Language Learning: Non-native raising bilingual children

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LilianaB

Banned
Lithuanian
I don't know. I feel lucky that I understood anything at all. It may all depend on the child -- whatever they want to do. Sometimes forcing children to do something, and being strict does not work at all. I think even if they deprived me of all my belongings, I would not speak certain dialects I was exposed to in my childhood, although I understand them well. The sounds would not even be able leave my throat. ;) (some varieties spoken by the children, or even adults, not necessarily my family members)

I don't exactly know what it might feel like when certain family members do not understand the others languages, because in my family, after all, most people could communicate in some of the languages. My grandmother -- my mother's mother, did not understand Lithuanian at all, and used to get quite upset when my father spoke Lithuanian with his father, when he forgot that she was around. It was considered very rude to speak another language around other people who did not understand it.
 
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  • Youngfun

    Senior Member
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    What a great life story, Youngfun. You forgot to mention that you write very well in English, too!

    The neighborhood where I live in Madrid has a big community of kids from China who speak a dialect other than Mandarin/Cantonese and then learn Mandarin on the weekends. Almost all of the kids go to public school with my son and it's interesting to see how different their level of linguistic assimilation can be. One of my son's best friends is Chinese and he has had a tough time speaking Spanish fluently (he's very shy and cerebral and is an only child). He moved to Spain at age 5 and thinks the other Chinese kids speak terribly and write even worse!

    My son now feels as you do--that speaking Spanish to me is weird. He used to be a lot more ambivalent about it when he was younger, but now we only speak Spanish when another Spanish speaker is present--even then, it feels a bit stilted sometimes.

    I think early exposure to a language definitely helps to pick it back up later on. When you speak English, do you have an Italian or Chinese accent? I learned French when I was a teenager and used to speak it with almost no accent, but that was years ago. Now when I speak it, I sound Spanish.

    --Megan
    Thanks, you're very kind. :) I've corrected some small mistakes from my previous post and a lapsus - I meant to write "imperfect bilingual", not 'impartial'...
    In Spain most Chinese are from Qingtian like us, so they speak Qingtianese like us. And learn Mandarin in weekends like me.
    Usually when a kid moves to a country at 5 years old and goes to school, he should learn the language quite well, so it's quite strange. Maybe he's very shy, and doesn't interact at all with the teachers and classmates?

    I also feel very stilted when another Italian speaker is present and I speak in Italian with my parents... I even prefer to speak to them in Chinese (Qingtianese), and then translate for the other people.

    I believe that we Chinese grown up in Italy have somewhat a mixed accent, but probably more Italian than Chinese. I remember that when I went to some English courses in China, eveybody was saying: "It's funny to see a Chinese with an Italian accent".
    Over the years, my Italian accent got slighter, but also became somewhat more Chinese-sounding.
    I think I have two ways of speaking English: one way with Italian accent, and one way closer to American/British pronunciation but also more Chinese-sounding.
    You can hear my voice here. ;)
     

    Angelo di fuoco

    Senior Member
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    What a great life story, Youngfun. You forgot to mention that you write very well in English, too!

    The neighborhood where I live in Madrid has a big community of kids from China who speak a dialect other than Mandarin/Cantonese and then learn Mandarin on the weekends. Almost all of the kids go to public school with my son and it's interesting to see how different their level of linguistic assimilation can be. One of my son's best friends is Chinese and he has had a tough time speaking Spanish fluently (he's very shy and cerebral and is an only child). He moved to Spain at age 5 and thinks the other Chinese kids speak terribly and write even worse!

    My son now feels as you do--that speaking Spanish to me is weird. He used to be a lot more ambivalent about it when he was younger, but now we only speak Spanish when another Spanish speaker is present--even then, it feels a bit stilted sometimes.

    --Megan
    I feel awkward when speaking a language other than my mother tongue (Russian) with my family (except when I throw in some fancy expression in another language as a little joke). It may be considered rude, but when I see an Irish colleague of my father's speaking English with his children in front of my father, who doesn't speak English, I don't see why other people can do this and I can't. It's a natural necessity for me to speak my mother tongue and I don't feel like depriving myself of fullfilling this need. There was a time when I was losing my mother tongue because of too few possibilities to speak it and I don't want to forget it. If I have to choose between appearing rude to somebody and losing my mother tongue, well, I know what weighs more.
     

    Youngfun

    Senior Member
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    I agree with you, Angelo.
    For some people may be natural to speak a non-native language with another people, for some not. For example, here I see many Germans that speak among them in English in order to include the non-Germans friends in the conversation. I admire them for being able to do that job very well.
    I have a lot of Chinese friends from Canada and Australia. They can speak either Chinese or English among them. I usually speak to them in Chinese even in the middle of their English conversation. But sometimes I try to speak English with them, and it feels very awkward because I'm the only one non-native English speaker.

    Back to the topic, I know a couple of Chinese parents who have decided to speak to the children in English only, and they don't live in an English speaking country! Their aim is to let their children be more advantaged in English.
    I also know several Chinese friends in Rome who go to American schools. So their native language is Chinese, and despite living in Italy, their English is better than their Italian! Because in the school they speak English only.
     

    atcheque

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    Bonjour,

    We are French and our son was born in France, in a French environment. When he was 1 year and 1/2, we moved to Czech Republic.
    He didn't speak yet but understood French. We asked the Czech nanny to speak Czech.

    When he was 2, he started to speak both French and Czech, with a little advance in French, but with some Czech words he knew better ;) :D
    At the age of 2 years and 1/2, he went to Czech-English school.

    He is now 5 and fluent in both French and Czech, and very good in English :)
    We only speak French together.
     
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    Youngfun

    Senior Member
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    Ça c'est génial! Great story, atcheque!
    So your son is bilingual, eventually will become even trilingual!
    What language do you speak to him? I suppose French, right?
     

    Angelo di fuoco

    Senior Member
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    I agree with you, Angelo.
    For some people may be natural to speak a non-native language with another people, for some not. For example, here I see many Germans that speak among them in English in order to include the non-Germans friends in the conversation. I admire them for being able to do that job very well.
    I have a lot of Chinese friends from Canada and Australia. They can speak either Chinese or English among them. I usually speak to them in Chinese even in the middle of their English conversation. But sometimes I try to speak English with them, and it feels very awkward because I'm the only one non-native English speaker.

    Back to the topic, I know a couple of Chinese parents who have decided to speak to the children in English only, and they don't live in an English speaking country! Their aim is to let their children be more advantaged in English.
    I also know several Chinese friends in Rome who go to American schools. So their native language is Chinese, and despite living in Italy, their English is better than their Italian! Because in the school they speak English only.
    Well, if I definitely want to include someone in a conversation, I don't mind changing the language, but when the other person present doesn't need the information I exchange with my relatives, that person is free to imagine whatever s/he wants about what we are talking. If that person chooses to think that we are speaking ill about him/her, that says more about him/her than about me and my relative(s).
     

    atcheque

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    Ça c'est génial! Great story, atcheque!
    So your son is bilingual, eventually will become even trilingual!
    What language do you speak to him? I suppose French, right?
    Nín hǎo ! Buongiorno !
    Yes, we speak French to him.
    We read some books in Czech or English too. He is glad and proud of it, but we learn Czech slower ;)
     
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    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    Assimilating a language when you're young is like being in a haze listening and repeating sounds, a puzzle where you're filling in the pieces.

    I remember being in Spain when I was a young teenager and hearing the language and thinking it sounded like a drum roll getting faster and faster, going up and coming down:

    Tutatotatá ta ta ta torribelo pe notótaza keTÁlatizarrr

    Then I started filling up the roll when words jumped out: Tutotatál vino olajam vaso.

    It's a different way of learning so you've got to give it more time. The rhythm cannot be broken ever. You have to find a way to organize it in your mind and follow the rhythm. It's no wonder it might take babies two more years to learn to speak because they've got two or three different musics to put together.. They aren't assimilating the same words in the same order either.

    It's kind of opposite from learning as an adult from books. You learn first the words and the verbs and try to find a way to fit them later into the music. You don't have the music beating in your head either so make more mistakes.

    My advise, do not stop. Do not put on rock and roll just because that's dominant in the culture you're living in and your child is picking it up faster and seeming to prefer it. Stay with your own classical opera at home and whenever you speak to him, now and forever.
     
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    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    I am not sure how children learn the language, despite all the research that has been around. Many don't sound like their parents, at all. They might just choose whatever they like and identify with that language or languages. (some identify with certain movie characters, even cartoon characters and the language they speak, others may find some radio speakers attractive; their grandmothers, nannies or peers, and later teachers).
     

    Youngfun

    Senior Member
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    Merquiades's idea is interesting. I remember when I moved to Italy as a child, I liked very much the Italian sing-song intonation, and would say the few words I know or even random sounds with that intonation.
     

    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    I don't see much difference between the way I perceived language in my childhood, and now. I still feel something similar to what Merquiades described, maybe a slightly different rhythm, when I go to Quebec. ;)
     
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