Saturday, June 09, 2007

A multilingual family story

Patricia was kind enough to share her family's story of many languages.
Vielen Dank!

~ Sarah

Let me write in English, as my fingers move faster in this language.

We are both native Germans, my husband and I, and at home we both speak only German with our children, who attend an English speaking or at least bilingual school wherever we are living (changes every 4 or so years). Result? There is no way you can tell how well a bilingual speaker your child becomes.

One thing seems to be true. Children need to be exposed to non-native-toungue in the age of four to eight months - no matter what language, even if it were Chinese or Suaheli. During this timewindow, the brain developes its "second (third etc) language center" and if exposed to another "code", the connections in this area won't be disconnected ... your ability to speak/think/dream in another code is getting hard-wired.

We see the results with our children. Both younger ones pick up languages very, very fast while for our oldest it is an ordeal each time. She learned French when she was 3 1/2 and English with 5 1/2.
Today, living in a Spanish speaking country, she is in the hightest level English class of the official IB program, but German is now difficult, although she mastered the AP German quite well ... and Spanish ... it is not as easy for her as for our other children. Our son, the middle child was born in France and exposed to French at the age of four month (when he could sit). He speaks three languages fluent by now (he is twelve), all of them without accent: German, English and Spanish. Next year he will take up French (again, after he had been (childen-)fluent in that language when we left Belgium some years ago). We will see how much will come back.

My little one ... I speak to her in German, she answers in English. She has difficulties to get a complete sentence out in German, but when at "home" (Germany) for only a week, you would not think that she never had lived in Germany or would even know another language. Although tackling the language issue from a different angle than our son (he is as well very well settled in grammar) she as well is fluent trilingual English/Spanish/German.

Well, you see: three children, three different stories. What's genom, what's environment, what's place you were living in? I can't tell. It is difficult.

Viele Gruesse an Deinen Mann. Ich denke, das beste was ihr tun koennt, ist ganz fest bei eurer jeweiligen Sprache bleiben. Du sprichst mit Deinen Kindern Englisch und Dein Mann Deutsch. Dann werden sie immer die eine Sprache mit dem einen Gesicht verbinden und nicht die beiden durcheinander werfen. Doch das funktioniert auch nicht immer, wie man bei unserer kleinen sieht - oder vielleicht doch ... da sie mit Omi, die wenig English versteht, nur Deutsch spricht, waehrend sie mit Oma, die mehrere Jahre in England lebte und vermutlich auf Englisch reagiert, in Englisch conversiert.

Alles Liebe


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