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In this issue of Attached Family, we take a look at the cultural explosion of breastfeeding advocacy, as well as the challenges still to overcome. API writer Sheena Sommers begins this issue with “The Real Breastfeeding Story,” including …

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1. Pregnancy & Birth

Fertility and conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and the early postpartum period.

2. The Infant

From newborn to 17 months.

3. The Toddler

From 18 months to age 3.

4. The Growing Child

From age 4 to age 9.

5. The Adolescent

From age 10 to age 18.

Home » 2. The Infant, 3. The Toddler, 4. The Growing Child, Secondary Attachments: Fathers, Grandparents & Other Loved Ones

An Attached Family in 3 Languages

Submitted by on Wednesday, January 22 2014One Comment

By Birute Efe, AttachFromScratch.com.

P1070409We speak three languages at home with our two children, aged 5 years and 20 months: English, Lithuanian and Turkish. No, the children are not geniuses or extra-advanced. They are just regular kids with normal developmental milestones.

My husband and I are from different countries with very different cultures, and we live in the U.S. Before we had children, I never even thought about which or how many languages my children would speak. We followed our intuition, as we did with Attachment Parenting. Now we speak English with each other and our own languages with the kids. Mission impossible? Not for us.

I believe that the Attachment Parenting philosophy has greatly contributed to raising trilingual kids. Actually, AP is a perfect setup that allows a child to learn more languages. Here are some tips on how to apply the principles of Attachment Parenting to naturally teach young kids different languages.

1. The most important tip is to be sensitive, caring, responsive and positive. Only when your child’s needs are met will he be able to explore the world and the languages more freely and easily. Secure attachment and strong bonding is the key for a child to feel confident and succeed in his challenges early in life.

2. Start early. Get into the habit of talking in your native language to your baby before she is born. Your partner can do this, too. After the baby is born, stay consistent and talk to her in your language as you go about your daily activities.

3. Learning a new language doesn’t only involve new vocabulary and grammar. It can also include getting to know a new culture with different traditions. Kids can be introduced to this very early. For example, in our family:

  • We cook national dishes from our countries very often, and both kids love them.

  • We celebrate our cultures’ different religious holidays.

  • We often meet with other families who live near us and are from our native countries.

  • We often share stories from our childhoods, which involve some good memories about certain traditions.

4. Never force a child to speak your native language. This includes no bribing to talk to grandparents, no threatening to take away toys or privileges, no ignoring, and no being upset or disappointed with a child when he doesn’t communicate with you in your desired language.

In our family, the communication with grandparents usually happens through Skype. Our kids are not very fond of sitting on the chair in front of the computer to talk to a digital view of Grandma, so we never force it. We just turn the Skype on with video and let the kids play in the room. The grandparents usually comment while the kids play somewhere in the room, or we just talk and let the kids overhear us. Sometimes the kids just run up to the computer to say “Hi” or show their grandparents their new toy.

5. There will be times when a child will reject speaking your language depending on where you live and if there are any other adults or children there that speak your native language. Don’t panic. Make your child feel comfortable and speak to her in her preferred language for a while. Good communication is the key, and it doesn’t matter what language it is in.

My daughter’s first words were in my native language because I used to spend the most time with her while my husband worked a lot. But when she turned 2 years old and we start seeing and playing with a lot of kids of her age, she learned English and preferred to speak English most times.  And I was fine with it because I knew she had to learn English. So for a while we spoke English at home. She still understood what we said to her in our languages, but she would not speak them back to us. And there were days when she would ask us not to speak “your way.”

6. When you don’t get to use much of your language in regular daily conversations, try different methods to use your native language.

  • Our family loves music. We listen to “Mommy’s music” and “Daddy’s music” all the time. We purchased some fun kids’ music in our languages so the kids could enjoy listening to it. One day I was so pleased when my daughter tried to say something in my husband’s language, and she started singing the song to remember a particular word that she forgot. As soon as she got to the part in the song where the forgotten word was, she remembered.

  • We do have one strict rule on our house. It’s the story time. The first story must be in the reader’s native language, then after the first story it’s the child’s choice.  Sometimes if they really like the first story they will ask for a second “non-English” story.

  • When we play, I invite them to start the game in my or my husband’s language, hoping we will continue that way. Particularly we like silly, imaginary games. For example, I start telling them a story in my language, and we all try to become live characters in it. You would be surprised where the story about the talking lizard who only speaks Lithuanian can lead all of us.

  • We love cooking, especially our national dishes. Even if we are on “English-speaking days” we still can use our native words for special ingredients and the names of the dishes because there simply aren’t other names for them.

  • When our daughter was about 3 years old, we made some friends with a family from my husband’s country. It was a big transformation for our daughter because she finally started speaking in my husband’s language. Hearing other kids talking in “Daddy’s language” made it much “cooler.”

  • One of the greatest influences for my daughter in learning languages was when we visited our home countries this year. Spending two months in each country was the best language learning experience for her.

7. For those who don’t speak more than one language, don’t worry, there are some ways to teach your child another language that don’t require you to enroll in a foreign language class. For example:

  • If possible, find friends that are from different countries and encourage them to speak their native language as much as they can or wish with your child.

  • Teach yourself a second language so you can learn with your child.

  • Seek out learning materials, books, music, and shows or videos featuring another language. (Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under two years old.)

  • Teach words for objects, the alphabet, colors, animals, family names (such as sister, brother, father, mother, etc.)

  • Sing songs or nursery rhymes, recite poems or play games involving another language. Games may involve the senses, such as tasting and naming new foods, smelling and naming items while blindfolded, feeling and naming items in a sack, or finger games like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in another language. Young children learn best through positive experiences and play.

  • If you use child care, you may find a caregiver or daycare with staff who can speak a different language with your child. Or you can check for a preschool that offers language education or full immersion in a second language.

I know it sounds complicated and a lot of work. I won’t lie–it’s not always easy. I hear many parents who raise multilingual kids complain that it is hard to constantly switch the “language gears,” especially when they live busy lives. And my husband and I have those days when we sometimes wonder if it’s worth it.

But then again, parenting is not always easy. The joy of hearing my children being able to express themselves in three languages when they were as young as 16 months old allows me to brush off all the trouble we go through.

I encourage you to speak the languages you want your child to speak. Be confident, be proud and most importantly, be aware of your child’s feelings.

 

One Comment »

  • Karolina says:

    Thank you for sharing your strategies! Our daughter is still a baby, but we have already begun precisely whatyou. I speak to gether in my native Polish, my husband speaks to her in his native Spanish, and she hears us speak English with each other. We do sometimes speak English to her in the presence of the other parent or someone else who doesn’t know the language. I’m glad to read the advice not to ignore the child unless “the correct language” is used.

    I wonder how I might go about incorporating a fourth language that I’m learning without compromising the others?

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