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I Wish I Spoke My Mother Tongue With My Daughter!There, I said it. You can quit reading now or you can read the rest of this post :)
Deciding on Raising Your Children Bilingual
Here is my sweet infant Smarty, so small that she could fit on a pillow. Before she was born, my husband and I discussed what language we will be using with her. My mother tongue is Russian, and my husband’s is German. Both of us came to the United States as adults and over years became fluent in English while retaining our accents. I learned enough German to have a general idea of what the conversation is about when my husband speaks German to someone. My husband speaks no Russian whatsoever. Both of us were late speakers in our native languages, and when Smarty was ready to be born, we were scared. We worried that Smarty will struggle to take in three languages if we both struggled to take one. As a result, we decided that I will speak English with our daughter, and my stay-at-home husband will speak German with her.
Consistency Is a Key
Smarty, however, didn’t inherit our “late talker genes”. My husband was jokes that our daughter had to learn to talk, so he could understand what she wanted. Her first words at the age of about 8 months were in German, and by 15 months she had a decent one word vocabulary both in German and in English. One mistake at that age was that my husband didn’t read her enough in German and he wasn’t consistent with “one parent one child language” (OPOL) . She always loved books, and when I was home, we were reading not one or two, but dozens of English books every day. By 18 months her English exploded into full sentences, and she started to respond in English to her Papa. This is where consistency and commitment was a key, and we “blew it”. It seemed easier to just speak English with her, since she was so talkative in English. From that point her German took a nosedive and now Smarty only knows a handful of phrases in German.
Do Tutors Work?
By the age of 5, my daughter was a confident and fluid reader in English. My parents begged me to teach her Russian. When 2012 rolled in, Smarty said that she wants to learn Russian. I placed an ad on a local Russian site, and found a tutor who seemed wonderful. She was a school teacher, and Smarty liked her OK. However, the teacher went with a “full immersion” approach, and Smarty resisted the fact that suddenly she could not understand a word of what the teacher was saying. We adjusted, but Smarty’s enthusiasm was lost. Yes, in 2 months she was reading in Russian. I could understand her reading perfectly well. She, however, had no idea what it is that she was reading – she was simply successfully decoding those foreign characters into equally foreign sounds. A summer visit to my parents showed that her Russian was not going anywhere – the only phrase that she mastered really well was the phrase she had to use a lot with my Mom – the phrase, I want to do it myself!
Why did this tutor not work out? I think it was because Smarty was not having a language-rich environment – books, movies, and, most importantly, age peers who would speak the same language. She didn’t need to apply her knowledge with me – she knew that I understand her perfectly well in English, and so the words of Russian language were leaving her almost as quickly as they were introduced to her by her tutor.