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SAY YOU, SAY ME
I'm raising bilingual kids, but I don't get too worked up about it. I love the English language, it's one of my passions, and while I hope that my children will learn to love it as well, I don't see much point in getting all lathered up about whether or not they love it like I do. I know that they will learn English, since we live in a country where English is taught from a very young age and besides, they get it in the home as well. They have had English and Swedish since their birth, and are surrounded with it at home. I always speak English with my children, and Anders and I speak English together. Anders says this has helped his English retention as well, as his skill would have deteriorated majorly by now if he weren't using it on a daily basis.

Television and movies are not dubbed here (except for some children's programs) and we have provided English materials that make up over half of the books, films, videos, tapes, CDs, and computer games that the children interact with. I was home immersing the kids in English, with Martin for 3 years and with Karin for 7 months and you can see what a distinct difference that has made in the 2 of them. Martin is comfortable in English, and uses English with me and other English-speaking friends and family. He can translate on the fly and only uses Swedish words when he doesn't know the English equivalent. He does tend to use Swedish grammar when speaking English sometimes, but I don't think that is unusual.

Karin was a slow starter when it came to talking, period, and since she didn't have as much English exposure as a baby, I don't find it odd that she started late with that as well. She's coming into it slowly now, and is encouraged to use English with me. She also can translate on the fly, and I've heard her explaining to her friends in Swedish what I just said to her in English. :) She's much less confident than Martin, though, and it shows.

2 years ago, when we went home for a month, and then had my Mom and Grandma in Sweden with us afterwards for 3 weeks, the kids had 7 solid weeks of nearly exclusive English. Anders spoke Swedish with them, but otherwise, they were really soaking it up. Even though they still tended to PLAY together in Swedish, they were slowly switching into English and it lasted much longer after we returned to Sweden before they switched back completely.

We've always used the OPOL method: one parent, one language. I always speak English with the kids, and Anders always speaks Swedish with them, no matter what. It's consistency that matters and it shows. I've asked Martin to go tell his father something in English and a few minutes later heard him telling Anders IN SWEDISH exactly what I had said. Martin can read simple-reader books in both languages.

It's a little more difficult now that the kids are at the age where they have friends over, and I feel the pressure to speak Swedish since the other kids don't understand me, but I find that even though it's a little weird, repeating myself in Swedish works just fine. The thing is, THOSE children are going to be learning English soon as well, and it doesn't hurt for them to hear me speaking English to Martin and Karin. English is "cool" here, and using it is "cool." Martin was always being asked by older kids when he was 2-3 years old, "how do you say ...? how do you say ...?"

I've been told by several people who have grown children raised in Sweden with English in the home that I can expect at some point that my children will consider it embarrassing that I speak English to them, because it marks me (and them) as different, and that they may refuse to answer me in English for awhile. Since I'm fluent in Swedish, it makes no difference to me, really, what language they speak to me, as I don't even really hear the LANGUAGE, I just respond to what they SAID.

We're going to the States for a month this summer again, and it will be interesting to see how it affects their English skills. Considering how Swenglish/Svengelska has taken over my brain, I feel like they're gaining even as I'm losing. :)

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Comments

Wow! Really interesting. I was wondering about this the other day. You mentioned something that Karin had said. That started my brain wondering.

When did you decide on the OPOL method? Are there other methods as well? Why did you decide upon this one? I'm assuming it was because it was best for you guys. I'm fascinated by language and even moreso by children lucky enough to have two mother tongues.

I experienced the 'sponge -like absorption' of Swahili when we lived in Kenya for over two years. My mother was going to a language school and studying intensively for months. I'd come home and chat with my little friends and she'd have to ask what I was talking about. It was mental. Now, I'd kill for that type of absorption rate. It's amazing how quickly children 'inhale' such knowledge. :) Brilliant! :)

We decided when Martin was born to go with OPOL because neither one of us could imagine talking to our child in a language other than our native one (it's really hard to do babytalk, for instance). I read up quite a bit on raising bilingual kids as well, there are a TON of resources on the web. The main message in all of the methods is to be consistent.

Some people choose to speak one language at home, one language when out; others choose a specific time to speak the minority language (like dinnertimes or weekends). Sometimes BOTH parents choose to speak the minority language at home, it mostly depends on what the parents are comfortable with. I know people who have raised TRIlingual kids, and it seems to work just as well with 3 languages, which blows my mind, since it's so much work with just 2!

We're lucky here in Sweden because children are allowed, BY LAW, to get tutored instruction in their minority language starting at the age of 6. The only problem with English here is that you can't choose whether or not they get American or British English, it just depends on what teacher is available (and sometimes IF a teacher is available at all!). Martin has a British guy right now, but he's well aware that he needs to be aware of differences when he's teaching Martin spelling and even grammar.

How cool that you used to know Swahili! Do you remember anything? Can you tell me how to say "give me a kiss?" :D

Ooh, I can't remember... I think 'makasi' is kiss... but I've lost most of my grammar. Just checked with an online dictionary and apparently that's wrong. It's a pair of scissors! *eek* I think it's 'Tu nibusu' (command - you kiss me) but don't quote me on it.

I know alot of random words though. Maridadi is beautiful. Nyama is meat. Nyanya is both grandmother and tomato. I always thought this was funny. ;)

Grandmother Tomato! :) That's great. I've always thought it was amusing that "gift" (pronounced yift) in Swedish means both "married" and "poison." :D

Now that one always makes sense to me (says the twice-divorced woman).

Isn't amazing how they develop? We're doing Minority Language at Home, which means that we all speak English at home and amongst ourselves when just the four of us are out and about. We speak Swedish when we're amongst Swedes, and I speak a lot of Swedish to Lydia when her friends are here (she's one of those who is embarrassed by Mom speaking English!).

Our situation is a bit different, of course, since Lydia was 4½ when we moved to Sweden. She hadn't had any Swedish exposure up to that point. She speaks both languages fluently now, but her English grammar and syntax is a bit wacky these days.

Tage, who's not quite 2, understands English perfectly and speaks a lot more than Lydia did at his age. He seems to understand Swedish as well, and he does say a few words in Swedish. I expect his Swedish will continue to come along more slowly since he doesn't hear it nearly as much as he hears English.

We haven't been lucky enough to get the home language instruction for Lydia, since there have to be at least five native speaking kids of any given language in the kommun before they're required to offer the extra instruction. We don't have enough kids here right now. :(

That's really interesting, Bev, I didn't know that you all spoke English at home. I have a few friends that do so down here, too, and it seems to work just as well as our method. I think the 5-kid rule stinks, and I wonder if it's really legal...I thought it was a law that EVERY child that needed and wanted hemspråk was supposed to get it. Maybe it's just the kommun's way of weaseling out.

How lucky your children are to get two languages!!!
I always wished that for my children.
The little girl down the street, Freja, is bilingual. Her Mama is from here, her Papa moved here from Sweden when he was 17. I think they use the same method you do. Right now they have relatives from Sweden visiting. Also, the mama is in a Swedish language group.

I've always thought that learning another language expands the way a person's mind works, much like Traveler Trish's idea of traveling.
I think that inside the language sits other ways of looking at things than the posture the first language holds one to. It is hard for me to wrap words and explanation around this idea of mine. Does it make sense to you?

I also consider my children lucky! I learned German in high school, but that was it, really. Learning a second language DOES forge new pathways in your brain, I completely agree with you. I like your way of thinking about it: that when you have a second language you have another way of looking at things. So important!!

I am learning Cherokee at the moment. The way that certain things do not directly translate, and the way that some verbs are different for the same action, different type of object/subject stretches my thinking and I know there is some other inexplicable thing going on in my brain synapses.

That's true with any language, I think, that there are things that do not directly translate. It feels good to stretch your synapses! :)

Gawonihisdi


**stretch**


Gawonihisdi = language

I am so impressed. You are doing an amazing thing for your kids. Europe really has it all over the US for languages. Imagine the things your kids will be able to do as they get older and more fluent in English!

OPOL is very interesting concept.

British English is a bear with the different spellings.

It's not always easy, but it's so worth it. It's hard sometimes to realize that no matter how hard I work at my own Swedish, it will never be as good as my kid's English! :)

It's not just spelling with British English, it's practically a new vocabulary, and there are even grammar differences! Eek!

I so loved this "conversation" and I was thinking how I wished we all were on telephone so that we could continue with the discussion. Heh! Daisy is in French Immersion in school and having just finished Grade 2 yesterday I have to say that her French is really lovely. She is not really able to converse too long with adults, but in class and with her friends it's no problem. I don't speak any French despite having taken French in High School and even for one year in University. I took German for less time in High School and yet I think that I know more German than French. (They really have no clue how to teach languages in this country unless it's immersion.) My French has improved since Daisy started the immersion program in Senior Kindergarten but I'd love to take a course so that I could help more with her homework. Daisy's best friend has a German speaking mother, a French (Quebecoise) speaking father (who learned it as an adult) and a German live-in nanny. The dad speaks French to the kids (son is seven and daughter is two), mom and nanny speak German, and English just squeezes in between. They have a special Video and DVD player which can play international Videos and/or DVDs which is also immersing the kids in all languages. Daisy has always been exposed to French when she is around the dad and lately the mom has been speaking more German to Daisy as well. Daisy's friend has been going to Deutscheschule on Saturdays for two years now and he is truly trilingual with no confusion between languages, although English and German are the strongest. I even have a handful of French or German words and phrases that I use around their home with the kids. What is amusing is when Daisy corrects the dads French. LOL! Czech was the language spoken in my home as a child, but when my brother was diagnosed with LD/ADHD the "experts" told my parents to only speak English at home. Peh! I understand Czech very well, but I speak it horribly. Daisy is also lucky to have some Latin American friends and so she is exposed to a fair amount of Spanish as well. She is able to understand enough to small talk. Wow!

Wow! Daisy is really lucky, especially since all those languages are in different families, which will help later. I have a hard time with any of the Romance languages now, since everything I've learned has been in the Germanic family. What a shame that those "experts" gave your parents that advice :( Did speaking only English in the home really help your brother?

I know what you mean about wishing we were all in the same room so we could continue the conversation! :)

Did speaking only English in the home really help your brother?
NO! He was a late talker as are many children. Personally I think that they should have continued speaking Czech to me and just speak English to my brother when he was in the room. I'm sure that they could have managed it. Oh well! Spoiled baby brother! Peh! Heh! My brother is 40 now and is still a lost soul and has many problems due to his disabilities. It's unfortunate!

That's interesting to know for when we have kids. Helena and I plan to get married and have children no earlier than 2005. We've discussed about the citizenship of the children, and I've preferred it for us to get married, so that it would be (almost) automatic dual-citizenship. We've talked about the language also, but never thought in detail about how we would teach them both languages like you have. Thanks for the suggestion.

Your kids are automatically citizens of both countries. The only thing you have to do, if you are living in Sweden, is to make a "Report of Birth Abroad" to the U.S. Embassy. You can find more info about what you need to do (it's not much) on the Embassy website. It's the same if you happen to be living in the States. Helena would just need to let the folkbokföring or skattemyndigheten know. You would also need to apply for a SSN, but I think you still do that the same time as you do the original report.

I think that's so cool, I would love to be able to raise bilingual kids. I started hearing german when I was four for 2-3 months of every year although not from my parents, but from my cousins and grandparents and step-brother and I picked it up so easily. It's fantastic when you're a kid. I can't wait to pass the same on, although perhaps a different language. Lucky you!

There are a lot of language-immersion schools for kids around these days, as well, even for pre-school age children. I'm sure a major city like Sydney has some. We even have a trilingual montessori preschool here in Lund where the children get French, English and Swedish.

There are lots here in Sydney. Although to be honest I think your situation, and what I experienced when i was younger appeals more. I haven't read much about those schools of late but my step brother went to a french one in Vienna and really struggled a lot with what is crucial early developmental stuff like basic maths or grammar, due to finding the language hard. And the teachers didn't think 'hrm, maybe he should go to a normal school...', just kept pushing. Maybe that's just a bad case. But I do love the thought of learning the culture and language because it's a part of your family life.

Well, you're going to have be a lot picker about who you date, then :) (foreigners only!)

I know ;) Nah, I wouldn't base my selection on that - I'd just drag whoever I meet over to Europe to live for a few years, problem solved! :)

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