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  Reply with quote  #1 

I live in the US but I’m originally from Poland. My husband speaks only English and I’m trying to teach our 27 month old daughter Polish as my parents don’t speak English. She understands everything in Polish, but she only answers in English. I tell her “I don’t understand” in Polish and after couple times she finally blurts out what she wants in Polish. Is that what other kids do too? I’m afraid that if I don’t do something quick she will understand, but never speak the language.

  Reply with quote  #2 
My boys, who are 8 and 6 years old, did exactly the same thing. Although now we are living permanently in France, when we lived in England my husband only ever spoke to them in French, it was only when we moved here that he realized that all is hard work was not in vain, as now they are like all the other children around them, French!!

In my experience children seem to ‘pigeon hole’ people, i.e. they will only speak the necessary language when needed. We have French friends that speak English very well, but when my children see them they will automatically speak French to them, and visa versa, when we have English friends visit, they revert back to English children. It is only with me that they seem to mix the languages!!

I really believe that our children do not see English and French as two different languages, they just seem to accept that they can understand and speak both without making a big difference between them!!

I think what I am trying to say is that you must keep going, for your culture’s sake and for your family’s sake.

Do you have any other Polish people around you? you could set up coffee mornings where you only speak Polish, then will be able to realize how much your child actually knows!!!
  Reply with quote  #3 

Hi Magda, I am also from Poland and my two twin daughters (30 months old)hear it only from me as my husband speaks only English.  I hear very little spontanous Polish from them. They understand everything I say but when they respond they do it in English.  It doesn’t look like you are alone in this.

  Reply with quote  #4 
Hi everyone… I live in US and am originally from Poland, my wife is American and only speaks English. Since birth I have spoke to our son exclusively in Polish. I am the only one that he hears the Polish language, everything else around him is of course in English, including daycare. He is currently 24 months and understands everything in both languages however does not speak Polish. He is getting really good with English, has a quite high vocabulary he can say, which is great, started to form full sentences, but does not do the same in Polish.
I always stick to Polish when talking to him but he does not return in back. He speaks few basic words in Polish back to me but does not speak the same level as he does in English. It’s frustrating as i fear that he will not learn to speak the language and will only understand Polish.
Does anyone have any suggestions/ tips… Good luck to all…
  Reply with quote  #5 

the tip I have is to try to get your child to visit your home country if possible. And if possible do it at least once or twice a year. Also if you can get Skype and make grandparents to talk to your child in your native language often. After all, this is probably the main reason why you speak to your child in your native language so your parents can also communicate with their grandchild, right? Kids are very smart, they will use it if they see the need for it. I speak Slovak to our two children, my husband speaks English. I noticed a great change in my daughter’s Slovak this year. She’s almost 4 years old and we went to Slovakia in June, then again in October and my Mom just left, visiting us in November. My Mom can only speak Slovak with my daughter and since none of her Slovak relatives speak any English she suddenly started using Slovak. She does it with me as well although she still has a tendency to use English with me as she knows I understand. My husband and I speak English to each other so frankly, she didn’t think she needed to speak Slovak with me at all. I didn’t want to enforce it before I was quite happy that she understands Slovak and I didn’t really force her to answer back to me in Slovak. But now that she finally started using it, I will be more strict with her and require her to answer in Slovak as well.

So use Skype, visit your home country, play your language DVDs, movies, read books, insist on answering back to you in your language and send them to your home country to spend summer holidays with their grandparents and cousins.
  Reply with quote  #6 

I am having the same problem with my 3.5 year old son. We have been speaking English in the home while living in Turkey. Now we are moving back to America so my husband is trying to get him to speak back in Turkish. He understands everything but we not respond in Turkish since he is used to responding in English to my husband. How can we insist they speak back in the same language without frustrating them and making them resent the language?  I want him to enjoy speaking it and not feel like it is something he is “forced” to do. Any ideas?

  Reply with quote  #7 

So… it’s been a year for me and the situation haven’t changed 🙁 She understands everything although every once in a while she will say what’s that mean??? She is now 3.5 yo. I also have 19 ms old and I’ve been trying to get the two of them talk to each other in Polish. I’m telling them that it is their secret language as no one can understand them. So far-no luck. We are going to Poland in July for 2 weeks-we’ll see how they will do there!

  Reply with quote  #8 
Perhaps it is a little nosy of me, but I’m just wondering how your trip went, as far as having any impact on the oldest child’s speech.  My daughter is four, and thus far she readily complies with speaking our minority language (although her father and surrounding society speak only English).  I do think the two weeks in Poland could have made a tremendous difference for you.  We speak Latvian and for the last three years we have been a part of a small “school/play” group.  It is a grass-roots effort made up of 5-6 mothers serious about raising bilingual/bi-cultural children in the U.S.  In fact, we drive the hour there and another hour back (weekly to monthly) just to be a part of this, but it IS necessary.  We also try to participate in as many Latvian events as possible, so that she feels that A. she is a part of a group/culture and B. so she realizes that it is something not done only secretly in our own home. Even four days at a song festival impacted both our languages, because it was four days of uninterrupted Lv. chatter with people outside our usual, and small linguistic circle.  I also began a regular Lv. cooking evening with the few and elderly ladies in our immediate community, again for purely selfish reasons: to have this added monthly occasion for us to interact, but it somewhat backfired, with a lot of work on my part and lot of English speaking, as everyone is trying to be like American TV cooking show hosts.  Most importantly, don’t give up.  Especially now that you have the second little one.  Keep positive, but keep the chatter, chatter and positive prods.  It will be more difficult if they grow accustomed to speaking to each other in English… perhaps there are some resources or people in your area to help you with this endeavor.  Also, even if you bring them with you when you interact with people in Polish, this too will help as they will observe you and hopefully imitate you.  Good luck, stay strong.  Do remember that our children are their own, but I know you don’t need a lecture from me. P.S. You and my daughter are name sisters.  
  Reply with quote  #9 
My case is somehow similar with my younger daughter.
We live in Spain, I am Spanish and my husband is Dutch. From day 1 we speak only our native languages to our kids ( although we speak English with each other).
My oldest daughter ( 4 years-old) speaks fluent Spanish and quite good Dutch. We are just back from a holiday in Holland and I am very disappointed as I just realized that my younger daughter ( 3 years-old), understands everything in Dutch but most of the time replies in Spanish to my parents-in-law (who are dutch).
It is true that my oldest daughter is much more attached to my husband than the younger one, but for the rest both are raised in identical way. Did you hear anything similar regarding brothers/sisters? Do you think this is something transitory?
  Reply with quote  #10 
?au, Inma! Although I do not have any specific research on which to claim my judgment, I have read and heard discussed that with the second child the minority languages often don’t take so well, as with the first.  Whether this be that with the first child being, well, first, more time and effort is place on the effort and in total on the child, whether this be that at the time of the second or third child being born, the first child has already had an introduction to the majority language, and therefore it is already (somewhat) present in their speech, which would affect the later siblings… Whether it is just a matter of temperament and individuality of the child… I was the middle child, of two boys (I believe whole heartedly that gender plays a role, too) and so by the time I was two years old, my older brother was beginning American kindergarten and so there must have been some English being brought into the home, which certainly escalated over the years, despite our only speaking Latvian at home.  By the time my youngest brother was two, my older brother and I were both in American schools.  I remember a lot of hair pulling and shouting, “Run?jiet latviski!” (Speak Latvian.) My younger brother’s Latvian isn’t in great shape grammatically (word endings he often misses, throws in English words at liberty), although people who don’t know us well, compliment him on it, for his not being surrounded by any sort of Lv. community in the past many years.  This also probably had something to do with my parents, then with three children, needing each to work countless jobs and hours to support their family and so again less time was spent actually interacting as a family overall. Everyone in my family, however, is multilingual and so I have another case to cite. I have two cousins, both males, brothers. Their mother (Lv.), their father (other, English only), and the oldest is still very active in Lv. society and holds his Lv. identity, whereas the younger, who is more universal in his identity, had given up speaking, a long time ago… For as long as I can remember he hasn’t spoken the minority language, although recently in meeting my child, he readily spoke/speaks sloppily to her (we live far away, so this is not often, and she is four).  But my point being, he is the second child.  I do think that children are very strong willed, for the most part, and certainly very much individuals. It could be a transitory thing, certainly, but it could be that she is of a different mold.  It could be that she has chosen to be like or is more attached to her mother, and perhaps this is her way of showing her solidarity with you. Perhaps it is rebellion. It is good you are paying attention and I wish you all well.
  Reply with quote  #11 

YES! my trip made a huge difference. She was speaking 50/50 after only a week! now, couple months later, we are back to 100% english 🙁 and I’m fining myself speaking to her in english more and more because I think she might not understand polish… this is VERY hard and if someone tells me otherwise they will be lying. I’m trying to stick to it thou and I will TRY to make her repond in the proper language (English for daddy and Polish for mommy) especially now that she understands teh difference. On a better note, when we speak with my parents via Skype, she speaks Polish to my parents, but very limited.

David O' Connell
  Reply with quote  #12 
Hi Magda ,
Don’t give up. You’re making a huge effort which is admirable .However ,if you start speaking English now little by little English will become the predominant language. Keep to your native language . If your child doesn’t understand lead by example(i.e. by doing what your telling your child to do) or mime  , anything but using English.
In my humble opinion, if a child understands a language they will speak it later on . Keep reading , watching dvds etc etc . Keep exposing your child to the language and “production ” of the language will come later on .

Best of luck ,
  Reply with quote  #13 
Thanks for responding, Magda, and I am glad your trip went well.  I agree with David and wish you all the strength and patience with your child and with yourself.  We can only do so much… and at some point the child realizes that she is independent. I also feel you shouldn’t give up or give in.  No matter how pointless it may seem to you, your actions, the words you choose, and the language you choose to speak them in will make some difference in her, if only to give her have that understanding.  Can you outlaw the TV? I know that peers have a large influence on children, my four-year-old has many peculiar (to her funny) sayings that she is picking up in English from her schoolmates (even though its Chinese immersion), and she rattles them off, laughing constantly.  Is there anyway to turn the Polish situation into something… likable to her? Is there anything that she particularly enjoys doing/playing and somehow incorporate the Polish into that?  Making up a story together in Polish.  Sit down to make up a mother/daughter fairy-tale (choose characters/draw them, choose plots) and even if she continues in English, shrugging it off and modeling in Polish. And so she won’t have entirely stayed within the Polish-speaking rules, she will have a positive memory and/or experience equated with the Polish.  I think David mentioned that, too: modeling with your behavior. Can you enlist your husband to help? He could often and when you three are together ask you to translate things, or ask you how to say things, and even try to say them in Polish himself, and you could all giggle at how funny he says it… but you see turning it into a game that she wants to play?.  You probably have thought of these things and exhausted yourself, I’m sure.  It is easy for someone else to tell you to keep going, but perhaps when we are on the verge of giving up, is when we must laugh the loudest, love the most and work the hardest! Much luck and perseverance, to you!      
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