The bilingual toddler: it is common for a child to reject the minority language

23 Feb

I had a baseless theory that if a child was raised in a bilingual environment they would take longer form their words. So I decided to look this up and ended up on The Linguist List and they say this is not the case. Trying to learn to speak two languages at the same time does not render the child speechless, if they have delayed speech it was going to happen anyway. They also advise that “it is common for a child brought up in a place with a strong community language to reject a minority one”. I told Karl this and he said “anenge asati amborohwa”, a literal translation would probably elicit a visit from social services so lets just say it’s not an option. My god daughter, Solveig, has a Kenyan mom and a German dad. Her father speaks to her and her brother almost exclusively in German. A habit I have newfound respect for. Another German friend did the same for his son and he’s pretty fluent but also lives in Germany now so that makes it easier. All these kids at the very least understand the minority language, I am not sure how much the ones that live in NZ speak German but I know for sure they understand their father.

The one-parent-one-language method we have discovered is way easier said than done. It was our intention, one of us only speak to her in Shona, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry….. For starters we never really decided who would be the exclusive Shona speaker. So now we both speak to her in Shona and in English. Sometimes she ends up having the same thing repeated in two languages, I don’t know if this serves to reinforce things or it confuses her even further. But its how it is going to be and I am sure she’ll catch on to our Shonglish soon enough. We would consider a great failing as parents if we didn’t teach her our native language and also an insult to those who have gone before us: Gogo Parktown and Mbuya Mudzamba. So we’ll carry on and be sure to let her know that minority-language-rejection is not an option.

At this point I am going to share a funny story. I grew up at 687 Reeler Crescent in Parktown, Waterfalls, Harare with my mother and her sister, and my grandmother and her sister. The later were Gogo Parktown and Mbuya Herina. Gogo Parktown was a Fashion and Fabrics teacher so was fluent in English. Mbuya Herina was not. She was a very traditional woman who did not eat rice; only sadza and didn’t use a fork; it changed the taste of her meals. So when it came to prime time TV be it Dallas, Dynasty, Santa Barbara, Carson’s Law, L.A. Law or Neighbours there was a running commentary translating everything into Shona! Everything. Needless to say the ability to pause live TV would have been a godsend…

Back to Malaika, she’s very chatty though so once the words came out no one will get a word in edgeways I am sure, I have attached a little sound byte at the beginning of the post that you will find amusing. The late night squealing can sometimes get out of control, if we still lived in New Zealand we’d be in danger of getting a visit from Noise Control. As the hunt for daycare ensues I was secretly hoping she’d have a spanish care giver so that she a third a language would confuse her soo much she’s take a bit longer to start talking because when she does…….. Lord help us!


3 Responses to “The bilingual toddler: it is common for a child to reject the minority language”

  1. tashata February 26, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    Comment from Caesar from LinkedIn: Hi Natasha I agree. I have the same problem with Anesu and Ruvimbo. Ane can here almost each and every word in shona you can have a conversation with him in shona but will always respond you in english. Its more like he know the language but does not like to speak it to some extant i agree with Karl. Because when you tell him to respond or greet in shona he will refuse anywhere according to the children rights its his right but then he is also losing his roots.
    My response: I can imagine it’s quite a challenge. At least he understands. Maybe as he gets older he’ll realize the importance & want to speak it. What happens when you go home?


  2. bundy28 March 1, 2014 at 4:16 am #

    Beautiful. Luke and I had a discussion on a similar topic, culture! We spoke about how Perth is so multicultural and how we would miss our child not growing up around the Maori culture. Example: learning Maori at school, being involved in the kuppa huka or learning songs.

    Don’t get me wrong, Perth it a great place but very mixed, very rich with one thing on most peoples minds-mining. Everyone comes here wanting to make cash, which of course is not everything in life. I also miss my UK heritage. The funny thing is Perth is full of kiwis and British yet it feels so divided with culture.


    • tashata March 1, 2014 at 10:48 am #

      One of things I love about Vancouver is I can hear at least four different languages a day at work and on a good day there are only 50 people in the office. An appreciation of different cultures is so important in this our global village and embracing their heritage will hopefully one day become something our kids are proud of. Kia Kaha (translated: be strong in Maori)


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