One Preschooler, One Toddler, Multiple Languages

The preschooler and the toddler.

I realize that for a blog called “My Multilingual Kids” I have only covered one of my children. Now that my daughter is nearing two-years-old and speaking, there’s finally more to report in our home’s continuing language acquisition saga.

The Preschooler

To recap, my older son is now four-and-a-half, and went through a speech delay at the same age of my daughter. We had a whirlwind of a time monitoring his language development. He’s since overcome his challenges and his secondary language acquisition is slow, but steady. With each visit from his Turkish grandparents (who speak no English), the pseudo-immersive environment that develops in our home really speeds up his progress and I’ll see him add new words or phrases almost daily while they are there. When they leave, it slows once again.

We practice one parent one language, aka OPOL, and while it keeps the secondary language present, it doesn’t necessarily make it progress. Throughout the age of three, his responses were almost always in English, despite the fact that my husband was speaking only Turkish. Because my husband could understand his English, he never had to actually practice speaking his second language. After he turned four, he started responding in Turkish to the best of his ability. When he doesn’t have the right word, he simply fills it with English.

For instance, one day while he was in a foul mood he turned to my husband and said “Sen…[thinking]… nice değilsen!” Or “you…you are not nice!” He didn’t have the Turkish word for nice, so he stuck the English in there where it fit within the Turkish sentence. My husband had to hold back a chuckle before responding. 

We will visit Turkey later this year, where we are really able to see his language acquisition skyrocket after every trip. I’m very interested to see how it affects my daughter as well.

The Toddler

Our little girl is almost two and not afflicted by the same speech delay that her brother experienced. While she has been in the care of her grandparents who speak predominantly English with a little Korean throughout her entire life, her brother had a Turkish care provider up until he turned 18 months. She hears Turkish from her father, occasionally from her brother and from her Turkish grandparents when they stay usually for about a month at a time. This level of exposure has been enough for her to have what seems to be full comprehension of the language and she is able to speak some commands and count in Turkish.

While the more advanced phrases she’s began to speak (I want some/What happened?) are English, she always counts in Turkish when she’s getting ready to jump, skipping “bir (one)” and going immediately to “iki (two), üç (three)!” and launching off. She says “bitti (finished)” while doing the ASL sign (American Sign Language) when she’s finished eating or wants you to wrap up whatever it is you’re doing — like a diaper change. (This is something we started doing with her very early after it helped our son communicate through his speech delay). She asks for “süt” instead of milk, and never calls her brother by his name, rather “abi (older brother)” in true Turkish fashion.

In Korean, she’ll say “appo 아파 (it hurts),” a phrase her brother also uses, as well as “chuwoyo 추워요  (cold)”. She also, to my mother’s delight, says “halmoni 할모니 (grandma),” counts and sings in Korean as well. But if you spout out rapid-fire Korean to her, she won’t understand in the same way she can understand Turkish.

Like her brother when he first started speaking, whatever word she uses in Korean or Turkish is only used in those languages, and she never uses the English equivalent.

Environmental Impact

Both children have had different levels of exposure to their secondary languages, which may have had some effect on how their language was and is developing. But the temperament of each child is also very different, so it’s hard to say how much their environments impacted the speed of their acquisition.

Some parents in my husband’s situation — the parent of the secondary language — may not respond to their child unless they speak in their secondary language in order to force that practice. We never did that when our son was younger because of his speech delay. When he finally started talking, we were happy and relieved to see him produce any language output, period. Now that this is no longer an issue, he is trying to use Turkish to the best of his ability all on his own. We may occasionally remind him to use Turkish, but it is never met with a hostile response. Our girl is just happy to try new words, we’ll see how she continues to progress and adjust accordingly. 

For parents trying to find the ideal scenario to grow their children’s languages in tandem, the progress may differ according to each child no matter what route is taken. That’s my view based on my experience. But I think it is safe to say that the more exposure you can provide to secondary language and immersive environments, the better!

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