Bilingual kiddo

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Saturday 21 September, 2013 by Uncle Spike

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We have a short person in our house. He appeared some 5 years ago, but still seems reluctant to leave. Oh well,  guess we are stuck like that for another 12 years at least 🙂

Being a middle aged Brit, I struggle with languages, even English too if truth be known! I guess it all stems in part from the pompous past history of the British Empire, you know, the general inability or reluctance of Brits to learn another language. My Turkish is passable for some basic conversations, shopping and talking to builders and other farmers alike, but beyond that I really struggle. As a naturalised Turk, it’s a bit crap I know 😦

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By way of contrast, my wife and much of her family are pretty darned good when it comes to mastering languages (apart from my in-laws) and certainly more so than I am. My wife is Turkish, is very fluent in English, passable in Italian and has a grasp of Spanish; she puts me to shame by comparison… however, I dig better holes on the farm and can pluck chickens, so who’s counting? My brother-in-law is the same – perhaps this multilingualism is genetic, possibly going back to their late maternal grandfather who was an artist and spoke 5 or more languages so we understand.

And then there is the kid, a 20kg, 116cm ‘little me’. He looks like me, whinges like me, is quite often as daft as me, certainly has the same mischievous streak as me, and even shares a similarity with having two big toes like me. But on the language side, nope, not my kid. Thankfully on that front he takes after his mom.

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As a couple, we generally converse in English at home, both read English language novels and watch English, American and Australian television at home. When nipper was born, we spoke to a paediatrician about how we should teach him both languages. The advice was simple, but absolute. We, as parents, should ONLY converse in our individual mother tongue when speaking to our son. So that meant that I should ONLY speak ENGLISH to the baby, and my wife should ONLY speak Turkish. It sounded simple, but the doctor was adamant – at no time should we deviate from that approach, and he said that he would automatically learn BOTH languages simultaneously. He did say that he might not start talking as early as his peers, but when he does, it would be in two languages.

We took him at his word, and he was right, absolutely spot on!

He doesn’t just speak two languages like someone who is fluent in a second language, he actually has two mother tongues. Neither is his favourite, and he just swaps as/when he pleases or when the situation requires. I wish  could be like him – I marvel at his ability to flip languages mid sentence!

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I’m not trying to say he’s some genius, but I can certainly vouch for what the paediatrician advised – it works!! Here are just a few examples of what he was doing by the age of four.

Conversation – Converses in both languages without a foreign accent, swapping over according to which parent he is talking with. We often have mixed group visitors and he speaks to the Turks in Turkish, and then turns round to talk in English to the others.

Alphabets – Has a firm grasp of the different alphabets, correcting me whenever I make a mistake 🙂

Books – Reads in both languages.

Films – He is an avid fan of films, from Star Wars, to Ben 10, to Singing In The Rain. He has a few films in both languages, and watches the one he wants depending what mood he is in. Likewise, he changes the satellite TV option for cartoons to watch in either language.

Translates – Once when he was three, a German mum wanted to tell something to an English girl at a hotel poolside. She spoke to her daughter in German (who had a Turkish dad), the girl then spoke to our son in Turkish, he then told the girl in English. It was so comical to watch.

Dreams – He talks in his sleep, and it varies between languages; hilarious.

Make believe – Like all young kids, and especially being an only child with no playmates in our farming village, he is a master in the art of make-believe. He creates complex scenarios of five or more friends and has full conversations with them. Nothing strange there, until you realise half of his ‘friends’ speak English, and half Turkish.

So, if you happen to have a multinational or multilingual marriage/partnership, and are about to have a kid, consider what we have done. The advice we had was great and it worked a treat. We know other families who have more naturally just kept to a single language in the household, even though one parent had a different mother tongue, and five years later they find their kid no better off than others as they struggle to learn a ‘second language’. Whilst they stand a good chance of becoming fluent in the long term, with a native parent, I doubt they would ever achieve true bilingualism.

Do you have any similar stories? 

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13 thoughts on “Bilingual kiddo

  1. That’s fascinating. He sounds a real wonder kid. But poor little boy with a Dad who is “stuck” with him. I think I’d like to adopt him!

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    • Uncle Spike says:

      After almost 4 months of having a manic 5 year old at home, you are welcome, lol 😀

      Like

    • My kids are bilingual too. Less exotic than English and Turkish, only French and American English. The advice about the parents speaking their mother language is the one I followed as well. It works with funny episodes very similar to the ones you share with us. Feels good to read about other parents’ experiences. Someone mentions the adolescence period. Yes, it is the most difficult time as teens want to fit in and often refuse to speak the language of their born-abroad parent. But c’est la vie!
      Good luck and thank you for sharing. Much fun to read!

      Like

      • Uncle Spike says:

        I think the difference here is that all the kids, young and older, WANT to speak English in order for THEM to fit in with their idolisation of the west in terms of TV and film characters. So I guess that we should have less of an issue with him wanting t ditch his English for the sake of his school buddies. Time will tell…

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      • Uncle Spike says:

        I just clicked ‘Lıke’ to a post all in French, lol. I have no idea what you are saying, but love the fotos 🙂

        Have a fab day.

        UNCLE SPIKE

        Like

  2. raiz1972 says:

    I love him, I was bowled over by him and you and your wife, can’t wait to see you all again.

    Like

  3. Anonymous says:

    One other thing to be sure to do is that when the bilingual child enters adolescence, he or she may want to speak only the dominant language in school to fit in better. The non-dominant-language parent must refuse to understand anything in the dominant language. It’s much harder to do than you might think, but this means that any requests to you for the car keys must be in English!!

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    • Uncle Spike says:

      Quite agree, and he is very used to doing that already. He always speaks Turkish at school of course, but is also proud of his English as he can a) help his English teacher, b) correct her, and c) he can explain about Star Wars and other English language film characters which his mates crave information about!

      By the way ‘anon’, I removed the reference to my name from your comment as this is a public blog. Thanks

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  4. raiz1972 says:

    He amazed me . He is a great kid . I thought I was clued up about Star Wars 🙂

    Like

  5. Shana Rae says:

    You might want to try Danish instead, looks like a fun language to learn!
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24175429

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