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 Post subject: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 6:32 pm 
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A friend of mine is raising her kids to be bilingual in Chinese and English, and she said that the best way to do that is for each parent/caregiver to speak exclusively to the kids in one language. She only speaks Mandarin to her daughters and their Dad speaks English.

Another friend of mine speaks both French and English to her kids and is raising them bilingual.

Is that too confusing for kids? I was thinking about just talking to her in English until she is about 4 or 5 and then learning German (I speak fluent German and can get by in French). I learned German at 6 but that was by immersion when we moved to Austria and I wonder if learning at that age would stop you getting the fluency if you weren't surrounded by the language every day. I know raising them bilingual means they often don't speak as early but that they have a better ability to grasp abstract concepts...

I know many of you speak several language, and would love to share thoughts, and tips and tricks if any of you are raising your kids to speak more than one language.

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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 6:43 pm 
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This is so interesting, because I'm having the same debate with myself. I teach elementary German, so obviously I would love for my kids to speak German.

As far as being too confusing, I would say it's not. Children and babies can separate languages early on, even if they switch in certain situations. There is even research (sorry I don't have a source right now) that shows babies can differentiate in the womb.

Obviously, the earlier and more exposure a child has to language, the quicker and more native acquisition will be. 4 or 5 is still early though. I think what I will end up doing is use a lot of vocabulary, simple commands/directions, books and music--not necessarily sentences and conversing--for exposure. That will give him a good foundation that we can easily build upon. If Chad also spoke German, it would make things a lot easier because we could expose Will to more conversation instead of my random babbling.

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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 6:49 pm 
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No personal experience, of course, but I've known a few families who have raised their kids multilingual and all of them have taken the first approach. My cousin speaks English to her kids and her husband speaks Swedish to them. My neighbors spoke English (her) and German (him) to their daughter. And when I was little I had a friend who was growing up with three languages, all from different caregivers.

I don't know if even that approach would really result in fluency if the child only has one person to speak to in their non-dominant language. My cousin's family and my neighbors both travel a lot, including spending time with family in Sweden and Germany respectively, which probably helps a lot, just to have the chance to occasionally be immersed in the language you don't otherwise hear as much of. Oh, and one of my cousin's close friends is also Swedish, so the kids do get to hear adult conversation in Swedish pretty regularly, not just their dad talking to them.

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Last edited by monkeytoes on Thu Feb 23, 2012 6:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 6:49 pm 
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I don't have much to add due to lack of children and inability to speak numerous languages but I have also read that one parent speaking each language is a good way to do it. If I were going to have a child, I'd love to raise him/her in Montreal for the first few years of life and schooling so they pick up French (The Professor speaks Parisian French but gets by okay in Montreal).

I wish I had learned another language as a child and kept up with it! I think the right language could have afforded me more opportunities (Spanish back home where I lived in US, as bilingual counsellors were always needed, and French would help me in Canada).


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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 6:54 pm 
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I don't know about the efficacy of each parent speaking one language, so I can't say much about the fluency... but it seems like English (or the dominant/shared language) would have a huge advantage. The exposure is so much greater due to outside influence-- TV, print, etc. Obviously, it couldn't hurt though.

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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 6:57 pm 
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I try to speak German with Inez but I am woefully rusty and I feel self-conscious, even in front of a baby! But we have a few books (these ones) and some Uncle Goose language blocks, so we do basic vocab as we play. Oh, and I sing her songs and do nursery rhymes, etc. I am not at all confident that my German is good enough to raise a bilingual kid but hopefully she'll have a little leg up when she starts learning in earnest. And hopefully we'll take some extended trips to visit family and she can spend time around native speakers.

One of our friends from the library is speaking Korean with her twins and she mentioned the one language per parent thing, too. But she only does Korean with them about half the time. I also met a nanny who speaks Japanese with the kids she watches and then I think they do at least one other language aside from English with their parents, too. People are so on it!


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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 6:58 pm 
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We need a German language PPK play group!


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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:01 pm 
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Honestly, I hadn't planned to even bother speaking to her in German because she'd be learning it in a sort of vacuum. But a friend of mine who is homeschooling her 5 kids said she spoke Hebrew, English and French to them from the get go and they are all trilingual, which is pretty sweet.

Learning German at 6 by immersion was so cool, and I love that it is so much part of me that I still switch effortlessly into German even though I haven't lived there for ages. My French is probably good enough, and I love speaking it.

Some of our local vegan friends are looking to get a Spanish speaking person to come and lead a bilingual group to introduce our kids to Spanish, which I find pretty neat.

I know that speaking more than one language from birth is great for their ability to understand abstract concepts, which would be my main motivation for doing so, plus it would be nice if she could speak more than one language. Speaking French and German has been tremendously useful to me in my career.

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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:01 pm 
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I want to bilingual my baby. I'm doing things kind of haphazardly now. I speak to Malka in Hebrew sometimes and sing and read stories to her in Hebrew, but I probably speak mostly in English to her and I generally jumble it all in one "conversation" rather than creating any separation between languages. I guess we'll just see what happens! I also randomly speak Spanish to her and I have no logic guiding when I do that.


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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:21 pm 
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I've also heard that the first option is the best way to go for bilingualing baby. I'm planning on speaking to baby mostly in Chinese from the get-go just because the dialect I speak is dying and I'd love for her to be able to speak it when she's older. It'd also help seeing as how my parents can't speak English very well and they otherwise wouldn't be able to communicate with baby once she grows up.

My husband and I both know Japanese, but mine is super rusty from lack of use/practice. I'd love for baby to be trilingual, but I don't see that happening unless we move back to Japan and I can re-immerse myself too.

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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:30 pm 
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I don't have any sources either, but I remember from grad school (for education and literacy specifically) that learning multiple languages is not usually a problem. Like Kdub said, the child is able to differentiate and switch. The most important thing as far as language acquisition goes, is regular interaction with language.

Sometimes a child will present persistent developmental delays in speech and language acquisition. When this is apparent, it is likely a speech therapist will recommend the child stick to learning one language. In this situation, you would have to judge the value of learning more than one language on a case by case basis. In general the pros are greater than the cons.

I teach at a school were the majority of the kids speak multiple languages (many international families). A lot of the families strictly only speak the non dominant language(s) at home. The pervasiveness of English elsewhere tends to be enough for the students to thrive with both/all languages.


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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:34 pm 
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Tofulish wrote:
Honestly, I hadn't planned to even bother speaking to her in German because she'd be learning it in a sort of vacuum. But a friend of mine who is homeschooling her 5 kids said she spoke Hebrew, English and French to them from the get go and they are all trilingual, which is pretty sweet.

'Fulish, I have a friend who was brought up in Scotland learning just French and Gaelic as 'first' languages. He didn't even learn to speak English until a young adult. Gaelic would have been normal on the Western isle he lived on, but French would have been, as you say, in a 'vacuum'- pretty much no one there other than his mother would have spoken French. I admit I find it slightly strange that his parents didn't bring English into the equation, but he certainly hasn't suffered because of it and now teaches Gaelic at Masters level (and speaks fluent English, of course). I think it would be brilliant if you could speak to Leela in German to give her that advantage... I am more than happy to email him to ask him of his experience if you'd like!

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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:52 pm 
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birdsonawire wrote:
I've also heard that the first option is the best way to go for bilingualing baby. I'm planning on speaking to baby mostly in Chinese from the get-go just because the dialect I speak is dying and I'd love for her to be able to speak it when she's older. It'd also help seeing as how my parents can't speak English very well and they otherwise wouldn't be able to communicate with baby once she grows up.


My friend Stephanie wrote about that, and I thought it made for a really interesting post, if you're interested. http://www.montessorionthedouble.com/blog/tag/bilingual

'Bang, you are just the pure sweetest <3

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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 8:37 pm 
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I've read a bit on the topic, for, well, obvious reasons! I found surprisingly little scientific literature on the topic, but from many anecdotal testimonies this is what I gathered:

It seems that consistency is key. The 2 big systems that multilingual families mostly choose are one parent, one language (OPOL) where you would speak only German to Leela and Brett would speak only English, or minority language at home (ML@H) where the whole family would speak German at home and English outside. Obviously you choose mostly based on what is actually possible in your situation... For families where each parent has more than one language, they sometimes segregate the languages by time of the day or place. Also, regular stays with grandparents (or friends/family abroad) seems to be what really boosts the minority language(s).
Kids are lazy like everyone else (or, in another words, they like to get what they want in the most efficient manner possible), and if they know they can get away with speaking only their dominant language, they will. Having a consistent system apparently helps avoiding that.

Also, starting as early as possible with as much exposure as possible helps with fluency and bringing the minority language to native status. BUT any exposure, at any age, is helpful. Even if you start exposing Leela to German at age 5 it will be super beneficial. If you start exposing her at 8 or 10 it will still be beneficial. There is no "too little, too late, why bother" so don't feel pressured into starting full speed right now if that's not comfortable or practical for you and your family.

For what it's worth, I did not grow up bilingual. I was not exposed to English at all until age 11. I did have a musical education, which I think helped me train my ear and later get rid of most of my accent. I don't really pass for native these days, as my proficiency fluctuates depending on my environment (but then again, so does my proficiency in French, so...) but I am really quite happy with my level of English. I don't know if it would have gotten that much better if I had been exposed to it earlier while still in a monolingual environment.

I used to read this blog when it was still active, as the family has a language pattern similar to what mine would be (just with different languages): http://multitonguekids.blogspot.com/
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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 8:38 pm 
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Also, you need to get Torque on this thread!


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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2012 9:58 am 
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I had some friends who were raising their kids speaking French and Spanish. The parents were fluent in both languages, and though they were living in the US when the kids were born, they weren't sure if they were going to stay, so they decided that French and Spanish were the important ones for them to be fluent in, and that they could learn English if they stayed in the US. When I last saw then, the older kid was about 4, and the younger about 18 months. The 18-month-old wasn't really talking much yet, but when she babbled, you could really hear the difference between French babbling and Spanish babbling, which was kind of fascinating. The 4-year-old had started preschool, and all the kids and teachers there spoke English, and he seemed to be picking it up. He'd have no problem having conversations with his teachers or with other kids in English, but he wouldn't speak English to other adults. It was like he'd concluded that, since English was the language of preschool and cartoons, it was a kid language, so it was pointless to try to speak it to adults.


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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2012 1:15 pm 
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My first spoken language was Dutch. When we lived in the Netherlands, my Italian father would also speak Dutch because really, no one else would understand him. My mother spoke exclusively Dutch. When I was 4, we moved to Italy, and both my brother and I learned Italian quickly, by immersion of course. We were still able to switch back and forth between the two very easily, and starting school barely a year later (for me, being the oldest) I had no issue at all. They didn't really have official reading level expectations in school back then, but I know that I was doing pretty good! I think switching languages gave me an affinity and a greater ease with learning other languages too, as later on I learned French and English.


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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2012 1:58 pm 
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I just wanted to add to the chorus of people who know someone who do the each parent speaks a different language thing. My husband's cousin speaks English to their kids and his wife speaks Arabic (she's Israeli). Their oldest is around 7-8 now I think, and he speaks both fluently, is able to separate the two and knows when and to whom it is appropriate to speak one or the other.

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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2012 2:08 pm 
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Tzipi is learning french although my french is mostly non-existant and my partner's is rusty. But we live in a primarily french neighbourhood in Montreal and her day care is entirely french. I know "baby" french and so while i speak mostly in english to her, i do use some french vocab and phrases. Her dad speaks quite a lot of french to her and of course she hears it for a solid 8 hours a day 5 days a week. Right now, at just two years old, i'd say she knows just slightly less french than english, but it is also apparent that she switches between languages depending on her environment. This last week she was in Ontario with english speaking grandparents and home with me, and has stopped using a lot of the vocab she used to use in every context, like oui, manteau, couche, ici, etc. To me that shows she's getting better at differentiating.

My own experiences with learning language have made staying in Montreal until upper elementary a priority for us. Going back to a primarily non-french environment too soon could really hamper her skills. I also know that it can be very difficult to learn a language that is undesireable... I was immersed in an Urdu environment from infancy, but as a child it was very obvious that Urdu was considered lower-class by all my school-mates and other people around me. People only wanted to speak english, which didn't really incentivize me to learn it well.


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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2012 4:03 pm 
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littlebird wrote:
I also know that it can be very difficult to learn a language that is undesireable... I was immersed in an Urdu environment from infancy, but as a child it was very obvious that Urdu was considered lower-class by all my school-mates and other people around me. People only wanted to speak english, which didn't really incentivize me to learn it well.


This is so true. I think it also plays into why kids who grow up in bilingual homes start talking back to their parents in English even when the parent is speaking to them in the other language.


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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2012 4:09 pm 
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I remember reading an article in one of the Dutch newspapers where linguists were advising non-native-Dutch-speaking parents to speak to their child in their own native language, saying that the most important thing was for the child to be raised speaking a language, any language, correctly with consistent grammar. (This was probably aimed mostly at immigrants from eg Turkey or Morocco.) Granted, that's a slightly different situation where the child will have no problem picking up the local language outside of home.

I'm a little torn on this because I'd like Vi to learn Dutch (we're both fluent) and maybe some Russian (I studied it for ~7 years, got a college minor). We try to expose her to lots of Dutch songs and books, I'll sometimes speak to her in Dutch, we use a lot of Dutch phrases around the house (some things I just don't know the english words for as well, or there's a word or expression like "doofpot" or "kinderkopjes," too good to pass up). But we managed to both learn it fluently without much difficulty in our 20s so I'm not very worried.

There was a possibility for my husband to be transferred back to Holland for training right now and I was really hoping we'd have that chance to expose Vi to the language. Unfortunately it didn't work out (so we'll be immersing her in New English instead up in Connecticut!). I really think that being immersed in a culture is the easiest/quickest/best way to learn a language at any age, and until that happens children just aren't going to learn it all that well. I think second/third/etc. languages and language classes are one of those things that's gotten really trendy in the US without a really clear day to day benefit. I mean, So she learns Dutch. Almost all Dutch people speak fluent English and what do I do with my knowledge? I read the newspaper, I watch TV shows, I read books. I enjoy it, but does she need it? Eh.


ETA (I just can't shut up, can I?): Here is a post by a Czech woman raising her daughter bilingually without doing the one parent-one language thing: http://czechmatediary.com/2011/08/24/mo ... more-10889


Last edited by annak on Fri Feb 24, 2012 4:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2012 4:10 pm 
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I speak German with my parents and learned English by immersion within months when I was three. I also picked up my grandparents' Transylvanian dialect, which I wasn't allowed to use speaking to my younger cousin so that's mainly passive. I can construct sentences if I try but it's not natural. No issues getting confused at all, apart from the occasional translated phrase that sneaks in (I'll say something and then realize the expression doesn't exist in that language). I don't have one dominant language but two.


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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2012 4:28 pm 
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(Just wanted to chip in to let you know the SLT clinical advice we give parents bringing up children who are lucky enough to have access to more than one language in the UK:
- Either one language/one person (i.e. each parent speaks one language) or one language/one setting (i.e. everyone speaks the same language at home and a different language at school) is the way to go.
- Everyone speaks their own native/preferred language to ensure access to full and complete grammatical structures.
- Children who have more than one language go through the same stages in developing understanding in each of the languages spoken or signed, but typically don't start to speak as quickly as children who only have one language. In the early stages of building phrases and sentences themselves, children who have more than one language sometimes "code switch" and use structures or vocabulary from one language in with the other language. This is temporary, and they always get the boundaries of each language straight during the period of optimum language development.
- A bilingual or multilingual early experience does NOT cause any long-term language delay. Children who have good language models and sufficient exposure will become competent in both languages.
- Children who have heard more than one language tend to have superior phonological awareness skills, and this is an advantage for early literacy skills.)

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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:26 pm 
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Ruby Rose wrote:
(Just wanted to chip in to let you know the SLT clinical advice we give parents bringing up children who are lucky enough to have access to more than one language in the UK:
- Either one language/one person (i.e. each parent speaks one language) or one language/one setting (i.e. everyone speaks the same language at home and a different language at school) is the way to go.
- Everyone speaks their own native/preferred language to ensure access to full and complete grammatical structures.
- Children who have more than one language go through the same stages in developing understanding in each of the languages spoken or signed, but typically don't start to speak as quickly as children who only have one language. In the early stages of building phrases and sentences themselves, children who have more than one language sometimes "code switch" and use structures or vocabulary from one language in with the other language. This is temporary, and they always get the boundaries of each language straight during the period of optimum language development.
- A bilingual or multilingual early experience does NOT cause any long-term language delay. Children who have good language models and sufficient exposure will become competent in both languages.
- Children who have heard more than one language tend to have superior phonological awareness skills, and this is an advantage for early literacy skills.)


Do you think it makes a difference whether the children are learning languages of different origins? I think speaking Italian (a Latin language) and Dutch/English (non-Latin...Germanic?) has given me an advantage when there is a need to spell something or understanding the meaning of a word even if I never heard it before, just based on its etymology.


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 Post subject: Re: Bilingualing your Baby
PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:37 pm 
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I did a lot of reading beforehand and followed the advice that one parent should consistently speak one language, and the other parent the other. (Mr T Portuguese, and me English. That was not what happened til we moved here though, since Mr T refused to speak Portuguese til Sprog was 6. But I digress, she did become bilingual within about a year of moving here.)
My regret is that I didn't continue speaking Japanese to Sprog (I spoke Japanese to her as a little kid, and she still knows animal names and some few katakana, but that's about it), because i feared as a fluent but non-native speaker i would be teaching errors and inconsistencies, and I thought it was better not to risk it, especially since we already had two languages. also, i thought it wouldn't be super useful, and I was also worried about how much effort it would take for her to maintain fluent, updated English (not as difficult as I thought between me, TV/interwebz and her voracious reading habits). Yet now we are finally getting to work on Japanese and the sounds and thought patterns are just so alien-sounding to her that I fear we missed the window. I wish I had been confident enough to say, ah, what the hell, why not add another language.
ETA: to add to this: after actually going through it, i also am not so sure I agree with the whole one-parent-is-the-expert thing. After a few years of speaking this language I am the one who helps Sprog with her portuguese homework, not her father.

@annak- a good friend of mine works as a dutch translator and just got hired for a big fancy-pants exec job because they needed someone who could speak english, portuguese and dutch. so you never know when it might come in handy!!

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