Wednesday, March 29, 2006

When do kids start speaking German in an immersion environment?

Dear Sarah,

I am an "Oma" taking care of her grandson since his birth. I have him 12 to 13 hour per day-his parents are doctors in a residency program and work horrendous hours.

I always speak German to him. His receptive language is the same in both English and German but he says more English words. He is now 21 mo. old. Sometimes I say something in German and he says it in English. Ex. I said "was tust Du" and he said "What doing?" "Siehst Du den Voge?" He says "Bird". He is too young to decide to only speak English, I think. What has been your experience with your bilingual children. Did they start out speaking English?


Dear Inge,

Thank you for your message! How wonderful that you're able to care for your grandson. It really varies with the child as to what they start speaking. It's quite common for a child to respond in English even though he's getting so much German input. In fact, it's interesting that he is translating what you're saying - a lot of kids have a hard time doing this even if they are fluent bilinguals. I would say that it's not so much a case of him consciously choosing German over English but rather he's just saying what comes naturally to him. At this age, I don't think kids can really differentiate between the two languages. My two-year old often tries to speak German with my English-speaking mother. I think you'll start to see more and more German words come from your grandson, especially since you do spend so much time with him. My two-year old also mixes languages quite a bit, i.e. he'll say "I'm krank" and "I mach' das". This is also quite normal for this stage. Please see for more information on toddler language development.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. I'm enjoying the responses from my latest newsletter.

Viele Gruesse,

No comments: