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We do speak two languages at home, French and German. The children are exposed to both languages and we are trying to figure out how to raise bilingual children. This is not always easy and we are facing difficulties. Here is the list of the problems we faced and what we are doing to solve them.
1st difficulty: language inequality
I am speaking French and my husband is speaking German. According to all the advice we read about raising bilingual children, it is best when each parent speaks only its language to the children,
However, this did not really work for us. My husband’s French is not as good as my German, so we tend to speak much more German than French. And as we are leaving in Germany, the children are more exposed to German.
We were however lucky enough to have a French school in the city where I am working. Since my daughter began to go to school, her French has become much better. While speaking with other parents of bilingual children, I noticed that the is a well-spread strategy. Proposing your child classes or activities in his or her weaker languages really helps.
Another thing that helped was subscribing to a French children magazine. My daughter was happy to find a magazine for her every month in the mailbox and this was a great opportunity to speak French.
2nd difficulty: language delay
My daughter began to speak very late. Actually, people did not understand what she said until she turned 4 and she really began speaking both languages well when she turned 5. My 2 year-old (soon turning 3) does not speak much. He sometimes says an entire sentence and then considers that was enough work and stops speaking for three weeks. As for the baby, he has the sense of priorities: after „papa” and „maman” (daddy and mommy), his first word was „essen“ which means “to eat” in German.
If your bilingual child does not speak much, don’t panic! This is not unusual that bilingual children need more time than monolingual children. Every child is different. Some children are very language oriented and can already speak three languages before they turned three whereas other children have different priorities. As for my children, their priority was drawing.
To help your child speaking, make sure he or she is exposed to many new words every day. You can see at the end of the article a list of activities to do together.
3rd difficulty: confusion between the languages
My daughter was also mixing up German and French. For instance, “thank you” is „Merci“ in French and „Danke“ in German, so my daughter would say „Danki“. Or to say „soap“, she would say „Seifon“, mixing up the French word „salon“ and the German word „Seife“. She stopped creating new words when she started school but she still has sometimes difficulties because of the grammar. She will sometimes use a French sentence structure while speaking German or a German structure while speaking French. The gender of the words is also sometimes a problem, as the same word can be male in French and female in German.
In this case too, it is important not to worry too much. Correct the mistakes but remain kind and patient.
4th difficulty: reading and writing
As my daughter is still in kindergarten, she cannot read yet. However, they are already discover the world of letters and sounds. And there, there are many differences: you do not pronounce the letters the same way in German, French or English and they do not interact the same way in different languages. There, the best solution is to read a lot in both languages.
Ideas of activities for your bilingual child
If you feel worried, you can consult a speech therapist to help your child improving his or her language skills. My daughter went to a speech therapist when she was 3 and it helped her a lot. She had a lot of fun too. Interestingly, ALL the children I saw in the waiting room were also bilingual children.
If you want to help your bilingual child improve his or her language skills, here is a list of activities that you can do together: