Lurker w/ Question: 1 Bilingual Parent

iVillage Member
Registered: 01-15-2007
Lurker w/ Question: 1 Bilingual Parent
6
Sat, 05-03-2008 - 11:46pm

Hello! This is my first post to this board (previously a lurker), and I wonder if anyone has an opinion on the following:

I'm about to have my first and probably only (long story) child. I couldn't be happier, and neither could my husband. I'm bilingual (Russian and English); he speaks only English. We live in the U.S. I have no family in town (very far away, get together only a few times per year due to cost), and I speak only English at work and with my friends (none of them speak Russian).

My husband wants me to teach the baby Russian as s/he is growing up, but I know zero Russian speakers in this part of the country, so it would literally be just me speaking Russian to the baby. I'm not sure that's enough- I mean, how would s/he pick up the proper grammar and syntax hearing just one speaker, as opposed to actual conversations? S/he might learn some - definitely some words and phrases, songs and such; but that's not much, compared to the overall structure of the language.

So I told him that I don't think it would work, but he keeps emphasizing how important it is to speak more than just English, and I do agree with that. Do you have any thoughts on whether it makes any sense to try to raise a bilingual child when only one parent is bilingual PLUS the chance that the child would hear much conversation in the non-English language is close to zero?

Thanks very much in advance! ~ Dee

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-29-2002
Sun, 05-04-2008 - 5:47am

"Do you have any thoughts on whether it makes any sense to try to raise a bilingual child when only one parent is bilingual PLUS the chance that the child would hear much conversation in the non-English language is close to zero?"

It absolutely makes sense! I completely agree with your husband about this. If you are really disciplined about it and only speak Russian with your child, you won't be so much teaching your child Russian as raising your child bilingual Russian/English speaking. He/she will effectively have 2 mother tongues. How actively your child will speak Russian without other inputs is a trickier question, but at the very least he/she will have a strong passive understanding of the language that can easily become more active with more exposure.

Fwiw (and strange as it may sound), I am providing nearly the only English conversational input for my children at this time (and have been pretty much from birth). They get other English input via videos, computer games and stuff on the internet, but all other adults around us speak either Swedish or German with us and the kids. All of their friends speak either Swedish or German. However, a couple of things that have helped ensure a very active use of English and German include: 1) contact with monolingual family and friends, particularly cousins, and 2) an actively English/German-only household (no Swedish videos, tv, computer games, books (though that's changing with required school reading), etc.)).

Is there any way you could manage a trip to Russia once in a while so that your child learns that there are people in the world who only speak Russian? Or are you ever likely to be visited by family or friends? My kids only see their relatives every 1-3 years, so it doesn't even require frequent contact to foster a strong interest in the home languages. Russian books, videos and computer games can help a lot, particularly if you ban all English books, tv, games etc.. As they are growing up in an English environment, I wouldn't worry about fostering English in the first few years...they'll figure it out soon enough in preschool/school and the majority language usually ends up dominating after a few years in school.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-14-2003
Sun, 05-04-2008 - 7:44pm
Welcome to the board, Dee.
I usually avoid questions (to myself, that is) of "Is it really worth it?" To me, making sure my child has at least passive knowledge of a language other than English is extremely important. I'm learning German with him; I'm just a little bit farther along than he is. Along with my limited German, he hears me reading books in German, shows on the computer, dvds (especially of our favorite band Rammstein). Sure, it might not look like a lot, but it's more than nothing.
You can make opportunities for your child to hear Russian; you might just need to be creative. Trips to visit relatives are always good, but don't discount toys, songs, books, and movies in the target language. Or cd-roms. We use Rosetta Stone (for German right now, adding Japanese as soon as we can afford it because my son also really wants to learn Japanese) and I love the system. It is rather expensive (although I posted a link in the resources section where you can get some of the languages used for cheaper) but it has worked wonders for our understanding of German.
Also remember, eventually he/she will be able to converse with you and here the nuances in conversation between the two of you; a child's conversations with his/her mother can be very important
Love and Light, Joelle
Homeschooling mom to a 9yr old hydrogen molecule.

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iVillage Member
Registered: 05-04-2006
Fri, 05-30-2008 - 1:16am

Hi Dee and privet from another bilingual Russian-English on the board. My situation is even more interesting, because I am married to a German, we live in California, and we speak English at home.

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iVillage Member
Registered: 05-01-2006
Sat, 05-31-2008 - 9:59pm

Dee,


I didn't read the others posters' replies (yet) but I just wanted to give you my experience. I have a 17 mo. daugther. I'm the only one who speaks French to her (DH doesn't know a word and she goes to daycare full time) and believe it or not, she understands everything!!! I'm amazed myself since she only hears me talk to her in French for a few hours a day and as soon as DH comes home, it becomes mostly English. Now that she is begining to talk though everything she says is in English. I'll tell her something in French and she says it back to me in English. It's really neat to see how much she understands. My parents will be here for 3 weeks this summer visiting from France. It'll be interesting to see if hearing more people speak French makes her try to speak it too.... BTW, I'm a speech therapist, so all this is very facinating to me! This is only my opinion but I think you should try to speak to your baby in Russian as much as possible because it will connect him/her to his culture and family. Since you go back and visit from time to time, you probably want your baby to be able to communicate with his cousins, grandparents etc. There are lots of "receptive bilinguals" (ppl who understand but don't speak a language) in this country. Even if he doesn't speak Russian or doesn't speak it well, s/he could understand conversations around him/her when you go back to Russia. I wish my husband would at least understand what my relatives are talking about around the dinner table even if he can talk back... but that's a whole other discussion!!!


GL with your decision but I really think your child can learn an oral

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-12-2007
Wed, 06-04-2008 - 3:05pm
You can do it!! I'm from Brazil and I have no family here. I always spoke Portuguese to my daughter and she didn't know anybody else here that spoke Portuguese. It's her first language now. I'm so proud that 90% of what she knows I taught her myself!
I also bought many books, kids music, and now videos. I have met some Brazilians since she was born, but we see each other once or twice a year only.
Everybody is amazed at how good her Portuguese is and it was all me!!
We did go to Brazil twice with her, for her first birthday and her second, only for a week or two at a time.
My sister just came up from Brazil and spent three months here, that was nice too. She's 4 now and always speaks to me in Portuguese. I have a newborn and I speak to him a lot more than I used to speak to her, so I think we both (my daughter and I) will teach him Portuguese in no time!
I also got this comics from Brazil that I used to love as a kid and she loves them so much. I always read them to her. I just found out on you tube that they have several cartoons too, so she's been watching those once in a while. You can do it!!
Now my next step is to learn Japanese. My dad is Japanese and unfortunately never taught me anything...too bad, I could have learned it so easily!
I'm planning on getting the Rosetta Stone software and learning that with my daughter. I also bought some books in Spanish to read for her. I know some, but I'm also learning with her.
You have nothing to lose by teaching her what you can!
Luciana
iVillage Member
Registered: 04-14-2003
Fri, 06-06-2008 - 8:07am
Just putting in my support for Rosetta Stone. It's great software, well worth the price. Even though we just have the free demo at the moment, my son's Japanese is growing every day
Love and Light, Joelle
Homeschooling mom to a 9yr old hydrogen molecule.

Do you homeschool??? Please join me in chat!
Sunday night from 9-11pm EST in the Homeschooling Chatroom or join PST people from 9-11pm PST.

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Love and Light, Joelle
Homeschooling mom to a 11yr old hydrogen molecule.