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hi!  this is my first time checking out the site.  my wife and i live in japan, and we are here for the long haul.  she is japanese, and i am american.  in our interactions, we have always used japanese, and my japanese is decidedly better than my wife’s english.

we have a daughter who has just turned 16 months old, and we generally adhere to a “one person, one language” house policy–although i am less strict about that when we interact outside with japanese neighbors, and sometimes slip into japanese even at home if i am not careful!  (in fact, i  had initially thought that i would use japanese even at home, as it seems far more natural: it was my wife who convinced me that english would be important for our daughter to interact with her american family and for me to explain many cultural concepts from my side of the family.)  i often read to our daughter in english (and never in japanese); my wife has read to herin english, only to be greeted with a quizzical expression(since which time she has reverted more or less to japanese-only).

recently, our daughter has become very talkative.  it’s a really exciting time: she has a morning ritual when she wakes up of pointing to various things in the room and reciting their names or “greeting” them as best she can.  she has thus far said very little that is recognizable as english or japanese words, apart from “papa” and “mama” and some characters (mickey mouse; hello kitty; anpanman; and pooh), but she seems to be on the cusp (she nearly managed “apple” this morning, or at least a reasonably close approximation).

my question is: does anyone ever have the experience of having their child refer to some object in the language of the other partner?  in that case, what do you guys do?  for example, our girl points to the light and says something close to “denki”, the japanese word for it.  i rephrase in english (e.g., “yes, that’s a light”); in some cases, i think i’ve prefaced my recast with acknowledgement of the japanese word.  just curious if people have any opinions on this subject.

thanks in advance for any ideas!


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I do what you do, basically. 

My daughter at 2 years, 3 months does not yet distinguish between languages, although both parents are quite consistent sticking to one language in talking to her.  She has no problem addressing either of us, or anyone else, in whichever language she feels like.  I am assuming this will clear up as she becomes more proficient.    We usually say, “Yes, that’s a light.” 

I think that sometimes it can be frustrating for a child if she thinks you’re correcting her, not just adding to what she’s already said, so I often repeat the word she said first, correctly: “Svetielko?  Yes, that’s a light!” so that she knows I heard and understood her and am just adding my own two cents to the language heap.  I do this particularly because at the moment I am the majority language speaker (we’re on a temporary assignment in UK, I’m American) and my husband, who works all day, is the sole input for his minority language (though that will change in several months).  I therefore want to encourage every bit of minority language that I can without actually speaking it on a regular basis to my daughter. 

I’ve also noticed that if my husband rephrases something she says, she looks at him like, “I KNOW, that’s what I just SAID,” and no amount of repetition can get her to acknowledge that what he said is different.    Ball – lopta – ball – lopta – BALL – LOPTA!  At least we can tell she understands both!  But she reacts better if he says as above, “Ano, ball.  Je to lopta!”  Then she repeats after him, Lopta.

Overall I think that insisting your child address you in your chosen language is okay, once they reach the age where they’re capable.  Neither your child nor mine is at that point yet.  I don’t really think that pretending not to understand is the right method, though – especially in your case, as in ours, your child is going to KNOW you understand the other language perfectly well.  I think again frustration would play a role and possibly cause it to backfire.  At least with my stubborn kid. 

As a final note, I think it is absolutely the right decision to speak English to your child.  Good luck!


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I have had the same experience with my daughter , who is just 2.  I speak English to her and my husband Spanish, and his native language when he remembers to.

When she was just learning a word in Spanish I didn’t want to discourage her, just becuase she hadn’t said it in English. So I would affirm the word in Spanish, and then say it in English.

“se cayo?  Yes, the ball did fall down.”

Sometimes I will forget and keep talking to her in Spanish, but I try and get back to English as soon as I remember.

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Hi there,

We have two children (1 and 4 year old) and bring them up bilingually (Czech and English, living in an English speaking environment). Ever since they were born, we stick to speaking our mother languages to them regardless of the situation. And our son (our daughter has just turned one, we still have to wait there) speaks both languages without any problems.

We’ve been through the phase where your daughter is now and given we live in Scotland English words would quite often come first. I would always reply in Czech, repeating the word my son would try to pronounce in English. I think it is very important to stick to your language not to get them confused.

I have a friend who married to New Zealander and she’d use both languages in a sentence “pes, yes, it’s a dog” and her wee girl had some problems with the Czech language.

Sometimes Ted struggles to tell me his news from nursery in Czech, I do not mind him talking English to me, I just repeat everything in Czech and later on in the conversation he continues in Czech. E.g. he would never speak English to his Czech grandparents or aunties, with me it’s probably different as he hears me often speak English to others.

Good luck and enjoy discovering new worlds with your daughter!


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