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I am in the USA, originally from India, and my wife is American. My native language is Hindi. My wife knows only a little bit of Hindi. It hasn't been a problem because we usually talk in English anyway.

We are expecting our first baby soon and we want her to grow up knowing both Hindi and English. Most of the resources I have found about raising bilingual children are for parents when both the parents know the two languages, or when both the parents speak one language, but are immersed in another language.

The main "problem" I anticipate is that we can try "one parent, one language" system (I speak only Hindi and my speaks only English while talking to our daughter), but since my wife and I always talk to each other in English, it will not be "symmetric". Given that we are in America, it will be hard to give enough Hindi exposure to our daughter.

Are there any strategies to cope with this?

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6 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Much like Torben, my husband and I are also in a similar situation. I'm American and my husband is Danish.

  1. We use the "one parent, one language" approach with our son. I speak only English to him and my husband only Danish. We live in Denmark where the dominant language is (naturally) Danish. I have, however, learned Danish and can converse fluently with my husband in Danish.
  2. See if some Hindi children's programs are available on DVD so your child can get used to hearing Hindi from other sources as well.

My son prefers to use Danish more than his English, but that is natural since he's exposed to it more. However he knows if he is speaking to me, he MUST use his English - I won't respond to him otherwise (emergencies aside). He understands everything said in English, can count and say his alphabet and everything he can in Danish as well. I read him bedtime stories in English and my husband Danish.

Sometimes in public you'll get the 'wtf' looks when you use a different language, but I ignore them and continue using English only.

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Good idea regarding DVDs. I will start showing her Bollywood movies as soon as possible! :-) –  user536048 Sep 22 '11 at 13:08
    
I like the idea of "not hearing him" unless he is speaking the correct language. +1 –  Sarato Sep 22 '11 at 17:49
    
I think I'm going to the one parent, one language approach! –  Mario Sep 26 '11 at 18:28
    
How did you begin to enforce the English-only to you? How early did you start? –  ChristopherW Mar 19 at 14:03
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I'm facing a similar situation; being Danish and living in (German-speaking) Austria. I do have the advantage that my wife and mother-in-law understands Danish too, but nobody else in our social circle does. Here's how I would approach this:

  1. First, agree with your wife that learning more than one language is always a benefit. It's even better when it's a language spoken by many. This question (including comments and answers) provides arguments for this.

  2. Admit that it's often not practical to speak your language, but request that whenever it is practical, you want to do this.

  3. Your wife could take classes to learn the basics of Hindi so that she has half a chance to grasp what you're saying. I'm aware that adults learn much slower than children, so she will inevitably fall behind quickly, but it's better to understand the basics than nothing at all.

  4. You should speak as much Hindi with your child as you possibly can. Particularly at home, and also outside when you're not interacting with others. You can even "get away with it" in the presence of others when you're only addressing your child and it's not important that others know what you're saying. (Example: Giving instructions to your child on the playground.) If others' understanding is required, you could either say it in one language then repeat in the other, or skip the Hindi. I try to say both if the situation permits it.

Spoken language is often not a problem because you can provide it yourself, but written materials can be hard to come by. Answers to this question provide a handful of good suggestions.

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Thanks! Points 1-2 are already taken care of, and she is learning Hindi too. I like the fourth point. –  user536048 Sep 22 '11 at 13:06
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An alternative would be to expose her solely or additionally to Hindi in daycare.

Our daughter (2 years) speaks French in daycare and German at home. The transition for her to learn French and understand it took like 1-2 weeks. Children at that age are really receptive and pick it up easy.

In general I don't see a problem if each parent sticks to one language when talking to the child. If you were speaking Hindi with each other, it would also be asymmetrical.

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That's probably realistic with a language like French, but I don't think it's easy to find a Hindi daycare...? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 22 '11 at 8:37
    
True, I would even suspect that many parents are not even willing to take their kids that young to a daycare but I wanted at least to five the suggestion. Maybe I shouldn't limit to daycare but suggest another Hindi speaking environment in general. –  OliverS Sep 22 '11 at 8:49
    
Yeah, even in the Bay Area, it will be hard to find a Hindi daycare. But it's an idea - I will look into it. Thanks! –  user536048 Sep 22 '11 at 13:08
    
If it's important enough, you could pay for a Hindi-speaking nanny. If you are willing to dig into your Indian connections, it could even be comparable in price (esp. under-the-table rates) to daycare ...or you could split days (M/W/F daycare, T/TH nanny). –  r00fus Sep 24 '11 at 5:36
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I don't want to cover much more than has been said, but my wife is from Taiwan and I am American so she generally speaks Mandarin to our sons, while I speak English. That worked well for us, we also have DVD's and exposed the children to cultural events, as well as family events, where they were surrounded by the culture and the language. DVD's and CD's only go so far. We also have children's books and stories that are in both languages so they see the languages in books.

In addition we do a Chinese Language school every week, where the kids get instruction in the language in a formal setting. This has helped them out, and exposed them to additional culture as the classes are not only for speaking and writing but on cultural events as well. Start checking around for schools that will help out, you can do a lot at home, but nothing beats a real classroom setting for instruction - IMO anyway.

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I think it's a great idea to look for Hindi schools. Great point about cultural events. Thanks. –  user536048 Sep 24 '11 at 14:08
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Our family is similar- husband Moroccan, I am American, our family language is English and we are raising our 3 and 4 yr old in the US. My husband has exclusively spoken Arabic to the girls since birth (One Person, One Language, OPOL). Depsite this, books and DVDs in Arabic, English dominates b/c they know they can speak in English and be understood. We don't have any Arabic preschools, probably similar to your situation with Hindi. The one I will add to much of the good advice is don't underestimate the power of 3 things: 1. Playmates in the target language. As your child grows, get a group of kids together who are being raised with Hindi. Having the influence of other Hindi-speaking kids is a huge positive influence. 2. Extended visits from grandma/grandpa 3. Trips to India (the only time when our girls have been forced to speak in Arabic is trips to Morocco and although they struggle at first, once they realize no one else understands them, it really helps). Unfortunately, making trips every few months is not a reality but even the yearly/ever other year trip helps.

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Also to read more about what other parents are doing and what has worked and what has not, some of these articles could help: incultureparent.com/category/language –  Stephanie Sep 26 '11 at 0:39
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I have seen many families use basic sign language along with the two languages to help the child to learn both languages. It doesn't create a third language (thus more confusion)as many people think, but rather creates a "visual bridge" between the two languages.
I work with military families around the world who have found that having the visual sign helps the child understand that when mom says "milk" and dad say "leche" it means the same thing. The same findings were found in research found at UC Davis- see more here- https://www.babysigns.com/index.cfm?id=64

According to many families that I have spoken with, this approach is very helpful when both parents do not speak both languages. It has also been helpful for the adults in learning the other language, because they too see the visual connection between the words.

Also, I am not sure where you are located in the US, but many colleges and larger communities have groups where Hindi is spoken at dinners, cultural events, and programs. You may want to search for these activities.

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+1 for linking to some research. –  oezi Mar 9 '13 at 21:09
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