Saturday 20 February 2010

Missing out on Finesse?

Does any of our readers happen to know whether there is research on a possible correlation of parents' use of language and the time when children start to speak?

I have a theory: my daughters build sentences later than some of their monolingual friends because I do not speak with my wife in my native tongue.

Let me explain.

One of our friends' 2yo daughter is building sentences while BK2 is still at the stage where she uses at most two words together or speaks her own babbling. I am not concerned or anything but I wondered whether the fact that her mother studied languages and expresses herself extremely well helped the girl develop a better framework in her head while she acquired her language skills.

In our case this doesn't happen. I love talking, writing and reading German. I love playing with it. I am able to be a total nitpicker or use my German fairly creatively. But that only works well with people who are similarly eloquent. It certainly does not work with a 4-year-old like BK1. It also doesn't work for me when I speak English or French.

I'm sad to say that my daughters lose out on this aspect of German completely! And not only that: they do not see any of their parents use language in a way that we both are truly capable of. It is not a fundamental flaw in the OPOL method, though. Even between the two of us, we are not able to gauge the linguistic abilities of the other properly.

Makes me wonder whether my children would have been able to speak more refined German had both their parents been German-speakers...

I am an optimist. I am willing to bet that once they start reading books, they will be able to catch up or maybe even more than that: catch up for more than just one language.


  1. I think that you're absolutely correct in saying that reading books is key to more sophisticated language learning. Studies (about books in English) show that children's literature uses significantly more vocabulary words than occur in our normal conversations with children. Reading is a fantastic way to expose kids to not just new ideas and cultures and experiences but also words and expressions that their parents tend not to use. I would assume this is true whether the books are read aloud to the child or they read them themselves. (I can't cite any specific research off the top of my head, but the children's librarians where I work have told me about these studies.)

  2. Thanks for the comment, Sarah!

    I am looking forward to buying "Onkel Florians Fliegender Flohmarkt" for them when they are about 8 years old :-)

  3. I hope reading can help with the nuances, because I know my 2-year-old is missing out since I'm a non-native German speaker. I need to read more in German for my own good! Are there other places your kids can hear German spoken creatively, such as a school or playgroup?

    I would say, though, too, not to be overly worried about development as compared with other kids. (I'm not saying you are, just affirming that!) My son just recently (he's 2.5) started speaking in sentences (in English and German), and it really happened all of a sudden. It might be that your younger daughter is processing it more in her head before she'll let it out but then will catch up quickly.

  4. The BKs have a lot of German every time we visit family in Germany or someone visits us, they should be alright.

    We will see how BK2 tackles communications. She has been learning quickly over the last month or so.

    All very exciting, isn't it? :-)

  5. Denke bitte auch an die individuellen Entwicklungen. Mein Jüngerer kann mit zwei Jahren so viel sprechen wie mein Älterer mit vier Jahren konnte. Greetings from Karlsruhe/Zaisenhausen


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