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Speaking different languages' parents, HELP!

  1. #1
    samy-hk is offline Registered User
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    Speaking different languages' parents, HELP!

    Hello everybody,

    my daughter is 2 y/o.
    We are a family composed with parents who speak different languages (me italian, my hubby cantonese and our common language is mandarin).

    As soon as my baby reached 24 months, i find out that she suddenly can learn things in an incredible quickly way. Then I decided to find her a playgroup to let her learn more things possible in this golden period. So, my husband and me decided to join a seminar conducted by the learning center where we would like to enroll our baby for learn english. After listened to the seminar, my husband realized that learning another foreign language is too much for our daughter, as till now she can speaks only single words in italian and mandarin and can understand more italian words, but can not make a sentence yet. Learning another language means more confusion for her and my hubby thinks that the best thing to do now is to develop her mothertongue and teach her how to verbalize.

    So, the problems are:
    1. Which language we should let our daughter learn first, as we live in HK, where most people speak cantonese?
    2. How can we let her learn well each languages?
    3. Are 4 languages too much for a 2 y/o toddler?
    4. Should we teach her one language per time or all together?

    Now I am extremely confused and do not know what to do, what to plan for her future. I am so frustrated....

    Does anyone has similar situation? How do you do, abandon your own mothertongue and teach her/him the parents' common language? And then let her learn naturally at school cantonese and english?

    Confused Mom.

  2. #2
    LLL_Sarah is offline Registered User
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    My situation is a little different in that I speak English and my husband Cantonese, Mandarin and English. We also have native Cantonese speaking helpers and all of my husband's family speaks Cantonese.

    My children all grew up learning English from me and my friends and Cantonese from my husband and family and when older they also learnt Mandarin at school.

    All four of my children were late learning to speak. They were the same age as their cousins starting to speak single words but late at speaking in sentences. (I believe this is common in children who are learning two languages at once.) But as they grew up they caught up with the other single language children.

    Your daughter is still very young and isn't even late at starting to speak in sentences yet. I would try not to worry too much and continue speaking the languages you have already started. I think you will see a huge improvement over the next six months and if so you can consider an Englsih Language playgroup then.

    Very best wishes,
    SARAH

  3. #3
    matemate is offline Registered User
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    i just read a book on learning multiple languages in kids. it's very research-heavy, but i personally like that because it's based on facts.

    a few take-away's for your situation:
    - children learn by statistical and algorithmic analysis of what is spoken to them. they sample the language and learn from there. as such you cannot 'teach them to learn a language' like you would teach a teen or adult by learning to memorize grammar and vocabulary. the more that is spoken to the baby, the more it has sample material to analyze and learn.
    - learning happens in stages from sounds (waa waa, goo goo) to syllables to babble words to words, to two-word sentences to sentences. one also needs to differentiate between understanding and expressing. at age 16 months, (in a US govt study) the average number of words a girl understands is 190 with an average of 112 for expression. the range can be between 50-350 for understanding and 17-475 for expression. that's huge ranges! For boys, the averages and ranges are a bit lower
    - words is at around 16-18 months with two-word sentences at around 24 months. sentences happen around 36 months, but again the ranges are huge. as such i would think you child is within the very normal range (don't compare too much lah...)
    - for bilingual or trilingual kids, the total number of words of understanding or expression is usually significantly larger when compared to a single language child, however it's seldom that a bi/trilingual kid understands more words in one specific language compared to a single language child. at best, it's the same; at worst, significantly less.
    - the key again is exposure to the language for the kid to sample. research suggests that a child should get at least 20% (some studies say 30%) of total exposure in any given language on a regular basis in order to attain mother tongue status. once you reach this threshold, the additional exposure does not make a very huge difference anymore (though of course it still does makes a difference in terms of speed or vocabulary/grammar).
    - the way a child learns a second or third language is like trees in a forest. You can grow many on the same soil, they do basically not compete for resources within the brain (except exposure to the language time wise as mentioned above). As such, an additional language does not impede the learning of the previous ones. There are many documented cases of kids learning 4, 5 or more languages as their mother tongues.
    - childred have a special ability to learn (and unlearn!) a language between 0-about 6 years old. The earlier you start, the better.

    My suggestion would be to certainly continue with the languages you have been teaching so far. If you kid does not have any particular inability or handicap with languages or learning in general, I would think you should give English a go.

  4. #4
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    carang is offline Registered User
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    from my experience i'd say your husband is WRONG! all children start by speaking single words THEN they move onto simple sentences, THEN more complex sentences.

    from my perspective, it won't be too much for the child. the earlier you start the better! it's only adults that have a difficult time figuring out new languages! that's because they use a different part ofthe brain to process language than children.

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    samy-hk is offline Registered User
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    Thank you very much to everybody, I think all of you are right, I should let her learn more asap.

  6. #6
    OX Jess is offline Registered User
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    I'd like to ask those mums you have raised your kids bilingually (or trilingually) that when did your kid(s) say their first word? My situation is similar to Sarah's: I speak English to my son and my husband and all his family Cantonese. My son is 14 months and he understands many things in both English & Cantonese (with which I am truly amazed!!!!) but he has not yet delivered his very first word e.g. Mama/Papa. I am not worried at all as I, before adopting this bilingual upbringing environment, have done an awful lot of readings/research on this subject "raising kids bilingually" and I am well prepared for my son being a later talker as which is what I am told. However, my husband is very anxious to push my son to utter his first word. If my son does not utter Mama/Papa when he hits 18 months, shall I be concerned? Love to hear some experience....

  7. #7
    carang's Avatar
    carang is offline Registered User
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    i wouldn't be.
    every child is different. by the time my son was 2, he only had a vocabulary of about 20-25 words. he was no where near making sentences and was just starting to be able to name things around him (he DID understand when i spoke to him, though). my daughter was speaking full paragraphs by the time she was 20 months!

    just relax. if your child is not speaking by the age of 2, then you may want to seek advice from a professional.

  8. #8
    lottieclee is offline Registered User
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    I would tell you many speech therapists will tell you to stick with one language, have the child master it and then move on to the other.

    I am not a supporter of this theory at all... and many of my colleagues tell me that I should not be raising my kid in a tri-lingual environment! But children at 2 are not expected to speak complete sentences. My son is 3.5 now and he speaks english primarily but understands cantonese, mandarin and spanish. I am working on having him master the chinese language, but you know what? He goes to a bilingual international school... and yes... his chinese teacher thinks that his chinese is a little weak.. but he is doing just fine in class, I am not too worried about it.

    But... with that said, if your child is not speaking at all at 2 or speaking in a very strange pitch, you should see a professional

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