Dilemma over the language!


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I don't know if you have ever come across the language question in a mixed marriage or not, but it seems to be a common thing and a dilemma that some parents have to deal with.

Often, parents of a mixed marriage ask themselves, what language should we use when we speak to our childern?

Imagine parents of a different background, each have a different language, yet they live in a country that the medium of instruction is different than what they both speak! So, What language do you choose for your children while communication with them?

I guess the answer depends on 3 simple factors namely: where do you live? and what is the common language of the place you live in? and what language do you want to use to communicate with your children?

If you live let say in Japan, and you want your children to be also used to one of either parents' language, then the solution is that let them speak Japanese outside the house and speak with them with the language of your desire within the house. It can be either husband or wife's language, it really doesn't matter.

This however, has to be implemented smoothly, step by step, and on a regular basis, for, sometimes children as young as 3 to 4 get mixed up and when they want to say a word, they say it in both languages, and in a non stop fashion. Of course, if they are older they can handle it. But, if they are as young as the above mentioned ages, then it's going to be tough!

Children can pick up the things specially wordings of a language easily. On the other hand, if they face difficulties and get mixed up over what language to choose to communicate while inside and outside the house, it can be really a dilemma!


It is indeed a dilemma. I've thought about it myself and there could very well be 4 languages involved : the mother's, father's, country's + the language spoken between the mother and father, which might still be different of their mother tongues. 4 languages is definitely too much for a child to cope with. 2 is ideal, but can already cause confusion and possibly make the child's other intellectual developments stay behind (could be maths, or social skills or curiosity...).

I've learned a lot of languages myself, but, though I started as a child too I tended to hate other languages than my mother tongue till the age of 16 ! After that I couldn't get enough or learning (but progressively lost interest in other things like maths and sciences, which had been dominant till then).

The capacity of a child to learn a language could also depend on their intelligence and sex. Some will be better at languages than others, or just have a better memory or clearer mind. Usually girls are better at languages (have you read Why Men Don't Listen & Women Can't Read Maps ).

It is difficult to decide for a child's education. Not only the language is important, but the school (which is doomed anyway, as it's impossible to find a perfect school where all teachers would be marvellous and most other children friendly) and more importantly what you'll teach the child yourself. The most important is to encourage their curiosity and give them all the means necessary to satisfy it (that is much easier now with the Internet and educational CD-ROM's).

Don't force a child to learn something they don't like, for they could be disgusted forever.

Practically, do you intend to speak English and Japanese to your children ? This is probably ok as they are very different and thus less likely to be confused. You should speak only your mother tongue with the child and your partner only her/his. The child will instincively know which language to speak to whom and won't mix them up. What is the 3rd possible language ?
Why not, as long as both parents are fluent, have the parents speak to the child in their second tongue (especially if they are living in a society where that parent's mother tongue is spoken outside the home)? The child may not see the reasoning behind it at first, but to inspire a child to learn a language they are not familiar with, who better to serve as a role model of language learning than the parent? I think this may be good in the long term for breaking down associations that can be inherent in any society (for example that Japanese can only really be learned properly by Japanese people in Japan) if a child often comes in contact with a person who is a living example of the ignorance of such statements.

I'm no expert, and each child requires different methods of instruction, but it seems to make sense to me?c Cheers--
Mandylion, I understand your point. However, I don't think babies or little children need to learn too many languages. From the age of 5 or 6, one can possibly imagine that one parent could start speaking in another language as a kind a private lesson. Actually, the best in this case is to enroll the child in a bilingual school, or a school that uses another language than the one of the country in which they live. For example, living in Japan with a Japanese parent and the other native English speaker, they would speak only Japanese and English (e.g. the mother speaks only Japanese to the child and the father only English), then from age 5, the child would join a French school and have lessons mostly in French (and maybe a bit of Japanese ?).

I know a French guy who was raised in Japan in a normal Japanese school and whose parents spoke only French and English to him. He was already perfectly bilingual French-Japanese and could speak English very fluently as a teenager, while all his Japanese friends spoke only Japanese. That's another good way of become polyglot early.

Another solution would be to move country and thus have the child study in different languages (and cultures !) every few years. It's a bit harder as the child would have to adapt to a new environment and culture every time, which is psychologically demanding for children. I's a good solution for late teenagers and university students to study a few years abroad in another language. That's a great experience. :cool:
Dilemm over the language!

Mandylion and Maciamo,

I think both of you have valid arguments. But, I am thinking are children just there to learn the languages? What about the education and other different sciences that they ought to learn?

Just think about it!


Of course, as I said, other areas of development shouldn't be neglected, which is why it is pointless to start with 3 or 4 languages as each individual has a limit of assimilation.
Parents should speak in both tongues to their child. This helps the child distinguish that there are two meanings to an object. As long as the parents make that clear. You'd be amazed at how fast kids pick these things up.

But i do agree that 4 languages would be confusing.

I think that using these languages to communicate in the home would be good, and let them decide for themselves if they want to continue with the language in school in the later years of education.

The other subjects are very important too. Knowledge is power, using that power correctly is wisdom.

I was told from the very beginning that using both languages in our home was okay for our children. My husband speaks only in Japanese when speaking to them and I only use English.

As of now, they know a lot of Japanese vocabulary. If you ask them what something is in Japanese, they can tell you. My oldest knows pretty much all Hiragana and knows how to write his name using Hiragana. As for carrying on a conversation in Japanese, they cannot do it yet. Not really. They have never been around enough two-sided Japanese conversation to know how.

Of course, living in the U.S., we are not beating Japanese into them. We don't quiz them on it and we don't coach them on it. Their father just casually uses it when talking to them like he would any other Japanese person, and they completely understand him. They also watch Japanese kids' shows such as Okaasan to Issho and Inai Inai Baa and several others, and I have never seen any evidence that it has slowed their progress down in other areas. In fact, I think it's done just the opposite.

I made the decision early on that I wanted them to be exposed to both English and Japanese starting the moment they were born. I have known so many Japanese/American (especially Japanese female/American male) couples that never bothered teaching their children Japanese and now they are regretting it.
and I have never seen any evidence that it has slowed their progress down in other areas. In fact, I think it's done just the opposite.

2 languages is fine. It stimulates their mind without overwehlming them. Exceptionally gifted children could start learning a 3rd and 4th language from 5 or 6 years old, but there is always a risk of slowing down the main language in such things as grammar, spelling (in English or French, which are both very irregular, or kanji in Japanese) or richness of vocabulary. However, this could be recovered later. The only worry is that multilingual children's different development might cause rejection from their peers at school especially before 12). The solution would be to make them study in bilingual schools from the beginning.

I have known so many Japanese/American (especially Japanese female/American male) couples that never bothered teaching their children Japanese and now they are regretting it.

Really ? Are there such people ? (I am just deceiving myself in thinking that such situations shouldn't exist :sorry: ).
Of course, it is important to use both languages, but I believe it is even more important that both the father and mother speak ONLY their native language until children are fluent enough in each language to distinguish clearly which is which. I am not exactly sure how old this is, but 6 to 8 years old is probably good.
It seems to me that things are mixed as for the purpose of the language learning. The main dimension of the problem is sufficient exposure. Although rare in practice, a child with enough exposure would be able to learn 3 languages without any major difficulty. Remember that the learning process will always make one or two take a lead on the others. I met a child in Spain, with Romanian parents, who was fluent in Spanish, Catalan and Romanian, and to the family's surprise, had a very good command of Hungarian, because the parents would switch to Hungarian when discussing delicate matters in front of her. We discussed that together, and it appeared that because of the problem they experienced in the couple, they would argue in Hungarian in front of the child on a daily basis. Enough for the child to understand most of what was being said and get a good grasp on the language, supposedly one of the hardest to learn. However, when it comes to kids sent to chinese or english classes twice a week as a fashion trend, serious results can not be expected.
[FONT=&quot]My advice is if you are not willing to take on his culture 100%, don't get married to a person of a different culture. Ethnicity is nothing, culture is something wars are fought over, and you do NOT need your breakfast table Balcanized. Captain Crunch needs to stay a cereal and not the name of a dude indicted for war crimes. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Seriously, love is fine, but it's not enough to keep a marriage together. If you have different cultures, you are living on different planets even if you're in the same room. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]And it's not wonderful for the kids. They end up kids who are real confused about their identity, and had parents who fought a lot.[/FONT]

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