The other day my kid said this: “Mamusiu, co się stało pieskowi?” And I ask my husband, “Is that the correct przypadek?” The answer is positive and it leaves me feeling a bit disappointed in myself and I realize – it has started. My kid’s Polish is already better than mine. How did this happen? He’s only 2.5! He uses proper cases, he uses the right dokonany or niedokonany version of a word, it’s so unfair! When will he start saying things I don’t even understand?!
For parents of bilinguals, how weird is it that your kid speaks to you in a language that isn’t your native language? It’s bizarre! I can’t imagine how strange it is for people who don’t speak that language well or don’t know what their kids are saying at all. That would just be too much for me. But I’m sure one day my son will start spouting out sentences that I completely don’t understand, and I do not look forward to that day.
Why is his Polish better?
The thing that really drives me crazy is that his Polish is so much better than his English. When he first started speaking, he chose the easier words from both languages, but now he chooses to say pajęczyna instead of “web” or “książeczka” instead of “book” and I can’t understand it! He just hears them more often I guess. He started preschool recently and I thought I should tell them that he tends to mix the languages and just to be aware of that. A week or two later I come to find out that not only does he not mix, he doesn’t use English at school at all! Imagine my chagrin.
Which language will your child speak more often?
Having spoken to some friends in similar situations, it appears that the language of your environment is going to be the dominant one, regardless of which language is spoken at home. That means the language of the country you live in will be your child’s dominant language, if they have normal interactions and don’t spend all their time at home.
That does make me feel a bit better, but I still feel like perhaps I’m not doing enough? Every time my son says something to me in Polish (which is most of the time) I repeat it back to him in English. EVERY TIME. That takes focus, y’all! But how much can I really expect of him when I’m the only person who speaks English with him 100% of the time? My husband mixes, although we try to use English when we’re all together – but that’s hard for us as well as we also mix when we speak to one another. It’s just a big jumble sometimes. That’s why he says things like – “Patrz Mamusiu, tam jest moon”, “Może watch something?”, “Be very cliche!” or “Let’s make a tent do sleepowania.” Even one word can be a mix of two languages – I love that! It definitely requires some creativity. The sweetest is when we don’t understand something he says and he translates it into the other language in hopes we’ll understand.
What I do to encourage English
I know that teaching him English is mostly my duty, and I’ll have to work even harder on it as he gets better and more fluent in general. For now, we do it like this:
- I stick to speaking only English (unless I want other people around to understand what we’re talking about or my instructions to him, etc).
- My husband speaks as much English as he wants. Let’s say that’s about 50% Polish, 50% English.
- When he watches TV, it’s always in English, almost never in Polish.
- We read lots and lots of books in English. Luckily my mom gave us a bunch of my old books, so he don’t have to spend oodles on English books. A good place to buy cheap books in English is TKMaxx because, well, they’re all the books are in English and they’re often on sale, so you can buy books for like 8-15 zł.
- We spend as much time as we can with other English speaking friends/families, especially those with kids.
- Maks spends a lot of time with our English-speaking neighbor, a 9-year-old girl who coincidentally speaks English with her Polish parents 🙂 So, yeah, we got lucky there.
- I know in school he’ll learn grammar, reading, writing in English, so that’s a relief. Who knows on what level but at least it’ll be something. Even in preschool they have English lessons!
Parents of bilinguals:
Can you confirm that your kids learned in a similar manner? Do you have any advice for other parents in the same situation? I’d be interested to hear your experiences!