Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Raising a bilingual child. Part I

I am sure there'll be more parts to this topic. Trying to raise a bilingual child is hard… I have a whole new respect for parents who managed to do that! I guess I just always thought that it would come naturally: you just do your own thing and your child will end up speaking all the languages that are spoken by father or mother. But as it turns out it is not as natural as I thought it would be.

Let's break it down.

Goal: To raise Allie bilingual. Have her understand, speak, write and read in both English and Russian. In the light of how things are going right now, I demonstrated more flexibility on the subject and would be just as happy if she could just speak and understand Russian.

Obstacles: There isn't really a Russian community in our town, or not that I know of. There aren't Russian daycare centers, I don’t have any Russian friends with kids where we live (my closest Russian speaking friend with a kid lives across the Atlantic, which would call for a very long commute to playdates), our Russian speaking relatives all live out of town or out of the country, and as this wasn't enough, even at home Allie doesn't get to be in a 100% Russian speaking environment. 
I almost always speak Russian with her, but I speak English to MJ and I talk to him more than I talk to Allie, so she gets to hear me speak English just as much as Russian. 

Problem: Allie has become very talkative just recently and talks pretty much non-stop. When I understand what she is saying, it is mostly English I hear. Most of her sentences start with ‘I want’ (my personal favorite is ‘I want all done”, meaning “I’m done”) and while she knows a lot of Russian words, I can’t get her to say Russian sentences. The best case scenario we are looking at “I want спать” (I want sleep) or “I want кушать” (I want eat).

Solution: If anyone can think of one, please let me know. But here are the things we've been doing so far:

-I continue speaking Russian when I talk to her. Only Russian. I vocalize for her in Russian every activity she does, so she knows what things are called and hopefully after much repetition will memorize them.

-I read to her Russian books. Every single night. Allie has quite a few favorites in English and I’ll read them to her too, but for the most parts English reading is MJ’s responsibility. I read Russian books.

-We listen to a lot of Russian music. We have Russian CDs and downloaded songs from old Russian cartoons that I grew up with. I’ll play them in the mornings while we are getting ready or during weekends while we are at home and Allie is playing. Sometimes we’ll listen to a Russian radio station too.

-Skype sessions with Allie’s Russian babushka (my mom), her aunt and her dedushka (my dad) are great, as well. In additional to all the fun, it’s like a Russian lesson.

-Listening to fairy tales. My sister gave Allie such a great gift recently – a CD with Russian fairy tales. Allie loves it! We listen to it in a car on the way to and from the daycare. They make her laugh and the more she listens to them, the more she enjoys them. She starts to repeat certain words from them or laughs at the same tings, so clearly she recognizes and understands them. Although, I can’t complain there. She understands everything in Russian, it’s just the talking part that’s a bit harder.

I am sure this list will expand as Allie is getting older and I’ll need to sit down with her to some actual lessons of reading and writing and counting and so on (maybe MJ will join us and will learn some Russian with Allie), but so far for a 22 months old those things seem to be the most effective in the circumstances that we have.

Thank you for listening and for sharing your suggestions,

Do svidaniya

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