Saturday, October 14, 2006

Non-native speaking parents--No problem!

A common myth about raising children bilingually is that you must be a native speaker of the language you're teaching your child. However, this is untrue. Whether you are a second language speaker or native speaker, you can enrich your child's life by introducing him or her to another langauge.

In fact, the contributors to this blog are native English speakers; however, we've chosen to use second languages with our children as well. For example, I speak English as a native language, French as a second language, and live in Japan. My hope is to introduce my daughter to these three languages and cultures, although the exposure to each will vary.

There are many related issues and we intend to cover many of these in our upcoming posts. If you are raising your children bilingually, especially as a non-native speaker, we'd love to hear from you!


Sarah said...

I read an article by a linguist who stated that if you're not a native speaker of the language, you shouldn't bother trying to teach that language to your child, because you'll screw it up with imperfect pronunciation and grammatical errors, and that's a disservice to the child. After speaking with an applied linguist whom I respect immensely, and who has successfully raised a bilingual child, I am confident that the first linguist mentioned is wrong. Just think about, for example, how many non-native speakers teach languages in high schools and universities all over the world. Even if the child does speak with an accent, so what--he still speaks two languages. And I know plenty of people who make egregious grammatical errors in their mother tongues.

Martine said...

I was raised in Germany and exposed to a foreign language, I am French. When I had my children, I decided to raise them in two languages, because I believed that it would be easier for them if they were used to hear the sound of another language.

From the day they were born, they were exposed to French and English. My mother language is French and I knew that they would speak French anyway. As long as they didn't go to school (we live in Canada, part in France) I very seldom left them watch TV in French. I thought that if they had to watch TV might as well learn something out of it. Instead of the French or Canadian children programs, I chose Sesame Street, it was at the time the best children's program.

My son didn't like me to speak English with him, and even though he understood what I said, he always replied in French. I don't know, maybe, when he was very little, he felt that when I was speaking English to him, I was not his mom... My daughter on the other hand, always did and still speaks more English than French with me. Strange how children can react differently to the same incentive.

What surprised me though, was the fact that when I first sent them to school, at 4, it was a French school in Canada, (French system I mean part of the French school system) and they were evaluated for their language skills to put them in their right level. They where placed in Bilingual English!!! Wow!!! I thought, I must have done something right...

My children are fully bilingual, my daughter more than my son though, and you wouldn't know when she speaks that she is from French origin, actually, nobody would guess that I am French either, when people ask me, they always wonder if my accent is German or anything but French, funny...

Languages, like anything else, are much better learned and taught at a young age, when the mind is very receptive to new things and can adapt very easily. Children can learn at a very young age, it gets more difficult if you don't give them the tools from the start.

Dorinda said...

Sarah! You are so right and I sure hope you just keep right on teaching your child another languague. Not only does another language help our children's brain develop in more abstract ways, it also brings about an openess and awareness of other cultures and other ways of thinking. Like the difference between the Spanish Tengo frio and English I am cold. One is I have cold the other well is that your are cold. Both communicate that the person is effected by the cold, but in different ways. Cool! So right on Loving your child and open your child's mind to the world.

Mary said...

Martine, Thanks so much for sharing your story. It is so encouraging to read about your journey of raising children bilingually!
You mentioned that you used TV time in the second language. Since my daughter has become interested in children's programming, she has watched the shows in Japanese. In fact, this is where she has picked up a lot of Japanese words. Even after the show is finished, I find myself singing the songs with her in Japanese. Even though I can't speak Japanese very well, it feels so natural to talk about, repeat, and sing the songs from the show!

DenmanJ said...

Love this topic, and what a great idea for a blog!
My dh (Dutch) and I (Am. English)are raising 4 bilingual children (Dutch L1, English L2)in the Netherlands. We have followed the "one parent - one language" approach. From birth until age 4, when they started preschool, they had lots of time with me (I was working mostly at home) speaking English, but with everybody else it was Dutch. From about age 4 - 6 their teachers seemed to be a bit concerned that their (Dutch) verbal skills were slow, or at least behind their other skills. About the age of 6 (in this respect they were all the same), the kids all pulled up about even with their L1 counterparts, and by about age 9 they had surpassed them a bit in verbal areas such as synonym/ antonym use, sentence formation gymnastics, and language humor. Dutch is still L1 (their English is accent-free and they read at grade level, but spelling presents a few problems), but linguistic facility is a wonderful part of the bilingual package!
Incidentally, an Irish friend of mine is raising 3 Dutch/Irish children with the "outside the house - inside the house" method, and that's worked brilliantly for her kids, too. Be consistent: I believe that's the key.

Berta said...

What a coincidence. This afternoon at one Poster Session at the University of Toronto, one of the graduate students´ topic was raising a bilingual child here in Toronto with French as a second language. The student had bibliography on different experiences of parents who had committed to this task. Basically what really matters is that BOTH parents are fully convinced about the idea and the benefits this will bring to their child later on in life. It does not matter whether the parent is a native or nonnative as long as the child has other models through different media, not just the nonnative parent(the same controversy has been going on for years with regard to native and nonnative teachers in classroom situations).
In my particular case, I decided not to speak English to my children as they were growing old in Venezuela because my husband had very strong feelings about the use of that language at home. He said he preferred to have the best communication possible with them from the very beginning and English for him was a foreign language, one he used at work but which was not the best for him to express his feelings. I was completely convinced by his arguments.
My children are 27 and 25 now, both speak English quite well (we lived in Boston when they were 1-3 and later when they were 10-12 years old) for a year each time. They always kept what they learned there, I have always had cable TV and used to travel to the States every other year. My son loves sports and buys himself sports magazines in English, watches ESPN endlessly and my daughter has always watched TV series and is presently outperforming many natives in her MBA here in Canada.
It worked well in our family but what is most important is that you and your spouse are in agreement and commit to ypur decisions.

Mary H said...

Jenny, You mentioned that consistency is one of the keys to raising children bilingually. One parent/One language; in the house/out of the house; time or day of the week are all based on similar ideas: to remain consistent in exposing your child to the two languages. We should cover these approaches more in depth in a future post. Thanks again for your comment!

Mary H said...


The poster session sounds really interesting! I'm hoping that we will have a chance to interview bilingual families in upcoming posts on Bilingual Babble.

You bring up another important point about raising children bilingually: the parents must be united in their efforts to give their child two languages.

In the original post, I mentioned that non-native speakers can successfully raise bilingual children; however, as you stated, it is a huge undertaking and one that some may feel uncomfortable with for a variety of reasons. This brings us back to doing what's best for your family and your particular situation.

I hope we'll explore all these ideas more in this blog. Please stop by anytime!

Dorinda said...

Thanks so much for sharing your comments. Your comments encouraged me so much. I guess I should try to relax abit. Your efforts are an inspiration to me. Thanks. Dorinda

derya said...

I have a 10,5 month-old daughter. We live in Turkey and both my husband and I are Turkish. However, as I am an English teacher, I really want my daughter to be exposed to English as much as she could. Like Berta's husband, I feel that I sound artificial when I speak in English to my daughter,though. But, 2-3 hours a day she watches BabyTV Channel. It's in a very simple English, though, as a baby would speak (I dont know you've heard about the channel or not, but it is for babies between 0-3). ı'm very curious about how this will effect her English in the future. I'm thinking of recording her speech on a consistent basis when she starts speaking of course!:)

One of my collagues (male) speaks in English with his daughter from her birth; when she is at home, she mostly watches BBC Prime as fr as I know. At an age when she cannot speak yet, she could understand commands like "give some grapes to your grandma". To my colleagues' surprise, at around age 3 or 4 (I'm not sure), she could say "I dont like it either!", which is something that we somtimes have difficulty teaching to our adult students who confuse it and say "I dont like it too". By the way, my colleague is Turkish and a non-native speaker of English with a bit of accent.

Anyway, your blog looks great and very informative. It's so good to hear from parents who succeeded in raising bilingual children. I hope I will be another one in the future, but I see that I should increase the frequency of input.

Mary H said...

Hi Derya,
Thanks for leaving a comment about you and your family! I hadn't heard of Baby TV before and would be interested in learning more.

Babies and kids are able to pick up language with such ease, aren't they? Yesterday, we were riding in the train when a man showed my daughter a picture of his dog. She exclaimed, "inu" (dog). Our friend, who arrived in Japan the at the same time as us, was amazed to learn how much more Japanese my daughter had been able to pick up!

Best wishes to you, Derya, as you and your family embark on an amazing bilingual journey together! Please continue to visit us here.

My Bilingual Babes said...

I definitely agree with this one - my (only) mother tongue is English and we live in the UK, but I am raising my two munchkins to speak French. It is certainly challenging but so so rewarding - my 4-yr-old is now fluent in both languages, and her accent is a lot better than mine!

Marisa said...

Hi blabbers there, it's been soooo reassuring to find you and read through your posts.
I'm Spanish and also a teacher of English though I did need a break and have been doing written and simultaneous translation for about 15 months now.
My daughter was born last November and I've been using English with her ever since(but for a cute Spanish nursery rhyme I love).
I'm nearly fluent in English (Proficiency A), it's my daily working tool and sometimes a social one too. I thought that so much ongoing effort on L2 would pay off now that I was going to help my daughter become bilingual from day one. Hubby loved the idea even though his English is low intermediate.
I conveyed our plans to my siblings and my in-laws and everyone welcomed the idea.
The thing is that on the one hand, I'm the one working and can't spend that much time with her; and on the other I can't help feeling like a bit of a traitor since En isn't really my mother tongue. There'll be family meals when I address Vi in En, then turn my head to answer my sister and ask my nephew for the salt in Sp. Won't it feel too contrived?
Anyway, just woke up kind of self-conscious today, no-one said it'd be easy, did they?.
From today on you are a must-read for me, thanks again for sharing your experiences (in a cheerier mood after this).