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My spouse has a plan! She wants me to speak English with my toddler, to give him an early advantage in English. We live in Israel and both of us speak Hebrew, this is our native language. While my English is better than hers, I am not fluent in expressing complex thoughts and emotions in English. So... Can this be done?

Maybe there are other options? For example, we can have one hour of English every day, a happy-english hour!

What do you think?

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I don't see any reason it shouldn't work to help give your child the basics. Having taught ESL, having a half hour to an hour of English time is basically what I did with young children to get them learning the language.

If you try to speak anything more than simple sentences and vocabulary you'll just leave him confused and frustrated, keeping it simple, playing with toys, reading a story, watching an English cartoon or kids show is the way to go. Make it fun, lots of smiling, laughing, throw in some movement with simple songs and games, make faces while telling him what your nose, mouth, lips, hands, etc are, will have him picking it up really quickly.

Get your wife involved to. Even if she doesn't speak English well, when she's feeding him have her say the name of the food and dishes in English. Ask him if it tastes good and act out what it all means. Whoever washes him, name each body part as you wash it and tickle him a little. Play games with him by tricking him using English and Hebrew together. Keep it varied and interesting.

This is what I did with my daughter while I lived in China and was about the only English person who spoke to her. When we came to Canada she was maybe six months behind other toddlers and had a bit of an accent.

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Traditionally, the way to teach children multiple languages is to have each member of the household use a different language with them. This would extend to having nannies and other servants picked for their native language. Your child will pick up English far quicker if it is the only way to communicate with you than if it's the only way to communicate with you for half an hour a day.

I wouldn't worry about not being able to express sufficiently complex thoughts to a toddler who is not only just learning English, but just learning the concept of language at all. You will probably improve nearly as fast as he does.

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I'm going to argue the other side, and give you a few reasons I don't think this is a good idea:

  1. Unless you are perfectly fluent in the "other" language, your communication with your toddler won't be fluid, you are going to halt and use simpler expressions than you would otherwise. There will be a barrier between your child and you.

  2. For the same reason, you will give him an early start in your version of the language, with all your errors; and your (presumably) accented pronunciation. Someone with better knowledge of the language will later have to correct that.

  3. Any early start you give them will quickly dilute when they get to school and has to fall in step with the rest of pupils. The only way they will be able to keep that advantage will be that you put the extra effort to keep that going. At some point you will need to hire a professional to take over.

  4. Most people learn a second language later in life (by later I mean as short as 3 years when you start school). We seem to be doing reasonably well without that "early start".

Your child doesn't need that "early start", what she really needs is a dad that is also a role model and that can play, joke and enjoy life with. And that's something that can't be replaced later by any professional. Enjoy your time as a family together without introducing communication barriers that won't help anyone.

  • Speaking from experience, #2 isn't that big of a problem. Unless the child is taught by a native speaker who knows what they're doing, they will have mistakes and an accent anyways. Having the the student knowing basic vocabulary and simple sentences, while being willing to speak is a huge benefit overall. Accents are easy to fix with tongue twisters and repetition, mistakes can be smoothed over through conversation and practice. Being able to skip through a lot of vocabulary and basic sentence rules, makes an ESL teachers job easier. – Dan Clarke Feb 26 '18 at 22:40

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