Saturday, May 13, 2006

Is he talking yet?

Marc was a very physical child and loved playing in the park or with toy trains, airplanes and cars. But his verbal skills were visibly lower than all the children around him. People began to comment quietly among themselves, when we visited England, France or even locally with the other Swiss mothers. They rather cruelly compared Marc with his cousins or children the same age…..and I felt frustrated that he was being tested so early on. In all others ways he was perfect – motor skills, eating, sleeping, toilet-training, behaviour….except his speech.

Marc was going to a local Swiss child minder in the mornings and she reported that he said nothing whatsoever, he just gestured. Marc seemed to be able to get by with a few smiles or frowns or pointing his finger! At home or in public he was so well behaved I hardly ever shouted at him. But Marc approached his two-year-old birthday people began to ask directly the dreaded question ‘Is he talking yet?’

I was doing a correspondence course with Sheffield University for a Masters in English as a Second Language. One module was all about Linguistics and Bilingualism. From my reading I knew that bilingual children can and do speak two languages…..but trilinguals?
There was very little information on trilinguals and that worried me. Which language would come out first? Would he ever manage three languages?

Marc had English from me, which wasn’t very much since I didn’t make a huge effort to talk to him. When we were in Switzerland and France I unconsciously tended to stay quiet rather than bother people speaking English loudly. The French from Jacques was mainly at weekends and on holidays. Jacques always spoke English to me too. Then there was the Swiss German at the child minder and in the community. I guessed that Marc either wasn’t sure who spoke what or was maybe delaying his speech while he worked it all out or he had some sort of a speech problem.

A year after we arrived in Switzerland I was pregnant with our second child and both my mother and my mother-in-law came to stay to help out while Jacques was away. Their quality one-to-one time reading and walks around the village pointing out things worked wonders. Encouraged and praised Marc began to slowly name animals and talk about his toys and activities. I breathed a sigh of relief that he wasn’t dumb.

When Nina was born in April Marc was two years and three months old and his vocabulary was mainly limited to colours, things around him like park, bike, car, train and the names of close people around him. He then began to link two words together – black- car, blue- slide etc. But what really shot him into verbosity was our summer trip to England and France where everyone talked to him about his new sister and how did he feel? how did she behave? did she smile at him?…..and waited till he answered. I really think he just didn’t have enough language practice and since we all accepted his quietness he got away with it. By the time we came back to Zurich in September he was making three or four word short sentences……my blue car, me want milk, me like more sweeties…

I decided that I should speak more English to him even when we were with people who didn't speak or understand it. It was clear that Marc needed more input and vocabulary bulding. And we needed to take responsiblity for his languages and follow some kind of strategy rather than just waiting to see what happened. So I did some research and discovered the one parent-one language approach........

1 comment:

Alice in Austria said...

I can SO relate!! Our daughter's trilingual as well and we've encountered similar problems. She is 4 now and obviously lagging behind in her speech. I am trying to figure out whether this has indeed something to do with her trilingualism or not! I keep encountering contradictory comments and advice both from experts as well as parents (No, multilingualism has nothing whatsoever to do with speech delay to Yes, it is the one and only reason as to why she is delayed.) It's all very confusing ... I'm glad I've found your blog ! It helps to comiserate sometimes ... ;)