Saturday 21 September, 2013 by Uncle Spike
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 😦
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.
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!
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?