Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Learning another languages comes with a cost

Second languages don't come for free, even (especially!) for kids.  Maybe people will say that kids just absorb another language if they're immersed in it...and they do, mostly.  But it has an effect on their previous language.

I've been meaning to write this up for a while.  But I got a push just now because as I was putting my five year old Peter to bed, he was telling me about a movie that he watched in his Wednesday program.  I asked him to tell me what the movie was called in English.  Peter said "King" and then didn't know the rest.  He struggled to translate it for a while, repeating the title in French, and then finally I understood what he was saying.  It was called "Le roi et l'oiseau".    That means "The King and the Bird".

Wait a minute - he forgot the English word for bird?  Yikes, that's a little scary.  He's known that since he was a baby.  How could he forget it?

Pretty easily, apparently.  I've noticed over the past few months that there are other basic words he's forgotten in English (for instance, pan).  I haven't noticed it as much in Kenny, perhaps because he reads a lot in English (thanks to the Kindle!).  But with our five year old Peter, English skills slip away much more easily.

I remember when I was Peter's age or younger, our family moved back to Austria, where my parents were from, for about half a year.  I went to public school there (actually it was probably a Catholic teachers was a nun).  When we came back to the US and I went into first grade, I went to the speech therapist for a while because I could no longer pronounce the 'th' sound, which is not used in German.  I had developed a German accent that quickly!

Also recently Peter was trying to chose between two things, and instead of doing the standard English, "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe", he did the childrens equivalent in French.

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