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eliad
eliad , Parent asks:
Q:

What are you doing to raise a bilingual child?

This is a question to all those parents of foreign nationalities. My son is 3 years old and I've been trying to talk with him exclusively in Hebrew (I do fall for English, from a time to time). It seem like he understand, but he'll always answer in English.

I'm curious to know what are you doing to teach your kids a second language? At what age did your kids talk back in the second language?
In Topics: Learning a second language
> 60 days ago

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Expert

LouiseSattler
Jul 21, 2010
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What the Expert Says:

Hello and thank you for writing to JustAsk,

I was raised in a multilingual home and one great aspect was that even though I spoke most of the time in English I understood multiple languages.  This is not uncommon, from what I understand. And now as an adult I am able to shift between languages and cultures without much difficulty.

Growing up, my mother use to carve out times that were exclusive to the target language.  So, dinner time, often was when we spoke a language other than English.  We were encouraged to do so by having fun dinner conversation and board games afterwards.

Perhaps this will assist with your bilingual child, too.

Good luck!

Louise Sattler, NCSP
Nationally Certified School Psychologist
Owner of Signing Families   www.SigningFamilies.com
Host of Learning and Laughter with Louise!  toginet radio

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dgraab
Jan 29, 2010
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Best Answer!

what's this?
from a fellow member
Hi Eliad,

Great question! We too grapple with this in our family, as we are raising our daughter to be literate/fluent in my native language, English, along with her father's native languages of Bahasa Indonesia (the national language of Indonesia) and Sasak (the indigenous language of Lombok, Indonesia). We have lived in both the U.S. and Lombok, so the pace of learning these languages has shifted depending on the country where we're living at any particular stage of our daughter's development.

For instance, when she was a baby through age 3, we lived in the U.S., and English was the dominant language she was learning. Her daddy did speak and sing to her in Bahasa and Sasak during those years, but not regularly or habitually. She did frequently hear the Bahasa spoken in our home by adults though, when my husband's friends would come over. I also practiced learning Bahasa, in preparation for our trip there, so occasionally spoke to her in this tongue too. We later heard from other bi-cultural parents that this approach (of having both parents speak multiple languages to the child, vs. having each parent speak their native tongue exclusively) can cause language confusion for some kids, and that there can be some related delays in English speech development.

When our daughter was age 3 through age 4, we lived in Lombok and she began speaking her father's languages a lot, through play with other children there and two in-home caregivers who didn't speak English. She was exposed to English from me, other expats, her father and a few bilingual family members. I knew that she'd be going to school in the U.S. and would have plenty of opportunity to learn English, but that it would be harder for her to learn her dad's languages in the U.S. So I brought back lots of children's books written in Bahasa Indonesia, as well as audio tapes, children's videos, and language dictionaries and learning books.

Now our daughter is in second grade in the U.S. Unfortunately, she is no longer fluent in her father's languages, and she is doing very well in English learning (though did have some pronunciation/speech issues in U.S. preschool and kindergarten). Her daddy realizes the risk of her losing the ability to speak his languages, and how it may be harder it for her to learn them the older she gets and the longer we're in the U.S. So he has increased the frequency of speaking to her in Bahasa and Sasak. He shows her traditional Sasak and Indonesian music videos from YouTube, and we read the books we brought back from Lombok (she also watches the kid videos in Bahasa). We always sing "Happy Birthday" in English & Bahasa (encouraging other Indonesian/American kids in our friend community to use Bahasa too), and we say goodnight in both languages too.

I suggest that you continue speaking to your child in Hebrew, and also expand his exposure to your native language (through cultural activities and your friend community in the U.S.). I have one friend who enrolled her son in a Chinese language after-school program to help her pass along her native language to her son. Perhaps you can find a similar program for Hebrew in your community or online? Or perhaps you could hire an in-home helper who is fluent in Hebrew to also help increase the exposure?

Below are some resources you may also find helpful. Good luck and all the best to your family!
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Additional Answers (2)

kellysfinn
kellysfinn , Parent writes:
Hi Eliad,

What an interesting question! Have you seen the article, "Fostering Second Language Development in Young Children"?  http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Fostering_Language/

This article explains "Children showing a lack of proficiency in both languages are most likely undergoing a developmental phase in which limited use causes proficiency in the home language to decline, while the second language has not yet reached an age-appropriate level....This should be considered healthy and normal. It is rare for bilinguals to have both languages in balance. Yet, most bilingual children will reach age-level proficiency in their dominant language given adequate exposure and opportunities for use."

So, it is normal that your son seems to be predominant in English rght now, but perhaps he is just in a developmental stage that he will balance in the future.  Definitely keep speaking to him in Hebrew is my suggestion!

Kelly
> 60 days ago

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Danielle
Danielle , Parent writes:
Lisa Medoff, who writes our Ask a Child Psychologist column, just wrote about this in her column this week. Check it out!:
http://www.education.com/magazine/column/entry/10987/
> 60 days ago

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