One of the many exciting milestones to see in a toddler's life is the beginning of speech - babies first words, then sentences, then stories.  Finally, all those long months of talking and talking and talking pay off!  And, we learn something about what is important to the baby - we still tease my brother that one of his first words was "cookie".

In the modern fast-paced world, more and more couples are traveling internationally and are setting up families in a place other than their country of birth. The language spoken between the parents might be different than the language spoken outside the home, or they might not even share all languages. This raises issues of bilingualism and children - which language should we speak? Which language should they learn? What will the effect be on their development? Is this good or bad?

This FAQ brings some of the questions and experiences of parents on the twins list. If you have any experiences to add, please send them to the list maintainer Daphne

Example 1:

a) how many languages are the twins (and singletons) exposed to?
for us - 2 (Hebrew and English) with an occasional exposure to German from the IL

b) how is the exposure defined?
At first I spoke in English with them and DH in Hebrew (OPOL – one parent one language), with the outside world (mainly nanny) speaking in Hebrew. At the age of 18 months we switched to both DH and I using English at home (ML@H – minority language at home).

All of our books and tapes are in English, some of the songs I sing are in Hebrew.

c) did bilingualism delay speech development?
for us - no

d) which language do the twins (and singletons) use?
Our son is much more verbal, and uses mainly English. Our daughter uses more Hebrew words, but she has a smaller active vocabulary. When they were younger, and knew only one word for an object (i.e. did not yet know how to say both words), it was random. I first noticed that they could translate (how do you say "leaf" in Hebrew) at about the age of 18 months.

I was surprised when the daycare told me that both children speak well in Hebrew, since I almost never hear it!

When they were beginning to talk with each other it was mostly in English (before they would communicate with glances, gestures, etc.). At that age they did not communicate much verbally with each other at daycare. Now they speak Hebrew between themselves in daycare, and a mix at home.

e) is the outside world supportive of bilingualism?
My uncle (pediatrician) long ago tried to dissuade us, since he said it would delay speech development.

Most of the people we meet think it is neat, probably because English is such an important language here. Also, it is strange to see a toddler speaking a "foreign" language :)

Example 2:

Bonjour from France! Here is an answer to your questionnaire -- hopefully, you might be able to start a FAQ because I think it could be of use to a lot of people!

a) how many languages are the twins (and singletons) exposed to?
Our twins (2 1/2 years) and 6 year old: two languages (French and English).

b) how is the exposure defined?
I speak to them in English, and their father/daycare/school (i.e. everybody else!) speaks French. We have English television, books, videos, etc. The 6 year old seems to speak to the twins in the language of the adult who is watching them. The twins speak a mixture of French and English. Our dinner conversations are quite interesting.

c) did bilingualism delay speech development?

d) which language do the twins (and singletons) use?
Our 6 year old speaks excellent English and French (like an "on-off switch"), depending on who she is talking to. The twins speak a mixture of both languages (they are 2 1/2), maybe a little more French than English. They are still speaking a lot of "jargon".

e) is the outside world supportive of bilingualism?
I don't think the nanny likes the idea. I know she corrects any word they say in English, to French. (Grammar is very important to the French.) She did the same to our 6 year old, but that didn't affect her English. The in-laws do not seem to approve, either. (I think this also has to do with the fact that the nanny and the in-laws do not understand English.)

Other people say they are lucky to have the opportunity to learn two languages. That's what I think!

Example 3:

a) how many languages are the twins (and singletons) exposed to?
Two, English and Dutch

b) how is the exposure defined?
At first we had one parent-one language but we changed that because they did not get enough English since my husband works all day and doesn't see them as much as I do. The outside the house language is also Dutch so we decided to speak English in the house. We have English tapes, video's, books and so on.

c) did bilingualism delay speech development?
For us not. All three of our children are more than a year ahead with their speech development.

d) which language do the twins (and singletons) use?
To each other they use Dutch, to daddy they use English and to me they use Dutch or English. If we are reading a book or watching a video in English they will speak English too, if not they will speak Dutch to me.

e) is the outside world supportive of bilingualism?
Yes, very. Everybody thinks it is great that the kids speak more than one language. Everybody is always trying to get them to speak English. Dutch people seem to think it is really cute.

Example 4:

We used the 1 parent, 1 language approach exclusively until the girls were around 23 months. At that point they had clearly differentiated between English and Hebrew, and would correct themselves if they used the wrong one. So I started asking them to translate: Ima says cat, what does Abba say? I'd supply the word if they didn't know it. They got the idea very quickly (we've expanded it to "what does Debbie say?" to point out differences-- often potentially embarrassing-- between English and American). Now I'm doing this with sentences, too. My husband still uses Hebrew exclusively.

I'd recommend getting plenty of French books and tapes. These will offer Examples of grammatical structures and vocabulary that you don't necessarily run across in day-to-day conversation ("Eat your peas.. Don't bite your sister.." etc.) I'm sure your in-laws will enjoy helping out with this!

Example 5:

My husband is American (with German parents) and I am Austrian and we are raising our children German and English. Our sons are both fluent in German and started daycare here (Australia) at age 2 1/2. Now, I guess they are almost at a level an English speaking 3 year old would be, so they actual delay seems to be only a few months. That's nothing compared to what they gain. I've heard from many parents how lucky they are to be able to understand and speak 2 languages at this early age. I think what is really important is to expose your children in the other language with interesting things. We get a lot of German books and videos. They switch between the 2 languages easily: sometimes they say "rot" is German and "red" is English etc. Since you will be surrounded mainly by English, you have to expose them as much as possible to French. You might even find a French school. When we lived in Seattle, I taught German at a Saturday school for children and I know of a kindergarten that is bilingual. So check around, maybe the French Embassy has some information.

Example 6:

Our house is officially bilingual, French and English. In Ottawa, English is spoken about 70% of the time with lots of French influences. Since my husband's mother tongue is French and I speak it well, we decided to concentrate on the French since we figured our son would pick up English at daycare etc.

Well, our daycare situation changed when our son was 14months and we now have a 100% French speaking babysitter. Since we had spoken French to our son from the beginning, we found it hard to switch to give him the "English" surrounding so we have continued to speak French at home to him too. Therefore, his French is great! I worry sometimes about his English but he IS only 2 1/2 yrs and he does hear it from my husband and I speaking together, from his English-only maternal grandparents who he doesn't see often and "on the street".

In retrospect, I wish we had done it the "one parent speaks French, the other English" way. I have seen it work beautifully with our friends 3 kids and they are all fluat both. (their son is the same age as ours) Also, my parents would not have found it so difficult to communicate with Sam.

Example 7:

Though both my husband and I speak English and French we have decided that we should each speak to our children in a different language. After reading up on this I found that although it may take longer for the child to speak- in the end you have a better chance of having a truly bilingual child. Our daughter definitely understands in all three languages because she responds to questions and basic directions, but she is not really speaking in anything- she points quite a bit- which I suppose is normal. Although I speak excellent French- English is my maternal language and while DH speaks excellent English- French is his- so we each speak to her in the language we are most comfortable in. Now the added fun is that in the French Caribbean at least in Haiti- most of the island speaks neither French nor English but Creole ( a language -some say dialect) that resembles French but is not French. The personnel at out home- including our daughter's "nanny" speaks Creole. that means three languages in her little head. Needless to say- I think we are doing it right in theory- but is there anyone out there that has had real experience with this? I also know that twins often communicate between themselves and I am just a little nervous about how late they will all be able to speak.

For those interested in more information on bilingualism, here are two informative websites:

bilingual resources (provides link to newsgroup and many resources) (intended mainly for families in which parents use non-native languages).

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