Bilingual Siblings: Gibberish or Exploring New Languages?

gregre&soeur (2)After a great and sunny break, here news from the book project, Bilingual Families: Bringing Up Children between Cultures (learn more here). I have already interviewed 18 couples and single parents about their experiences of multilingual parenting. I’m glad I got to spend such happy times listening to everyday life stories involving two or more languages. One interesting point some parents emphasise is the relationship that develops between siblings while they are in the process of picking up new languages.

Here are some interesting extracts from my latest interviews…

Céline from France is married to Ridvan from Albania. In the interview they talked about their experience with both their kids, age 1,5 and six.

Céline Since going to nursery and then school she is more and more reluctant to speak French. I keep speaking to her in French and she keeps answering in English most of the time. Socially she wants to speak the same language as her friends. Understanding is not an issue, it’s the speaking.Things have begun to change these last few months. She’s now six and is talking more and more French with me. One of the positive points is her little brother, who’s one and a half. Recently she discovered that he is bit chattier and that she doesn’t need to speak “baby language” with him. I encouraged her to speak French to him. She loves sitting in the car and saying “le nez, où est le nez, et la bouche et les oreilles ?” (“the nose, where is the nose, and the mouth and the ears?”) and he repeats it! They love that game! I keep saying that speaking the foreign language to their sibling will reinforce their family-connection, help with their fluency. At the moment she is just talking French and Albanian with her parents, and we hope that she will do it with her brother as well…

Eva and Joshua are a German-English couple. They are parents of seven years old twins.

Eva It’s very interesting with them when they picked up their first words because what we noticed was the fact that they were both two at the same time was a positive point. They started chatting to each other in German early on. They definitely weren’t delayed by being bilingual or by being twins…

Joshua And now they speak English with each other! But switching into German is not difficult for them when they are playing with German kids in Germany. But when we have German kids visiting they need time to understand that they don’t understand English…

Eva Yes, you’re right, the country is often the thing that changes everything. Last time one of them told me – when we are on a plane to Germany I screw off my English head and pull on my German head. Then it’s much easier to talk proper German.

Valentine is French and Markus is German, they have two children, age three and one.

Valentine Our girl was two and a half when we arrived in England and said to me “it’s strange here, they’re not talking like Maman or Papa.” It took her some months to get her head around the new sounds and now she loves talking in English. She can’t really speak with her baby-brother yet because he hasn’t start to talk properly, so she tried in French and a bit in German and now she loves inventing a new language which seems to be a secret language because it’s meaningless to us grown ups! I wonder if she thinks that you can talk to different people in different languages and now wants to find a “real” language with which to talk to her brother.

  Thanks a lot to Céline&Ridvan, Eva&Josha,
Valentine&Markus for taking part in my book project.


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