Friday, December 4, 2009

Understanding my son's Swenglish

I've been working with Swedes for well over 10 years now. They are extremely good English speakers, especially the younger generations, which has to do with early learning in the school system. It's very easy to be here and get by without learning Swedish. But I don't have that luxury. My son speaks Swedish.

He was just beginning to speak Serbian when we left Montenegro. He was then thrust into a completely new culture and language. Since he started his new daycare in August, he is really adapting well and speaking Swedish almost fluently. We're so proud of our little sponge.

But this has understandably delayed his English speaking skills as he's only speaking English at home with us. From 8-3 everyday he's in an all-Swedish environment and the language that surrounds him while we're out and about is of course, Swedish.

Hubby and I are finding it harder to understand him. I have a bit of an edge since I've been taking lessons once a week for the past several months. But I fear my bad Swedish grammar coupled with his toddler enunciation is compounding his inability to express himself and our inability to understand.

I know children his age back home are speaking and expressing themselves clearly. His "speak" goes something like this: "mama, make a peepee" "Juice" "Go see Dada" "It hurts" "Axel (boy's name) crying."

He pushed a child at school the other day who fell down and started crying. The teacher explained this to me when I picked him up and he then got a stern talking to in English. He was upset. He understood it was wrong.

Yesterday I picked him up from school and he started to babble about "Axel crying. Axel fall down." I asked him if he pushed Axel and he said, "yes". But I was doubtful so before giving him another stern talking to, I called the school to get the deets. Little man did NOT push Axel down. He just fell. Phewf. But do you see my problem? This is a daily occurence. I can't reach him sometimes and he doesn't have the vocabulary to explain himself.

Anyone have any advice? I try to passively correct his speech. So when he says, "Mama, make a peepee", I repeat, "Mama, I have go make a peep". I try to fill in the blanks. I've also started speaking to him in Swedish sometimes but I fear I may be hindering his English.

I'd really like to understand my little man and I fear we're lost in translation.


septembermom said...

Your little guy is going to some linguist in the future. I'm sorry to hear about his troubles. I wish I could offer some advice. Are there any books out there about handling this kind of multi-language situation with young kids? I always tell my kids that there is a book on everything. If I can, I'll look around for you. Take care.

Simon Morley said...

We have a book on bilingualism in families - it helps by answering some of the typical questions. Yes, language development /can/ be delayed but then there's a ketchup effect.

Whether you communicate in one language or two (I use both interchangeably) it won't matter to your child initially as long as they understand what you mean. Then someday it will click to them which words belong to which language - then they'll start asking what a certain word is in the other language - and that's pretty cool! It won't mean they automatically start talking both languages, more that they're taking both in and recognising the differences!