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I'm half-German and 75% fluent (spoken but not written), my partner is English.

Since birth we've been speaking to our (now 2.5 years old) toddler boy in English only, yet I am now regretting not speaking German to him.

We are contemplating relocating from London to Amsterdam in about 4-6 months. Would now be the wrong time for me to start speaking German to my toddler and potentially too confusing for him given that he's slowly speaking English now and will be hearing Dutch in about 6 months time.

Also I feel I need to point out that my German is good, but not perfect. I make grammatical mistakes (mostly with genders) and I don't have much grasp of kiddy words but can hold a strong conversation about any topic. Am I crazy to assume that my child will be able to learn from me?

Thanks so much for your advice, if given a push in the German direction, I'd switch from English to German tomorrow!

  • Just talk to your baby with the language you feel more confident with, the one in which you can express your feelings better. – fedorqui Aug 25 '16 at 14:40
  • Will your son be attending school / daycare in Dutch or in English? Do you want him to learn Dutch too? – Brusselssprout Aug 25 '16 at 14:44
  • Thanks for your replies. I am hoping he will learn Dutch when we are there at some point, most likely through daycare/friends/social network. The idea is that my partner will continue to speak English and I will speak German. Neither myself or my partner speak Dutch yet. Re the German - if I were to start to speak German to him now I could also ask my German mother and my fluent German sister to speak to him instead of English. Do you think this is doable? I'm just a little worried this is all a little late and I'm annoyed I didn't start earlier – poopanapeach Aug 25 '16 at 15:00
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If you'd start right now, you could actually argue that speaking German with your kid will help him learn Dutch, as he'll be able to recognize a lot of words (he will need quite a while to adjust to three languages introduced in a fairly short period of time, don't worry if that takes a lot of time). The most important thing, however, is that it won't suffice if only you speak German with him - he will need other people to speak German with him, both to make sure that hears enough German to learn it, and also to make him understand that he actually needs to learn/speak the language. So absolutely ask your mother and sister to speak German to him, and nothing but German, and stick to German yourself, but also try to find other people who would speak German with him, and other surroundings where he is expected to speak German. If you're moving to Amsterdam, as far as I know there is no German infrastructure other than a German playgroup meeting once a month - not a lot, but it might be enough to become friends with other kids he'd like to meet more often (there is a German school in The Hague).

Regarding your own command of German: It's hard to say whether or not your German is good enough, but if I were you, I'd give it a try, if you are able to make sure that he is also regularly exposed to German spoken by (near-)native speakers. I would also recommend to make an effort to improve your German - if your problem is mostly genders, the probably most efficient way would be to immerse yourself in the language as much as possible. Listening to a talk radio station (not music) like Deutsche Welle whenever you can, even while doing other things, will likely help with that (though don't expect your son to learn German that way, that's not how a kid will pick up a language). Also try to find a few German friends yourself, and speak German with your mother and sister, if you're not doing that already.

I'd recommend reading about bilingualism; I found the work of François Grosjean particularly helpful. You can find a good summary on his website: http://www.francoisgrosjean.ch/for_parents_en.html

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Regardless of the timing, it's a tough call. The main question is: do you think that learning German from you will do your child any good? No matter what you say, he is guaranteed to take over the mistakes you are making. And it isn't only about grammar. If you make mistakes related to genders then you are probably not using German very often. Is your vocabulary big enough to keep up as your son grows older? Typically, issues arise when children start at school - will you be able to discuss his school subjects in German? If not, his vocabulary will likely get stuck on the nursery level forever meaning that it won't be of any use for him. In fact, this lack of vocabulary should be the main reason why children often refuse to use their second language at some point.

Altogether, it sounds like you are more comfortable with English, meaning that you should probably stick with it. If you have family members who are more comfortable with German and who can spend considerable time with your son - having them speak German to him is worth a try. He might not start speaking German, particularly as he knows that all of them understand English perfectly well. But he will learn to understand German and this should be a good basis should he decide to learn speaking German at some point. And it's really now or never because his English skills are probably quite advanced at this point already, having to play catch-up with German will be a very disappointing experience for him.

I wouldn't be too concerned about Dutch. First of all, it's still pretty far away (6 months are lots of time at this age). Second, hearing German might actually prepare him for the fact that some people speak a different language. In fact, German and Dutch are relatively similar, so whatever German proficiency he will have acquired by the time you move shouldn't be a waste once he will have to deal with Dutch-language daycare.

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