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I am half Turkish and German (living in Germany) but did not learn Turkish when I was a boy, because back then it was still discouraged to teach two languages at the same time. Now as an adult it feels a shame to miss out on half the cultural ancestry.

With my first girl on the way I am thus pondering if it would make sense to bring up the child bilingually in English and German. I am sufficiently fluent in English after a year in the US that I feel up to the challenge of being the "English" parent.

On the other hand I am missing hard scientific facts that the effort is worth it. All children in Germany will learn English eventually and I would thus give the kid a headstart.

Can anyone shed some light on the question whether the limited energy of a parent is well spent on raising a child with English in addition to its native tounge.

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Are either of the parents native English speakers? –  Dave Clarke Mar 10 '13 at 12:52
    
No, but I feel comfortable speaking exclusively in English after having stayed in the US for one year and being immersed in English in my job pretty much all the time. –  oezi Mar 10 '13 at 14:06
    
"worth the effort" is a hard variable to answer given how subjective that answer will be in the context of parenting. –  DA01 Mar 11 '13 at 7:50
    
There are some "effort free" solutions once they grasp the basics of the language.. watching together a children movie in English doesn't take any real effort. –  Karoly Horvath Mar 11 '13 at 17:40
    
I consider myself a very fluent English speaker but I still decided against it because there is a difference between "business English" and "relationship English" and I was afraid that there would be some affection missing from our communication. –  w00t Mar 11 '13 at 19:32

2 Answers 2

Ah, this is actually a question about native fluent speakers vs near-native fluent speakers. The excellent English you hear in Germany is near native fluency. They get that by hard work and having a critical mass of English speakers. But the kids that hear the language at home as a family language, they get native fluency, and to them it will feel effortless. For the parent though, it will be work because they have to have discipline themselves to speak the chosen language and monitor if the kid is getting enough exposure to each language they need to learn.

Also another interesting point is that kids often speak the language they hear better than their parents-- this factoid comes from studies of non-deaf parents of deaf children who have to be models for sign language. The children speak better ASL than the parents, even though both parents have lousy ASL. So a child can get native-like fluency even if they have a non-native parent as a model. (I'm sure there is some bounds to this though- it's not magic)

I am a language hobbyist. I study languages for no reasons at all, so that's my bias. I want to say, of course! But someone already has posted that answer.

So I'll post the "no"-- don't do it if you got that nagging voice that says, "this is never going to work" If you already know you are low on motivation or have a shortage of resources, support from family, don't do it. At the low ends of success, there is just receptive fluency, usually because of too little exposure, etc. This is a bigger problem in the US where people just don't have a culture of language learning and have wildly unrealistic ideas about what it means to teach a child a language (like speaking English with a few token Spanish words)

I considered teaching my infant son French, but my French isn't good enough. Instead we're going for Russian, Tagalog and English.

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There are a fair mount of studies out there that show pretty that being bi-lingual is a clear benefit (e.g. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-benefits-of-bilingualism.html?_r=0 )

However, this will depend on how you go about it. Small kids learn best by immersion: i.e.being exposed to situations where the second (or third) language is the natural means of communication and there isn't an alternative. As long as you can create these situations (e.g. enrolling in an English speaking Kindergarten or so) , this is good. Be mindful however, that the interaction should be with people who are either native speakers or very, very good. I'm not quite sure whether one year in the US would qualify and you may have to want that checked by a native speaker (embarrassing, but useful).

We actually pulled our kids out of the German class in US high school because the teacher was doing more damage than good. Horrible accent and limited grammar.

Here is what we did and what worked

  • speak German at home, English with friends and at school
  • 6 years of an English/Spanish immersion school program that alternates instruction language between English and Spanish, 50% of the class were native Spanish speaking kids.
  • Italian in high school, some at home (mother went to high school in Italy and speaks it well) and living with family in Italy for a while

As a result our kids are bi-lingual, tri-lingual, and quadri-lingual respectively.

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Thanks Hilmar for answering and sharing your experience. Immersion in English might be possible in Kindergarden, but is difficult as the opening are sought after. English speaking secondary schools similar to your English/Spanish example exist in Germany but are rare. –  oezi Mar 10 '13 at 14:10
    
One remark about the NYT link. The cited studies are not mentioned to control for family background, thus I am a little bit sceptical. Most scientific parenting books I have read which mention the issues are cautious regarding clear benefits. For instance, bilingually raised children will forget their second language faster than a second language learned at school if they do not practice it. –  oezi Mar 10 '13 at 14:14
    
Good point on the NYT. There is a lot more of it though, see dana.org/news/cerebrum/detail.aspx?id=39638 or the reference sectiion of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_advantages_to_bilingualism. In either case it's "use it or lose it", but it does stick better than expected. My oldest just went to an American college and really didn't speak German for 4 years but he is still quite good at it and has no accent whatsoever. –  Hilmar Mar 10 '13 at 21:38

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