ONE of the things our break back in the UK allowed me to do was to see how much learning a second language has affected the boys ability to speak English. We spent a lot of time with friends who have similar age children and it was interesting for me to compare their English linguistic developments.
Luke appears to have been the most affected. Aged 18 months when we arrived he is now 2 1/2. I've never really heard him say much in Bosnian, but understand from his teachers at nursery that it is at a basic level: Yes, no, won't, don't, mine. In other words all the most useful words for a toddler. His English isn't bad at all, but there is a definite difference between him and his English peers. Having said that, after 5 weeks in the UK where he only heard English led to the most remarkable advances in his language skills. Who knows whether this jump was due to occur anyway, or whether being back in England encouraged it.
Adam's English is doing just fine. Now 4, he is eloquent, communicates really well and I could see no difference between him and his friend's English. His Bosnian is coming along too, although he won't speak with adults, just the other kids. He is a long way from being fluent but we think he understands most of what is going on. The only issue that does seem to have arisen with learning another language is that he appears to have developed a stammer when speaking in English. I need to think about the best tactic to take to encourage him not to stutter as I think he is using it for thinking time rather than because he can't not stammer but I do need to do some research on this one (any advice gratefully received!).
We take care to only speak to the kids in English. Partly this is to help clarify for them which language is which. Mainly though it is because our Bosnian is rubbish and we would only teach them how to speak poorly and with a terrible accent. We do lots of reading and have English language DVDs (love CBeebies), but they also have some Bosnian DVDs as well.
People always say that children learn languages so easily and so fast. I'm finding that this is not necessarily true and that the difficulties for children, even young ones, in learning a foreign language should not be underestimated. The boys are doing so well and I'm incredibly proud of them. They are in a nursery where noone speaks English so they are having to learn Bosnian themselves. I've noticed that the more that they play with the other children, the more they speak. Interestingly they speak Bosnian until they don't know how to say something, whereupon they switch to English. The other children appear to understand and everyone seems quite happy.
I'm pretty confident that if learning another language means that they fall behind on their ability to speak English, they will rapidly catch up when we return. So, I'm not going to worry about it. If they learn to speak another language whilst they are here then that would be amazing, but I'm going to let them do it at their own speed and not worry or push them into it. After all, if they learn to speak another language whilst they are here then they will be able to communicate with each other without us fully understanding what they are saying. Hmm, on second thoughts maybe this isn't such a good plan after all!
Emily Vest writes the Brits In Bosnia blog detailing life as an expat in Bosnia with 2 small children. For the past 9 months her two boys (now aged 2 and 4) have attended a Bosnian nursery where they are the only non-Bosnian speaking children.
Photo Credit: Newton Free Library