I'm embarrassed to admit that in spite of various efforts to study foreign languages I am still monolingual. I've always dreamed of being able to rattle off in another language, any language. I can't tell you how many language books I toted around in my life and how many NY parties I've nervously laughed my way through with red hot cheeks where seemingly everyone was quadrilingual. Even though English has spread across the world as a common language, I always feel a bit disrespectful in saying I haven't bothered to return the favor by learning the language of at least one other culture (not even the mister's). Luckily my children will never suffer such a fate!
When one parent speaks a second language fluently, a child can develop fluency as quickly as a child raised in that culture. The method is easy. Each parent speaks only their native tongue to the child, and speak whichever language is preferred to each other. You can also offer books in both languages, programs like Little Pim, formal courses later on to perfect written skills, and voila, you have a bi-lingual baby.
Max goes through phases where he prefers German and phases where he prefers English. But usually he speaks both equally. For many words, even though he knows both, there is a preferred lagnguage. Water is always vasser, milk is always milch and car is always auto. Some words he blends together, like "Danks" [Thanks + Danke]. And some sentences, such as today when I asked him for a hug after I took his basketball away he said "Kein hug!" (as in "No hug for you, you basketball taker!")
But even if children mix the languages together, they are able to distinguish between the two. For example, if I speak German Max gives me funny looks. And when he needs help and I am nearby he says "Help, mama" and when papa is nearby he says "Hilfe, papa."
I used to dream that we would learn German together but by the time he was 12 months I was eating his dust. The mister would say a few sentences to him and he would go and get something, meanwhile I had no clue of what had been said. Now sometimes I even have to ask the mister what Max is saying. Recently when he wants something he's started saying "Hamen? Hamen?" I finally asked the mister and he said it's for haben which means "to have". Well, cough cough (on that dust again).
For those of you who want to expose your little one to another language Little Pim is a lot of fun (even if you are not already a bilingual family) and Powell's has a great children's foreign language section!
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