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Hi there. I’m wondering how others have handled talking to their multilingual toddlers when s/he answers in another language other than the one you want them to respond in. I’ve a 15 month old that’s learning French, Spanish, & English (I speak all 3 to various degrees). We carve out time for each language everyday. She now says 40-50 words in all 3 languages but I’m not sure how I should respond during ‘French time’ when she says a Spanish or English word, for example. I want to encourage her productive language so I usually just affirm her word in the language she’s spoken (i.e., ‘si, es un perro.’). I will then restate it in the other language & continue on in that language. Does it make sense to do such? As I said, my main concern at this point is to promote her zest for language production (regardless of which language she speaks) but I’m not sure if I’m setting up some ‘bad’ or confusing habits. Any suggestions?


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I, too, wonder about this. In our situation, I speak mostly English and my husband speaks mostly Khmer, and our 2.5 year old son will mostly speak each language with the “correct” parent. However there are times when my husband and I have “Khmenglish” conversations with each other and, accidentally, with our son. He seems to comprehend all three modes of communication well and appropriately for his age. But because we so sometimes mix our languages to get certain points across more fully, or to discuss translation of certain things, we are never quite sure what language to use when he is in the midst of those conversations with us and conversing with us. Do we switch midstream and pick one language to use every time (a very, very odd and challenging thing for us as a couple since we have always used both languages together), do we oscillate between both in some agreed upon way? Or do we carry on the conversation with each of us only using our own language (we can do this but it just seems so strange) making it a conversation split right down the middle and each responding to our son in our language of origin?

We also foster children who are native Khmer speakers but who are learning English. He mostly converses with them in Khmer but they often try to practice their limited English with him. We’ve had to establish that although we love that they are practicing English, it shouldn’t be with him. Their grammar is very problematic, especially for the older children who started learning later in life but also who are the most motivated to practice. I would hate for his foundation in English to be compromised but also don’t want to be snobby or discouraging towards our foster children’s attempts at English. Also, they sometimes ask or tell me things in English that they need me to respond to in Khmer for communication’s sake, introducing another layer of confusion about how to establish best practices for language consistency in our home. I’m constantly kicking myself for not responding back in English to them, but sometimes you have to choose between language practice and getting kids out the door for school in time!

Would love to know what other people do in terms of how establish a structure or a family protocol when conversing in bothie either languages!

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