teaching my baby Czech

Discussion in 'Culture' started by ta, Mar 8, 2008.

  1. ta

    ta Well-Known Member


    I am a full-blooded Czech living in the US. My husband is American and we have a 7-month old daughter. I talk to her in Czech when my husband is not present (at work) so I hope that way she will learn both languages with no problem. My friend who is in the same situation says that her daughter (who is 3 now) understands but refuses to speak in Czech. I also heard that it is better for the foreign parent start speaking in the other language when the child is about 2 so he/she doesn't get confused...Anyone has any experience with this kind of stuff??

  2. PGN

    PGN Well-Known Member


    I can directly relate to your question.

    We have a 14, 6, and 4 year old. My wife only spoke Czech to them even when I was home. I was not allowed to speak Czech at all. The kids have enough exposure to English via the father, television, school, and friends. You have to put your foot down on this and only speak Czech to your children. This won't help you to get rid of your accent but that is really of minor importance.

    The children will learn both languages if you start them out from the very beginning. They will also learn to carry conversations with both Czech and English speakers at the same time. The pay off for you as parents is that the kids will excell when they get to school because they will be able to process information simultaniously from the left and right frontal lobes....they won't have to think per se, they will already know the answer or be able to process an answer much quicker than the average child.

    There will be some issues that you and your husband will have to work out. The ultimate mommy/daddy scenario is easy for the children to use. Daddy says something in English, junior doesn't like it so junior gets mom to negate what daddy just said in Czech while daddy is in the same room.

    Dad may feel like as though mom doesn't want him to learn the language because for the first 4-6 years dad isn't allowed to speak Czech to the children. When the child gets to 4 to 6 years old then dad can try his Czech. Dad gets frustrated because 5 year old junior is now correcting dad's Czech pronounciation.

    Dad gets an opportunity to show off when the family has visitors over, mom says something in Czech, dad asks junior what mom said, junior translates and the guest are amazed at junior Einstein's United Nations capabilities.

    Mom gets concerned because while junior gets a well rounded language and culture education, she doesn't have an opportunity to expand her English. Soon the children pass up mom's vocabulary.

    So where does this leave you:

    Things will be said that you miss or dad miss, it is a very thin line that both parents have to walk. You both married with a strong foundation of trust, both must remember this. There will be times that mom and dad say something opposite of each other and junior is caught in the middle. Mom or dad will have to give in on these situations, try to make it even as much as possible. In the beginning there will be multiple times that this happens. As mom and dad get accustomed to working as a team in raising the children in both languages....Nirvana is achieved 8)

    The take aways from this post is:

    Speak Czech early and always with the children
    Maintain the trust with your spouse

    The reward is that your children will excell in life (which is what mommy and daddy want).
  3. Yerusalyim

    Yerusalyim Well-Known Member

    You should speak Czech to your child at ALL TIMES, even when hubby is around, and hubby should speak only english. This will NOT confuse the kid, it will make the child thoroughly bi-lingual.

    I've been around my now 2 year old step son since late April. I speak only English to him (and I only know a few phrases of Czech). He responds to me appropriately in English (Thank You, No, Sit, etc) and to his mother in Czech. He's not at all confused.
  4. PGN

    PGN Well-Known Member


    There you have it. Two American dads saying the same thing.

    Stop speaking English to you child :wink:
  5. ta

    ta Well-Known Member

    Thanks you guys! I will have to think it all through....What is more important to me that my husband feels comfortable with this whole thing. I will just have to discuss it with him and we will go from there. Thanks for the input!
  6. PGN

    PGN Well-Known Member


    Feel free to PM me, I can give him examples on how 'frustrating' it can be for him and I can also give him examples on how good it is for the children.
  7. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    Just to add another opinion, I am an American and my wife is Russian; however, she speaks English fluently and I speak Russian fluently. We tried at first speaking exclusively Russian with our first child for the first year and a half, and then I switched to English, while my wife continued in Russian. With our second, she continued to speak Russian, and I spoke English. Of course, with us, living in the US, it was difficult to maintain this, particularly among friends, because if they were Russian, we'd both speak Russian; if they were American, we'd both speak English.

    In the end, our kids both picked up English without difficulty. They were somewhat delayed in their early speech development, but now have vocabularies that well exceed the norm in their classes (my kids are now 7 and 9). Russian was more difficult for them. My wife had a constant battle of speaking Russian to them, and having them answer in English. This changed for us only when my wife's mother-in-law moved to town (she speaks only Russian, so the kids had no choice but to learn).

    What this tells me is that it's best to try and supplement your speaking Czech with whatever opportunities possible to speak Czech, whether watching Czech cartoons (my kids love Russian cartoons!), inviting Czech friends/relatives over often, reading to them in Czech, etc. Try to make it as active a learning experience as possible. And above all, don't give up and speak English to them!

    By the way, now when my wife or I speak Russian to my kids, they usually answer in Russian (albeit with an accent), and when either of us speaks to them in English, they answer in English.
  8. ta

    ta Well-Known Member

    I do have a tiny Czech playgroup, here in the US, so I think that will help a lot. I am also getting ready to spend some "dough" for Czech children books! So I think we will be fine...
    Thank you!
  9. dzurisova

    dzurisova Well-Known Member

    I had a college professor who had a Doctorate’s in cognitive linguistics (the study of the mind learning languages). She was from Mexico and married an American who spoke Spanish well. She told me that a bi-lingual parent (living in America) should only speak the native language (for her Spanish) to the child. She said that the child will learn English through TV, shopping, just living in the States. She and her husband only spoke Spanish in the home and by time her children were school age, they fluently spoke English & Spanish just by TV, etc.

    One very important thing she said is that when the brain learns 2 languages from birth, it stimulates more areas of the brain than for those of us who only learned one language. Therefore, the child goes the rest of his life using more areas of his brain than those who only learned one language from birth.

    Don't worry about confusing the children, they will be fine.

    Now on a practical note, it's very difficult when the spouse doesn't know Czech. My step-daughter tried this with both of her children. It was VERY difficult to remember to speak Czech because she spoke English to her husband, at work, etc. Her son, age 5, knows no Czech because she failed to speak it to him often enough. She truly regrets it. She has tried it with her daughter, Ava (18 months old) but also frequently forgets. Ava says many words in English words but I've not heard any Czech words.

    As for getting the children to answer in Czech. My husband dealt with this in his first marriage. He defected with his Czech wife and step-son. Czech was only spoken in the home but when the child became school age, he wanted to speak English all the time. My husband did not want his step son to loose Czech so each time the child spoke to him in English my husband's only answer was "Česky". Therefore if the child wanted results, he was forced to speak Czech. He never lost his Czech and today (22 years old) he thanks my husband for it.

    It would be best if your husband is supportive of this but if not, you might want to ask him his reasoning. If it is clear to you that he is not supportive merely due to selfish reasons rather than the best interests of the kids you might want to consider doing so without his support. However, I would not suggest doing it behind his back (while he’s at work) but rather being up front in letting him know that you will be doing this without his support because as a mother you must put the best interest of your kids before his hurt feelings. You could however, state that you are willing to repeat yourself when talking to the kids by stating it once in Czech and then again in English in his presence so he doesn’t feel left out. Most of us parents know that we often have to tell our kids something more than once anyhow to get results. Therefore to say it twice isn’t much different than normal parenting. :wink:
  10. Yerusalyim

    Yerusalyim Well-Known Member

    My sister is a child pshycologist. I spoke with her yesterday about this very topic concerning my step son. Language will develop a bit slower than with peers who are not in a bilingual home...INITIALLY...but yes, it spurs more areas of the brain and helps in learning. By the time the kids reach school age they're fine.

    Interestingly (or not, you may not care at all), my wife speaks Czech and German...I speak English and German...and Spanish. Our conversations are usually a mix of all three languages...English, German and Czech (she understands English but doesn't feel comfortable speaking it for some reason). While German is our common language we both speak it poorly...so the kids will learn English, Czech, and really messed up German. How cool is that?
  11. jen

    jen Well-Known Member

    I didn't find the "language delay" at all in my children...not the tiniest bit. Of course every child is different, but it's important to qualify that statement with a "may" :)

    We also speak a mixture...as my husband (Czech) and I (American) are both fluent in our second languages, we will have entire conversations where he speaks to me in Czech and I answer in English. The children have absolutely no trouble knowing with whom to speak what language (outside the home) - with exceptions of course (mostly when speaking to English speakers, they might slip in a Czech word, forgetting that person doesn't know Czech). At home, they will sometimes speak to each other in Czech, but mostly they speak English to each other. Both go to Czech school.

    My son, who didn't start speaking Czech until he was around 4 (we were in the US from age 1.5 to almost 4, and my husband didn't speak much Czech to him while we were in the US), is now a "jedničkář" in Czech at school (age 10, 5th grade) - his teacher says that if she didn't know he was bilingual, she would never have guessed.
  12. Yerusalyim

    Yerusalyim Well-Known Member


    Quite correct, the operative word is MAY...language development MAY be initially delayed...but not so as it affects the child by the time they reach school age.
  13. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    "May" is correct, but one should also note that statistically-speaking, the probability of such early speech delay is higher among bilingual kids, than monolingual kids. Almost always they catch up quickly either before school begins or shortly thereafter. My children were among the "shortly thereafter" group. Incidentally, my son (4th grade now) was recently rated as having the vocabulary (in English) of an average senior in high school. A large contributer to that, I'm convinced, is an increased aptitude for language due to being bilingual. (Of course, he's very bright to begin with).
  14. pacific

    pacific Member

    I live in the US, am Czech & my husband is American. He speaks very little Czech. I spoke exclusively in Czech to my son the first 18 months of his life, but the more language he gained, the more English he spoke and since he has become very verbal and is now a regular chatter box at 2 1/2, I have been guilty of forgetting to speak Czech to him.

    My experience mirrors what dzurisova described in her post:

    "Now on a practical note, it's very difficult when the spouse doesn't know Czech. My step-daughter tried this with both of her children. It was VERY difficult to remember to speak Czech because she spoke English to her husband, at work, etc. Her son, age 5, knows no Czech because she failed to speak it to him often enough. She truly regrets it. She has tried it with her daughter, Ava (18 months old) but also frequently forgets. Ava says many words in English words but I've not heard any Czech words."

    I tend to forget to speak Czech because English comes easier in an all-English context. And my son answers only in English, which makes it more difficult to persevere.

    Trust me, I feel bad and guilty about not teaching him much Czech, but that is our reality. We are planning to move back to the Czech Republic for a year, though, and I hope that he will pick up the language then.
  15. dzurisova

    dzurisova Well-Known Member

    I know it's difficult, but if you can, try to do what my husband did:

    Since he's only 2 1/2, you should be able to re-introduce Czech to him. He will thank you for it in time. Also, you might be able to have family (back home) send children's DVD's to you in Czech. He may enjoy watching them instead of Sesame Street (by the way, there is a Czech translated version of SS). Also several Disney movies are translated in Czech.
  16. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    Great way of putting it! The child needs to have a concrete motivation. Thanks for boiling it down to the lowest common denominator!

Share This Page