An article about speaking your second language to your children

For all of you out there who are learning Welsh to pass it onto a younger generation, there is an interesting article on “the Slate”:

If you don’t have the time to read it, vbasically it says that if you speak bad Language X (your second language) to your child, they will still become bilingual, and won;t naturally inherit your poor grammar etc, but develop a near native fluency. I guess that, as anyone who speak real English to teenagers knows - they don’t learn their grammar / vocab from their parents anyway, but bringing them up woth two languages makes them bilingual.

SSiWers, of course, have the major advantage that even early learners who speak less than perfect Welsh now are constantly improving. I know my “posh” Welsh has improved from bringing up kids, and I suspect my street Welsh has as well!


Thanks for posting this Iestyn. I often get very paranoid that I’m not doing the best thing for my daughter. I have only ever spoken Welsh to her, which often means me reaching for a dictionary during conversations. Unfortunately she doesn’t hear Welsh off anyone else on a daily basis and very rarely replies to me in Welsh although I know that she does understand what I’m saying most of the time. We also watch kids tv on S4C very often. It gets very frustrating sometimes.

We had an interesting little experiment the other day … I was talking to my daughter and asking her to do certain things and then my wife would ask her “what did dad just say?” and she always said “I don’t know.” when she obviously did. Maybe there’s something strange happening when two languages are working together in a child’s mind, I don’t know.


There is also the basic cognitive benefit that any child gets just from realising that there ARE other languages and that those languages have different names for things. It has been shown in linguistic research that bilingual children realise that the sounds assigned to a particular object are arbitrary at a younger age than those children brought up monolingually and there is some evidence to show this can lead to a benefit when learning to read. It’s a smaller step for them to realise that as well as different sounds for the same object, this squiggle on the paper can also refer to that object. So no matter how small your command of a different language, giving your children some exposure to it will provide a benefit.


That reminds me of one our neighbours’ kids. They grew up in an Australian/Greek Cypriot household, with their live-in yaya (grandmother) only speaking Greek with them. When I asked them a while ago if they spoke Greek as a result, they answered that they can understand it, but not actively speak it. The interesting and lovely bit was that they never realised that yaya spoke a different language when they were young, it was just the way yaya spoke.

The flip side of that was when my son was young he had a friend at playgroup with a speech defect making him very hard to understand. My son had been exposed to people speaking other languages since he was quite young and one day asked me what language I thought his friend spoke. He just assumed the speech defect was another language that he hadn’t heard before!

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Have you seen “Nell” starring Jodie Foster? Worth a watch and fits in with what you mentioned here.

No, I haven’t seen ‘Nell’. I’ll have to add it to my list of things to do when I retire :smile:

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You could add “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser” as well…a bit dark, though.

Speaking in tongues

Good article here about multilingualism from the excellent Aeon site:

Slightly provocative, “the growing banality of global English might lead to other languages eventually emerging from its shadows”
Welsh gets a mention, as do many other oppressed languages


Well this isn’t going to beat the record for oldest bump on a thread, as @aran pointed out a six year old one last week, but I guess the topic was stated a while ago!

Thanks for this, I am about to start the bilingual journey with our first daughter who is three weeks old. I’ve learned some Welsh nursery rhymes to sing to her, signing up for some baby massage courses through welsh, and am speaking To her as much as I can. I was worried that she would pick up my lack of ability to make up complex sentences and use the future tense comfortably, so it is reassuring to see that it works! Diolch yn fawr iawn for posting this @Iestyn.

To continue this thread, are there any places/ways to learn “kiddie speak”? I mean like how you speak to kids, things like: “oh look over there at mr moon” or stuff like “can you see the doggie”. I know the words for moon and dog but no idea if they are modified in welsh like they are in English (ci ci?). I’m sure that’s a Whole concept within language study that has a name in itself but I haven’t found it yet!!


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@Bleddyn, I have no background as a linguist, neurologist, etc., but everything I’ve read and experienced in life suggests that young kids have absolutely no problem whatever learning more than one mother tongue. One article (can’t remember what) likens it to kids learning different skills as they develop - such as walking, using cutlery, dressing themselves, social skills: the basic skills acquired as we grow up but take totally for granted once we’ve learned them. The article suggested that just as learning to walk doesn’t impair a kid’s ability to hold a fork, learning one mother tongue does not impair our ability to learn another one simultaneously. On the contrary, it seems that multilinguism gives the brain an extra dimension - again, I’m not pretending to understand the neurology behind this myself.
Here in Israel, loads of immigrants teach their kids both Hebrew and their mother tongue, and all those kids grow up multilingual quite happily. For the record, our downstairs neighbours’ kids learned French from their mother, English from their Dad, and Hebrew from their surroundings, and are quite comfortably trilingual.
Congratulations on the birth of your daughter - and speak to her in Welsh. Chances are that she’ll not only avoid picking up your limitations in the language (and so what even if she did?!), but that by the age of 5 or so she’ll be a great live-in free Welsh teacher for you. Really!

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Cyw, from S4C - really fantastic programming for up to about 6 or 7 years old, and also gives you loads of exposure to parental patterns of speech… :slight_smile:

And HUGE congratulations! And good luck with the roller-coaster ride ahead… :slight_smile: :star: :star2:

Thanks for your replies @Baruch and @aran! I will keep on going and check out Cyw :slight_smile: