In the last couple of weeks I have bumped into a lot of mums who asked me similar questions about raising our daughter bilingual in a totally monolingual environment. So I collected a bunch of questions and my answers to them with some links from earlier blog posts:
- Do you speak to her English only?
No, I don’t. I can’t do that. My mother tongue is my mother tongue, no matter how high my level of English is. (High level of language command is relative. I always feel my English is deteriorating.)
I assigned certain times to speak English. When E. was a baby we had a timetable which meant that we used a little bit more English than Hungarian as she spent loads of time with me. Then we needed to change our schedule, still we had 50-50 % balanced language usage. (When she was around 2). Nowadays, (she’s almost 3) we are in trouble with the balance between the two languages as we do not spend so much time together therefore there is less English in her life. BUT! Her English basis is so strong that she asks for changing languages when she feels she misses one of them (it’s usually English)
Even today, whenever there are just the two of us she says: – Uh-uh, Mommy. We need to change into English. We are just two.
– I’ve already changed into English, because there is only Mommy and I.
- When do you speak English to her and when Hungarian?
There are many methods you can follow. What I use is a special one: I call it the timetable method. By now we don’t have a timetable any more. Whenever we can, we speak English, as the Hungarian input of the environment is too influencing.
- When did you start talking to her in English?
When we took her home from the hospital. At first, I was just singing songs and chanting rhymes to her in English. I wasn’t sure about what I was doing and it felt strange. Then I got some inspirations after having read some books and contacted some other moms in the same shoes. From the age of 6 months I’ve been talking to her in English just like in Hungarian.
- Wasn’t she late with speech development?
Not at all, although it would have been perfectly normal. She was about 1 year old when she could say 6-8 English words (and Hungarian ones too). Actually, her first word (bib) was in English. Of course, these words were fuzzy and not distinct for the untrained ears. But by the time she turned 18 months these words had become clear and a LOT more had been added to them. Not to mention, she started to build up 2-3 word sentences at that time too.
I have to admit that the period between the age of 12 and 18 months was filled with more English sessions than Hungarian.
- Doesn’t she mix the languages?
She does! At first she didn’t, however, nowadays more and more. I’m not worried about it… okay… I am a little bit concerned, but I know if we keep up the balance between the languages she’ll have all the language tools in both languages to express herself. Most of the time she mixes Hungarian into her English because she doesn’t know a word or she can’t express something due to lacking a structure.
Though it happens the other way round, too. She makes her grandparents puzzled when she asks for some stories with the telescope in it (mind you, pronounced it with a perfect British accent) or when she says she wants to play on the see-saw at the playground. Sometimes she names some bugs (bumblebees, wasps, ants) or plants (pansies, daffodils, shepherd’s-purse etc) she sees in the park in English. They can sort out this teeny-weeny language problem… for the time being.
- What do you do when she mixes the languages?
I keep on talking in the given language. I don’t change. And I do NOT advise you to let your child take the lead (although it is also an option.) I go on talking, let’s say, in English when she says some Hungarian words or sentences here and there. If I know she could say it in English I ask back: – What did you say? or – What’s that in English?
If I am aware of the fact that she can’t express herself, I simply repeat in English what she said in Hungarian. Some sources suggest not to make your child repeat a word or sentence, yet sometimes I ask her to repeat just to reinforce we use English and help her fix a structure she cannot use (at all, or properly). Nonetheless, I’m not forcing it. Normally, she repeats expressions after me by herself. If she doesn’t want to, we move on.
Also, you can pretend you do not understand what your child says, but in our case (we do not follow the One Parent One Language -OPOL-strategy; she can hear me talk both Hungarian and English) it wouldn’t work as my daughter knows that I understand and speak both. The other problem with this could be that your child can get frustrated if he or she can’t put an idea or a wish across.
- What English activities/programmes can you take part in?
We used to have a native British nanny for almost 2 years. I’m really grateful for her as she meant that I could have some free time (cooking, washing, ironing, shopping, cleaning etc.) while I knew English was still in focus in my daughter’s life. Now we are looking for a new nanny. If you happen to know someone in Budapest who would be interested I would appreciate it.
I’ve organised a Mums’ English Club (MEC) in the library nearby, where mums gather with their little ones and chat in English while the kids play away. At the end of our sessions we sing some English songs for the kids. An afternoon session of MEC is badly needed but I haven’t had time to find a place where we could go free of charge.
For almost a year we took part in a swimming course which was instructed both in English and Hungarian. We met there some non-Hungarian families who communicated mainly in English, so E. could hear during the swimming sessions that English is not just Mommy’s crazy language.
We also visited Rhyme Time sessions (singing and playing in English) for a few times, but we do not go regularly.
- Does Daddy speak English to her?
He does. Daddy speaks a lot of languages, it’s no problem for him at all. What’s more, practising English regularly helps him improve his spoken skills as well. I suppose he also enjoys our English session;
Again, at the beginning we did it differently. When Daddy arrived home from work we changed into Hungarian, but the whole day was in English. Nowadays, as I’m starting to work, E. is spending more time with the grandparents or she is in the nursery (not to mention that our native nanny, A. has left) we have been trying to fit in as many English sessions as we can.
We have plenty of dinners, weekend programmes, playground visits, craft activities and bath times in English with Daddy. I’m very lucky, because my husband is very supportive concerning our bilingual project.
- Can she say sentences?
Haha. This has been the funniest question so far I’ve received. Sure she can. 🙂 Sometimes very complicated ones. I was really amazed when she said a passive sentence in the playground (– Look, Mommy, the other swing is taken) or when she talks to her soft toy using present perfect (– What have I told you?). One day she was replaying a Berry and Dolly episode (Gingerbread) that we watch in English.
The following left her mouth: – I’m making gingerbread with the cookie cutter and then I’ll put it out in the winter (sic) to cold (sic). Magpie, (that is me) come and take it away.
Later in the story: – Don’t take away that belongs to somebody else.
Here is the episode.
Not only her sentences but her vocabulary is also outstanding. I’m often surprised at how eloquent words she knows. The other day she called a pan saucepan. I don’t think I have ever used this word with her. Or she can name different kinds of onions: leek, garlic, spring onion as well as varied expressions for the eating process: munch, chew, stuff your face, digest, feed, bite
- How do you “teach” her (sic)?
This is exactly how this question is asked most of the time.
And the answer is : I do not teach her.
What I do is to play with her in English just like in Hungarian. We do the daily routines in both languages. I try to prepare everyday and special activities for her which give us a chance to meet a lot of new situations:
– prepping for holidays of the English-speaking world,
– doing fun craft activities,
– cooking and baking
– doing housework together
– exploring nature
– reading books and singing a lot as well as watching videos
These are just a few examples. In short, we LIVE our lives in 2 languages.
+1. How shall WE start?
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started” – Mark Twain
So just start it.
If you want to get some ideas read through the blog… HAHA. Believe me, it’ll be much easier to find your own ways. But you can get some ideas here. (Feel free to search for keywords if you’re looking for something exact)
Start with some songs that you sing to your child while changing nappies or waking him/her up.
Learn some rhymes/songs with sign language and play with your munchkin.
Flashcards are almost always fascinating for children, but rather time-consuming to prepare your own home-made ones. On the other hand, our own flashcards are much more attractive to my daughter. You can find really good flashcards online, which you only need to print (and perhaps laminate).
If you don’t mind spending some money, you can buy some beautiful ones.
And I haven’t mentioned the endless opportunities that books offer to speak and practise a foreign language.
Again, these are some very basic ideas to start with your little one from an early age.
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me either in the comments or via email. You can come and visit my facebook page as well.