with age and perceived need- it’s a long term goal and you just have to find ways of making Spanish attractive and meaningful to her. I think children know too if there’s pressure- my little one refuses to speak Irish at all and will be starting an all Irish language school in a few weeks which will be interesting!!

        Hope that helps and I’ll be back later with more tips

  4. I am an Irish grannie living in Ireland again after spending more than twenty years in Colombia and am bilingual ( Spanish/ English).. My daughter and her husband though bilingual speak Spanish at home and to their two year old daughter. She is starting to say a few words learnt both at home and at the creche in both languages. When I visit them we speak Spanish. I don’t know which language I should speak to my grandchild in.

    • Hi Helen- I’m so sorry- I was sure I had replied to you! How is your granddaughter doing? I would say speak to her in whatever language or languages feels most natural and comfortable for you. Because Spanish is a minority language here, you could speak that if it feels natural to you in order to really support it- she will pick up the English in creche and as it’s the majority language, it’s not in any danger! Hope that helps and sorry again for the delay
      MP

  5. Hi Mary Pat,
    Excellent blog!
    I mum of Olivia who will be 3 in December. My daughter is exposed to english from my husband and creche and polish from me. We live in Dublin. Her English is definitely stronger where she easily puts together two/three words sometimes more. She has problems pronouncing “c” at the start of some words cat/dat (in the middle and end od the word like book its ok)also “w” can turn into “b” water/bater red/bed. Her polish is at single/double word stage and vocabulary is way poorer than English. Her understanig of both languages is good. She can follow instructions and seem to get day to day activites. Do you think speach therapy could help at this stage? What language should the therapy be in? As in if I was to bring her to a speach therapist would it be better if they spoke polish as thats my first language.
    Thank you!
    Kasia

    • Hi Kasia- thanks so much for getting in touch. From what you write it seems to me that Olivia’s language skills are progressing as I would expect. The speech sound errors are exactly what i would expect a late 2 year old to be making- they are typically developing errors and nothing to be concerned about right now. With a 2 year old, you would expect to understand from 50-75% of what they say. As for her Polish vocabulary- this may to be due to the level of exposure and use compared to English- she gets more English. In order to build the Polish, she needs more exposure and use of it. I will email you my free e book 25 Ways to Make them Love Your Language which gives lots of tips for how to do this. Are you seeing her learn new words in both languages each week? My impression from what you have written is that she does not need to see a speech and language therapist- there are some checklists I can do with you if you want to explore things a little further. If you did have her seen by a speech and language therapist then ideally, she would need to be assessed in both languages and should have intervention in both languages. However, the therapist does not need to speak Polish for the intervention because with a child of this age, the intervention is generally with the parents so you could work out with the therapist how to apply the ideas in Polish. The main thing is not to give up Polish and to know that being bilingual does not cause any problems. All the best, Mary-Pat

  6. Hi MP 🙂
    Me and my wife are fluent in English and Mandarin (Native English for me and Native Chinese for her) and we have a happy daughter (Aria) who just turned 4months. So here is the question:

    During her first years, I want Aria to hear, recognize and become comfortable with the sounds, rhythm, phonology of a wide range of languages that I am not presently fluent in. I come from a family of linguists and have done a fair bit of reading on multilingualism myself so I don’t have anxiety going into this, but I sure would appreciate some fresh advice.

    I thought it would be relatively easy to find resources, strategies, advice for a parent who wants to bring the worlds languages into the home but haven’t been able to find much online. Is there somewhere I can but a great children’s storybook in 8 languages (with audio)? There must be plenty of parents out there who want to do something similar to what I’m planning…maybe only parents who have a linguistically diverse social network would do this (Sure would be easier)

    I appreciate any thoughts, advice, resources you can send me to.

    • Hi Nathan! Thanks for getting in touch! What an interesting question! And warmest congratulations on your lovely, happy daughter! I came across this book recently in a local coffee shop: My Daddy is a Giant and it is in English + 31 other languages but not in audio format as far as I am aware. One option I suppose would be to join a multilingual parents’ group on Facebook and see if you can ‘meet’ parents who might be prepared to audio record themselves reading it in one of the other languages. I’m willing to read it in Irish if you like! Youtube has lots of nursery rhymes in many languages- we love Les Titounis in our house for French and the Masha and the Bear cartoon in the original Russian is also much loved. Of course the lyrics aren’t there but Google can always help with that!

      At this stage, given her age, maybe you could pick a first words book- they should contain photos not drawings and learn the words to go with the pictures in another couple of languages?

      Hope this helps and be sure to let me know how you get on!

      MP

  7. Hi. Pls pls help!!! My Son is almost five. Has a wonderful word bank in English- reads and writes in English ( I am British and speak to him exclusively in English). We have always lived in England but most recently moved to Germany. (Papa is German and only speaks German to him) we have only been in Germany for two months so far, but my Son refuses to try to speak German. Unfortunately, the primary school has very little knowledge of bilingualism and he is not supported in his intergration as much as we would like him to be. We off course, know that our Son understands German but have never heard him speak it as he responds to both of us in English only. Any tips and encouraging the second language, now the main language all of a sudden! Many thanks!!!! Anita

    • Hi Anita- from reading your comment, it seems to me that what is happening is fairly typical for many bilingual children in a similar situation. I have a post about this- I’ve tried to put the link here but it’s not coming up when I post my reply! The post is called When Your Child Stops Talking. It’s in the October 2015 archive on the right of the screen. It takes quite a while for children to become proficient in the 2nd language and it’s quite common for them to go through a silent period as they absorb the input in school. It’s important to accept his communication, whatever the language so a good relationship with the teachers is important although not always easy. And there is also some useful information in this post about how long it takes to pick up the 2nd language for social and academic purposes. It’s called Moving to a New Country from August 2015- you can click on the month on the right of the screen.
      Hope that helps! MP

  8. Hi Mary Pat,
    I’m expecting my first child and have been following several blogs on bilingualism in preparation as my husband and I have 3 languages between us. I’m really enjoying reading your posts and seeing your perspective on communication with children. Can I request a copy of your ebook ” 25 Ways to Make them Love Your Language ”?
    Thanks,
    Alison

    • Hi Alison- exciting times ahead for you! I will email you a copy of 25 Ways and hope you find lots of useful ideas there. Thanks for your support and best of luck with your baby! MP

  9. Hi Mary Pat,
    I have a baby boy who is 5 months old and have been following multilingual parenting to assist me in teaching him my birth language (Spanish) in addition to English (my husband language and the language spoken at home). I have read several of your posts and found them very interesting. Would I be able to request a copy of your ebook? This would hopefully give me ideas of how increase boy’s exposure to Spanish. Many thanks,
    Laura

    • Hi Laura- thanks a mil for getting in touch! I’d be delighted to send you the ebook- I will do it this morning!
      Let’s get talking!
      MP

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