Many of us, parents in Germany, face the same challenge: to educate bilingual children. But how do you do that? Teaching something that you yourself haven’t learned can be overwhelming at first. That’s why today we have the pleasure of having Marcela Fritzler and Claudia Demkura on the blog. Two experts in this field who come willing to solve many doubts.
Marcela Fritzler is the mother of three children, Argentinean and an expert in Spanish as a Foreign Language. She has lived in Israel for almost 23 years and is a teacher and trainer of Spanish as a foreign language for children, teenagers and adults.
Claudia Demkura is the mother of two children, an Argentine expert in inherited language and early musical stimulation. She is a teacher and trainer of Spanish as a foreign language for children and adolescents. She also teaches music and movement for children, adolescents and adults.
Educate bilingual children
If you plan to have children in Germany or you live in a country that is not yours and you imagine having family there, read carefully what our experts come to tell us today.
What factors must be taken into account to successfully complete the task of raising our children in bilingualism?
The main factors for the development of a lasting bilingualism are mainly the creation of an affective bond with the language from the first contact, exposure time and possibility of interaction with peers.
From birth to what age is it considered that we can begin to educate bilingual children?
The greatest ease of learning is found in children up to the age of eight. However, this does not mean that an older child does not become bilingual, but that more work will have to be done.
Do you recommend that a parent speak a language with if the child is not their mother tongue? For example, a second language such as English.
The linguistic transference generated from the affective memory and the own inheritance tends to be more effective in the acquisition of a minority language in the children. How we do it is a work of perseverance and creativity. A feasible task from the family negotiation and having the objectives very clear for the parents.
In the specific case of reading stories, can it have negative repercussions if we read stories to our children in a language that is not our mother tongue?
Reading can never be harmful. The important thing would be what to read to them, what the subjects are, what contents, principles we are going to transmit to them, when and in what circumstances we do it… Reading is quite a book on the subject of the inherited language.
In families where one of the parents is German and the other is Spanish-speaking, what language do you recommend that is spoken between the parents, considering that they live in Germany?
Increasing exposure time is important in the case of minority languages, however, each couple must find the language situation that best represents them and with which everyone feels most comfortable.
What if one of the parents provides a third language? For example Hispanic mother, Italian father, and all living in Germany.
Everything depends on the method of learning that the family wants to adopt, there are no single rules and not all methods are suitable for all families.
How many languages would you say a child is capable of learning naturally?
It is impossible to generalize, as it depends a lot on the conditions of number of hours of exposure, possibility of interaction and need for communication in each language. In Switzerland, where there are four official languages, it is very normal for children to grow up speaking at least three languages.
It is normal for children who grow up in several languages to take longer to speak, from when should we worry?
This is a very sensitive issue for all parents. Each case is special and it is impossible to generalize. The phases a child goes through in language acquisition go from passive to active, from reception to creation, in which both the child’s personality and that of his parents, together with the context and the input received, play a key role in this process.
How should we act when our child responds to us in the other language? (I speak to him in Spanish and he responds to me in German).
As we have commented, the linguistic transfer offered in the family environment is the primary source in the inherited language, although not the only one. Communication from tolerance and affection will make bilingual children feel personal satisfaction, self-confidence and self-esteem, despite the fact that the first years are a diffuse panorama for everyone.
In a family where both parents are Spanish-speaking and live in Germany, how can you support your children to become bilingual in German?
Whether it’s Germany, Israel, Switzerland or another country where Spanish is a minority language, it’s essential to enrich the input from every possible angle. Encourage contact with the language of their parents, get closer to activities with the community of origin, open to bilingualism as a cultural richness, as a door to the future, as a bridge to interculturality. They are elements that will never create conflict in a child, rather they will build bridges.
For families who move from Germany to another country and do not have German parents, what would you recommend so that their children do not lose what they learned from German?
There are always playgroups, music groups, storytelling groups for young children that can be accessed. In the case of older children, films, books, videos, as long as they are appropriate to the age and interests of the children, can be of great help. All contact with language and culture is undoubtedly a contribution to its development.
At what age can we say that a child will no longer forget German if he or she moves to another country where German is not used?
Again it is impossible to generalize. There are cases of native adults who spend many years in another country without contact with their mother tongue, lose communicative competence in it. Others who have been exposed at an early age to a language for a couple of years, and then have contact with it again in adulthood, and yet have regained their linguistic competence in 100%. In short, what we are trying to develop is a taste for communication in every possible way we can find, because it brings us closer as human beings and gives us the possibility of creating a more tolerant world.
A pleasure to have met you a little closer Marcela and Claudia. And thank you very much once again for having shed a little more light on the task of educating bilingual children. For those of you who want to know more, Marcela and Claudia will be in Berlin next October 6th for an ELE Didactic Day for children. And if Berlin is far away but you are interested in the subject or you have more questions, you can also contact them in this e-mail: email@example.com .
My personal experience educating bilingual children
Personally, at home we follow the method that each of us (the parents) speak to our Minis in our mother tongue. That is, me in Spanish and Mr. B in German. In addition, we try to support Spanish with a German Spanish bilingual nursery school. Although Mini C is still small (just turned two years old), we observe that he speaks both languages (mixing words of one and the other) and not necessarily less than another child who is growing up with only one language and of the same age.
German is spoken at home. I speak to them in Spanish no matter where I am. In the case of being surrounded by people who don’t understand us, I take the precaution of translating into German to try not to make anyone uncomfortable. I have always been recommended to speak only in my mother tongue with my children and to persevere in it so as not to confuse them. For the time being, we are not considering introducing a third language.
Mini C often answers in the language spoken to them. But if he answers me in German, I translate what he said into Spanish and continue as if nothing had happened.
What is your experience with educating bilingual children? How do you react to these situations that happen to all of us? I would love to read some mommy (or daddy!) with grown Minis and who tells us a little about their experience 🙂 .
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