A few years ago people felt sorry for my older son; he was 3 years old and he barely could speak! While other kids were already talking a lot, he was only able to say a few words.
They thought that the “fault” was his bilingualism; he was born in Spain, so the majority language was obviously Spanish, and since he was born I only spoke Polish with him. At home we only spoke Spanish as my husband doesn’t speak Polish at all.
“Poor boy, he’s struggling so much, you’re just messing up in his head”! , some neighbours were saying. Others said he wouldn’t do well at school because of his delayed speech. Still others said there’s no even point in speaking Polish with him if the only person who spoke the language in our little town was me. “If you really have to speak other language with him, it should be English, at least it will be useful for him in the future”.
Seriously? I didn’t worry a bit. I knew from our family doctor that bilingual kids may have some speech delay and that my son was quite childish for his age, which also affected his speech development. I spoke with other parents of bilingual kids and I read many papers about the topic. So I just kept calm and so did my hubby.
And then, gradually, Andres began to speak. He spoke mostly Spanish, though; while he was able to understand every single word in Polish, he always answered in Spanish. I listened to him and I answered back in Polish. And so on, and so on.
He went to a Polish weekend school, he watched movies and we read stories in Polish.
And then we moved to Poland.
At first he kept on answering all the questions in Spanish; he thought that if mummy gets it, everybody else will, too. The preschool teachers freaked out as they didn’t understand a word from his long monologues, but he did well in the classroom as he understood all the instructions.
Then he started to use single words in Polish. And maybe after 3 weeks, when we were in a supermarket, he made his first full sentence; “Mum, we’ve already bought the cheese”. With perfect pronunciation and grammar.
Since that day, he spoke Polish better and better everyday; while he still made slight mistakes in the beginning, after a few months nobody would notice that he had been born abroad. He didn’t mix the languages anymore. He continued to speak Spanish with his Dad at home and we read a lot to expand his vocabulary in both languages.
Funny though, his younger brother, Michal, aged 2 when we moved to Poland started to speak both languages immediately, with similar fluency and no signs of speech delay.
It was then I decided to give it a start with English. If the kids already speak two languages, differentiate them clearly, can actually translate from one language to another at family meetings, then why not? Bilingual children are considered to learn foreign languages easily; so, let’s start!
I used to teach English to kids in the past, so I have lots of resources at home. We took it easy; a “class” took half an hour a day, 3 days a week. A few games, a song, simple vocabulary.
I only spoke English to the boys during the class and they were able to understand most of the instructions. We also watched excellent Super Simple Songs on YouTube, we played computer games and read simple stories in English.
At that time Andres and Michal became obsessed with a popular British show for kids “Thomas the Tank Engine”. I decided to take them for a trip to UK in the summer so that they could meet their idol in Thomas Land.
So…I told them that they have to learn English every day so that they could play with English-speaking kids on holiday, make new friends and ask for soft drinks and ice cream.
This video was recorded in April, during Easter, when the boys had been learning English for about 2 months.
This is funny how Andres confuses “morado” (purple) with “enamorado” (in love) in Spanish and then, when has to name the same colour in Polish, he translates “enamorado” to “kochany” (in love, lovely). And I have no idea why in the end they call me cucaracha (cockroach), using the Spanish word in all the Spanish versions.
Now he knows more vocabulary, he understands simple questions (what’s your name, is it big or small, how are you, can you jump/swim), etc. Both him and Michał can understand much more that they can speak.
People around are amazed by the boys’ bilingual skills; at preschool events or birthday parties Andres and Michal receive a lot of compliments, what boosts their self-confidence. But what I find more important is that despite their young age they are aware of the world they live in and very open-minded. If Andres hears a foreign language on TV, he will ask immediately what language it is and if I could show him the country on the map. When the boys see a price in the supermarket, they will happily shout it in all the three languages. The ability to understand and learn from the context also helps them at preschool; they understand non-verbal communicates very well and they are responsive to gestures and face expressions.
Tomorrow we’re leaving for London. I have organized the trip carefully; the boys are going to participate in workshops at museums, join local play groups, we’ve also arranged to meet some English-speaking families. We’re going to stay in UK for two weeks.
I’m very curious of the outcome of the boys’ first English immersion. Will they actually start to speak the language? I know that the “Polish miracle of 3 weeks” will not happen here; you can’t compare a native language (always spoken by Mummy) with a foreign language they only have learnt for a few months.
When we get back, we’ll take another video to see my boy’s progress.
Tell me about your experience with children and languages. Do you agree that bilingual children learn foreign languages easily? What problems do you encounter? If you have moved abroad, have the kids learned fast the local language? How about foreign languages at school? I’m looking forward to hearing your stories!