Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Learning languages

One of the things a break back in the UK allowed me to do was to see how much learning a second language has affected the boys ability to speak English. We spent a lot of time with friends who have similar age children and it was interesting for me to compare their linguistic developments.

Luke appears to have been the most affected. Aged 18 months when we arrived he is now 2 1/2. I've never really heard him say much in Bosnian, but understand from his teachers at nursery that it is at a basic level: Yes, no, won't, don't, mine. In other words all the most useful words for a toddler. His English isn't bad at all, but there is a definite difference between him and his peers. Having said that, after 5 weeks in the UK where he only heard English led to the most remarkable advances in his language skills. Who knows whether this jump was due to occur anyway, or whether being back in England encouraged it.

Adam's English is doing just fine. Now 4, he is eloquent and able to communicate really well. His Bosnian is coming along too, although he won't speak with adults just the other kids. He is a long way from being fluent but we think he understands most of what is going on. The only issue that does seem to have arisen with learning another language is that he appears to have developed a stammer when speaking in English. I need to think about the best tactic to take to encourage him not to stutter as I think he is using it for thinking time rather than because he can't not stammer but I do need to do some research on this one (any advice gratefully received!).

We take care to only speak to the kids in English. Partly this is to help clarify for them which language is which. Mainly though it is because our Bosnian is rubbish and we would only teach them how to speak poorly and with a terrible accent. We do lots of reading and have English language DVDs (love CBeebies), but they also have some Bosnian DVDs as well.

The boys are doing so well and I'm incredibly proud of them. They are in a nursery where noone speaks English so they are having to learn Bosnian themselves. I'm pretty confident that if they do fall behind in their linguistic capabilities in English they will rapidly catch up on our return. So, I'm not going to worry about it. If they learn to speak another language whilst they are here then that is amazing, but I'm not going to push them to. After all, if they learn to speak another language whilst they are here then they will be able to communicate with each other without us fully understanding what they are saying. Maybe this isn't such a good plan.


Milla said...

Bosnian, how very interesting! And I love the characterisation of your dog. My dog is ghastly.
2 of my nieces have an Italian mother and they live in France. My 8 year old niece therefore is supposedly tri-lingual. Until very recently, interestingly, the one language she would never speak at home was English - with her father, my brother, who speaks only English to her. Conversations are complicated in their home! Another nephew has a Swiss mother who speaks French to her boy, they live in London so he speaks English, too (he;s 5, they moved here when he was 3). She tells him off in German (which sounds very scary!) What's also interesting is that the niece speaks English with quite a strong Italian accent yet the only one she consistently hears speaking English is himself English. Weird.
Thanks for coming by my blog, by the way, much appreciated.

Shunj said...

You don’t have a thing to worry about.
Kids growing up in a bilingual environment, compared to those who don’t, are slower with their language development till a certain age level for obvious reasons. At one point everything is going to fit together perfectly and you will have two no accent (native alike) bilinguals at your home.
Plus once they speak Bosnian they can easily learn any Slavic language in no time (and they can also help you with our case system which is, I’m pretty sure, something that gives you headache while trying to learn Bosnian). Are they going to use it sometimes in order to avoid you understand what they talking about? Of course they will. All of those kids do so. You have to understand they have super duper brain exercise on a daily basis, switching languages, which results in very smart little people.
The most important is not to mix languages when communicating with them. For example, I noticed that those kids (I’m specifically speaking about Bosnian kids here in the US) who have their grandparents (grandparents just cannot learn a new language in most cases) living with them, speak perfect Bosnian. On the other hand, those kids whose parents speak fairly good English, but often mix it with Bosnian, mix those two languages as well. In that case you have a little fella asking for some “chicketina” (chicken = piletina/ chicken + piletina = chicketina). There are many examples of words like this. I mean it is cute when they speak that way, but also very confusing for them at the same time.
I’m not an expert on the subject, but I’ve been observing this for the past 17+ years. The best people to consult with are linguists who focus on a language development at an early age (or pick up a book with the subject), and, of course, immigrants with young children.
Anyways, I enjoy reading your blog. I came across by an accident while googling for “Only Fools and Horses/Mučke”, a smash hit while growing in Yugoslavia back in the 1980s (near Tuzla as the matter of fact). It is refreshing to hear about Bosnia from a different perspective.
Hope you guys have a positive experience in me country.

Have a good one.

SandyCalico said...

What a fantastic learning opportunity, well done to your boys xx

Metropolitan Mum said...

I am looking forward to the day when little L will correct me (Austrian) and my husband (Swedish) with her immaculate little English accent, while we are stuttering around like idiots. Me talk pretty one day, too, me hope ;-)

Anonymous said...

What an interesting post. They'll have no problems with the two languages. My neice is half Chinese and although she's only 14 months I have no doubt she'll pick up both languages although she'll probably take a bit longer to start talking. Children are so much better than adults at languages. I can say two words in Madarin and that's it!

cartside said...

Definitely no reason to worry, kids are amazing at picking up languages. I think you've got the ideal set up for both languages, both get strong and clear input, unlike our situation where I can't help mixing languages when speaking to my daughter, as much as I try to speak German only. And still, she learns German. And even her cousin picks it up just like that, perfect pronunciation too. That's without trying to teach him German!

Mummy said...

I used to worry about this a lot too. Eve's nanny is not a native English speaker, and I am sure wehen on playdates with other nannies she doesn't speak English around Eve. My husband and I both speak English. Eve spends lots of time around children speaking Cantonese. She is a long way behind my niece in terms of language (as my mother just loves to remind me) but is ahead of my first nephew who grew up in London, entirely English speaking, and still couldn't say any proper words by 2 1/2. They all figure it out in the end so I have stopped worrying.

The cultural exprience and growing up more open minded is, even without the language, worth being overseas for.

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Milla - the whole way children assimilate language is amazing. Our dog however appears not to have assimilated any language at all, particularly come here and no!

Shunj - thanks for the really helpful comment! You are right, the cases are making my head hurt. We do only speak English to the kids so I'm hoping they won't get too confused. Anyway, we give it a go. And you are from around Tuzla too. It is looking very lovely today I have to say. I'm glad you enjoy the blog.

SC - I'm so proud of them, they are amazing!

MM - Wow - you'll be a tri-lingual family. That makes my head hurt!

RS - Mandarin is probably a more useful language to learn than Bosnian.

Cartside - I loved your bilingual post, please keep us updated on cublings progress!

Mummy - you are so right. I figure I'm just going to let them get on with it and enjoy themselves and we'll see what happens.

Maternal Tales said...

Been meaning to comment on this one for ages, but you've been way too prolific and have since written two more posts! I'm only a little behind...

So, my husband is French and I studied French (and History of Art) at we automatically thought that our children would be bi-lingual. And when we first had Renée we both started speaking to her in French and teaching her French words...and then what happened was that my husband would go away for long stretches at a time and I would find myself being lazy and speaking in English so by the time hubby returned she would have forgotten everything we taught her. The main problem is the fact that even though I speak French, my husband has lived in England for 25 years so English actually comes more naturally to him...and unless we both make a huge effort it's much easier to speak English.

Anyway, bottom line is...neither of the children are 'bi-lingual'. They both speaks words and sentences in French, but English is definitely their first language. Renée actually goes to French lessons every week and has done for the past two and a half years...but she's still not fluent. Most people say that the best way to raise bi-lingual children is for one partner to speak exclusively one language and the other exclusively the other language and then the child knows the difference. However, it's not quite as easy as it sounds!

So there you go...that's my story. I'm sure with time and visits to France they will get much better...

As for your boys - I'm sure there will be a point when you suddenly realise how good their Bosnian is...little ones are just like sponges...especially if they hear it every day.

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

MT - I'm sure with visits to France your girls will pick it up in no time. It is difficult though, working out how to do this 2 language thing. Cartside has some great posts on this if you haven't read them already it is worth checking out her blog Mummy Do That (it is on my blogroll on the side).

Anonymous said...

Sounds like your boys are doing great, we cannot underestimate a child's ability to absorb language.
I know there are a lot of theories out there ( OPOL, CLAH etc) but i think the main thing is consistency and to know that it peaks and troughs, they go through phases of being as fluent in the minority language as they are in the community language and then it slides as they hit a new wave in cummunity interaction.
My kids all have been through ( or are in?? ) phases of not wanting to speak English to me in front of other people, they don't like the attention it generates, and as they ahve got older and we spend more time with 'other people' I see the English time diminshing...
I sort of just hope it'll all pull together and that it is an on going learning process.

Anonymous said...

Incidently, I find it's quite easy to make kids think you speak their language fluently. It's all a matter of context as long as you can get a few words. After all, if a group of tens are whispering furtively on your residential language course and your hear the words 'window' and 'off licence'...

I don't think you have anything to worry about there!

Very Bored Housewife said...

Your experience mirrors ours, our son is has just spent a year at the local Catalan speaking nursery and whilst he can only speak a few words, hello, goodbye, water etc I am reliably informed that he understands pretty much all that is said to him.

His English I felt had always been about a year behind his average peer and always comes on in leaps and bounds when we have visitors or we go back to the UK to visit.

I know there will be a point in time when he is fluent in Catalan, Spanish and English but the road ahead seems long and fraught. He starts School in a fortnight at the tender age of just turned 3, I think it's too young personally but at least he'll be struggling with the language when his peers are still finding their own feet.

PS Loving your blog.