Is this "normal"?

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by Malika, Oct 31, 2011.

  1. Malika

    Malika Well-Known Member

    The perennial question... This is about speech development. A brief background. J was born in Morocco and lived there until he was 3 (although we had almost 6 months in the UK in that period). The first sounds he heard were obviously Moroccan Arabic and he was always surrounded by this; when we left Morocco, he was speaking a little Arabic, a few phrases and words. His "main" language was English, though, partly through being with me (first word "cat", at 10 months) but more significantly because from 18 months to 2 we lived in England where he went to daycare and that was where he really started to learn and speak English. Then, at age 3 we came to France (he had previously attended a French language nursery in Marrakesh for 6 months) so he wasn't totally unfamiliar with French, but basically learnt it at school. His French is now, I would say, around the level of normal for his age although his teacher complains that his vocabulary is "poor" and that he has difficulty remembering the words they learn in class - though the fact that he only speaks English at home is likely a factor in this. So he now speaks French, English and limited Arabic, which he re-acquired after spending this summer in Morocco. Even though he only knows a few words and phrases, his pronunciation of Arabic (very difficult!) is absolutely that of a native speaker...
    That all seems quite a jumble of linguistic influences to me, just writing it down... ! What concerns me a little now is his English and I wonder whether it is a sign of some speech delay or other problem. Or, simply, that his only English source (we occasionally meet English friends) is me and so he doesn't progress as he would if he were surrounded by the language. Basically, his English is a bit "odd" - he doesn't have an accent, I don't think (that is, his accent sounds like mine :)), but the intonation is rather odd, a bit like a foreign speaker's. He has particular ways of saying things that are not "correct" and even though I systematically correct him now, he doesn't see to remember or acquire the correct forms. For example... he says "let fall" for "drop", "of me" for "mine", "you have to don't" for "you mustn't" and so on. If one were to anaylse them, few of his sentences (although he speaks quickly and fluently) would be totally correct. A small example from this morning - "Look the birds what they do", meaning "Look at what the birds did" (we had left crumbs out for the birds and they ate some). He doesn't use the irregular past forms but says "I seed" (I saw), "I did go", etc. Very occasionally he will remember the correct form but mostly these are just stuck.
    His French, on the other hand, while probably more limited in vocabulary than other kids his age, is perfectly correct.
    I just wonder whether this "stuckness", his language not evolving in English, is a sign, as I say, of something else... Obviously his situation is rather unusual in having been exposed to three languages in a rather complicated way so it is perhaps also difficult to judge. I cannot ask a speech therapist about it because they can only judge his French (he did have a speech therapist evaluation earlier in the year and she found that his speech was basically normal although he had problems with naming colours and some confusion with behind/in front of kind of vocabulary).
    So... any insights would be interesting.
  2. slsh

    slsh member since 1999

    Malika - just my English-speaking opinion (with leftover French from school a gazillion years ago), it sounds to me like he has adopted French as his primary language and the structure of his English sentences might be more related to it being his "second" language rather than an indication of any underlying speech or processing issue, especially since he's got proper French structure down. I'd be curious to know what language he thinks in... I know my French dramatically improved in college when I was taking a course that had me so immersed I'd leave the classroom actually thinking in French rather than English.

    "you have to don't" - this seems to me to be what I'd consider kind of normal translation since in French the negatives surround the verb (i.e. Je ne sais pas versus I don't know). Of course - you should hear me butcher French, LOL. ;)
  3. keista

    keista New Member

    I've had several friends raise their kids bilingually. ALL were referred for speech and language therapy (I was also referred as a kid but never placed). ALL therapists told the parents to drop the "second" language (in their home, that was the primary language) ALL parents refused to drop the language. ALL kids are doing just fine right now. One exception was a friend whose kids were not learning/progressing in either language. Their English is now normal, exceptional even. Unfortunately it's their only language, BUT these are kids that had pretty much NO language at age 3, and had intensive speech therapy, so it's possible they never would have mastered both languages anyway.

    I, as well as most of my friends, were raised bilingual. "We" learned English from Sesame Street (kid's TV show) We were all slightly behind in vocabulary but caught up quickly.

    Here's an interesting tidbit though, which may or may not be related to language. Our collective childhood memories are very limited. We each have a handful of pre school memories, but working memory seems to begin once we entered school - the time when we acquired our current thinking language. Of course there are exceptions, and I haven't "polled" all that many 100% English speakers of their early childhood memories, but those I have asked about this have more and more vivid memories.

    Anyway, the grammatical issues you pointed out, do seem quite normal for a 4 y/o and especially for a trilingual one at that. Let school focus on French and you focus on English at home. If there are no TV shows in English, find videos on the computer to help enrich is English language - assuming you want him fluent in English.
  4. buddy

    buddy New Member

    He does sound like an esl (english as a second language) learner. Examples of kids using words like seed for saw actually show that they are learning the past tense rule and are doing a developmentally normal thing of over generalizing the rule. Prior to that in a language analysis they would only get credit for one unit of meaning for the word saw...because in early lang development words are just from memory. Once they show they know the rule they get credit for two units (word & past tense). Haven't done an evaluation and lang sampleso of course not saying for sure... Just saying from what you said out sounds like he is actually learning grammar rules and applying them across the errors will happen. But actually could be encouraging. ta!
  5. Malika

    Malika Well-Known Member

    Yes, thanks all... I guess that must be it, that English is now his "second language" (chauvinistically, I am reluctant to admit this :)) Actually, having said that his structures in French were perfectly correct, I have since remembered that someone told me he systematically uses masculine gender for nouns (French has masculine and feminine, of course) so in fact he is disadvantaged in French by speaking English and having come to it late also... I have also been told categorically that I should drop English with him and speak only French with him... this I won't do because it would be too tough a habit to break for us both, because I do very much want him to speak English and because it's just natural to use your mother tongue when speaking to your child.
    What I am slightly concerned about is that he does not seem to add to or develop his English, although I do regularly read to him in English and he occasionally watches videos in English (though I have read that passive input does not lead to active language acquisition; I think there is some controversy about that). Despite having me correct him all the time now with "saw", "went", etc, he simply does not assimilate them. This was the point of questioning, really.
    Yes, forgot you were a specialist, buddy :) Do you see bilingual children as being in some ways disadvantaged by the two languages?
    What was your other language, Keista? Do you now still practise the other language?
  6. keista

    keista New Member

    My other language is Lithuanian. Since marrying an "American" and moving away from friends and family I don't often get to speak it. I most often speak it with my Dad's wife because she's 'recently' from the old country and her English is very poor. I've forgotten more than I remember, but I still speak without an accent. Also, the language has become more casual and I learned the old 'formal' language. However, I sometimes still think in Lithuanian, especially in public. The reason being that when we were growing up, Lithuanian was a "chore", but we made good use of it when out shopping, so no one would understand what we were saying. In HS, I took German and unlike my peers who desperately tried doing a direct translation from English, I instead thought in Lithuanian and then translated to German. Much simpler since most European languages (except English) have similar grammar.

    I was also very immersed in the language. School on Saturdays. Scouts, camps, song, dance and sports festivals all in Lithuanian, with other Lithuanian-Americans. It was/is a complete subculture.

    As slsh mentioned, it sounds like J has now adopted French as his primary language. My friends and I all did this with English, but it did not diminish our capacity to learn and grow in the Lithuanian language. For you and J, keeping up English may be a bit more difficult if you have fewer immersion resources, but I wouldn't give up. Being multilingual is a HUGE benefit in our global society, even if his English becomes "broken" I'm sure in upper grades, he will have opportunities to polish those language skills.

    I would NOT drop English as was suggested. Again, I have only one friend who did this but for her it was a logical choice because her children weren't learning ANY language. It wasn't even a mix of the two languages.
  7. KTMom91

    KTMom91 Well-Known Member

    My cousin's husband told Miss KT he speaks twelve languages and can read fifteen. I have no idea what his primary language is (his family is from India, but I believe he was born here in CA), but that just fascinates me. I agree with the ones who said J has adopted French as his primary language, and what buddy said about over-applying the rules. I taught ESL to adults for a while, and have that addendum to my credential; though I'm no expert.
  8. Malika

    Malika Well-Known Member

    Yes, in some cultures, of course, it is standard to speak many languages. In Morocco, for example, it is a matter of course for some people to speak three - Berber, Arabic and French - and most people speak Arabic and some level of French.
    Part of my whole "game plan" is based on J learning languages and I so agree with you, keista, that this is a vital advantage in our world. I'm not really worried if J's English is not totally fluent though it would be nice if that happened. One of the choices I am facing is whether to move to a part of France next year (taking him away from all his routine here, very difficult...) where he would attend a bilingual school (though actually the main reason for the move would not be that but because it would be close to a buddhist community with which I would like to become involved). Educationally, that would perhaps make sense for him.
    It is interesting to me, though, that although he does not speak it other than a few phrases, the language with which he is clearly most intimate in a sense is Arabic... his genetic language, as it were. You can see that he is just bursting to speak it properly, really, and reproduces the quite hard guttural sounds perfectly - with real verve, even! And so I would like him to speak and write Arabic too, because that is really his linguistic "home".
    I guess all will get sorted out in the wash...
  9. buddy

    buddy New Member

    Nope. and research supports that. We are not allowed to even see ELL/ESL kids in speech/lang therapy unless there is a documented delay in first language (of course if they are multi-lingual having equal input then you have to look for other clues). Clearly kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Down's etc. we would be able to see for their delayes regardless. It can be tricky for more subtle delays.
    What you do see is exactly what has been discussed here. There is more to learn...THEY dont know they are all a bunch of different languages with rules etc. they just communicate in whatever setting, using whatever langauge works best. So there is overlap and mix ups until they grow older. At age four MOST kids have tons of grammar errors. vocabulary can be an issue but they do what your son does, they dont not communicate, they invent ways to get the point across. In toddler/early childhood years the most important thing is overall communication (of course there is vocab. and structure but they are not expected to be great at tenses, noun-verb matching etc.---always have kids who are excellent and others who are just on the opposite end of the normal curve).

    Some of my friends use certain languages in certain settings. My Egyptian friends use Arabic at home but in school or at the pool it is usually English. (haha unless mad or kids really wanting something from mommy...and Arabic can sound angry a lot, they have taught me words and laugh because I dont use the right intonation...our state is known for what they call MN "nice" and we dont raise our tone as much as say East coast people. A disadvantage for my son is that we are too polite and round about...he does well with the NYC direct approach!) I am sure you all have heard especially second generation kids using english + another language in the same sentence. It is so funny sometimes when my friends catch themselves doing that. One family feels concerned because daugther one (age 12) is fluent in both languages and good in French too (from back in Egypt she was in a French immersion school) but daughter two is in grade 2 and her Arabic vocabulary is more like K. He is a doctor and she a stay at home mom, they are not worried but they do want her to continue Arabic since her whole family speaks it and they go to Egypt often (not now....they are a little worried, her sister's friend had a kid kidnapped).

    But I really got off topic...had a difficult child moment, sorry. I worked at a school for the deaf based on English as a second langauge model. (With ASL as first langauge-we had to be fluent and could not use English in halls or public places. all staff meetings were in ASL (lots of Deaf staff so the opposite was not a choice anyway)) studies show that if a child is really solid in a first langauge, they learn more easily because the acquisition of concepts and social skills happens more easily. It then makes learning the other langauges much easier. They are both taught at the same time, just one is used as a primary communication source. Does that make sense? In any event, with the exception of true language disabiity issues, kids tend to develop good language skills in all of the languages eventually (well as good as the source that is teaching them, smile) I am not a linguist but have had experience and extra study in this area, so just sharing what I have been taught and experienced. As always, not the answer for everyone. by the way, both my egyptian friends who live there and the ones that live here say when they go visit eachother, their kids usually have a period of adjustment and growth in the cultural language that they are thrown into again. They have forgetten things then quickly catch up. by the end of summer the kids from Egypt were saying gonna, haveta etc. (going to, have to in MN and other states here) as well as idioms and current Hey Dude! so cute.
  10. keista

    keista New Member

    We do that! husband HATED family dinners because we would just flip back and forth without even thinking. Since he and the kids were present we'd try to stay mostly English, but it was really hard, even for us "younger generation" who prefer English.
  11. buddy

    buddy New Member

    I can picture that totally! It is funny, esp. for those of us who dont really understand all of the words but can pick up some and I started to get used to which words and what they mean...because sometimes it was words like..... beginning of a sentence...we might say "Hey, you know what"...then the sentence They would use non english for that part then English for the "meaningful" part of the sentence (for lack of a better word for that attention getting part vs. content). but it is most funny when they are excited and all of a sudden mid sentence words start flipping back and forth. Much easier with sign language....if truly using ASL you can't use English at the same time. Either no voice/ASL or voice/English
  12. Ktllc

    Ktllc New Member

    Very interesting post! I was told to stop speaking French to my oldest son when he started speech therapy. I said I could not stop, that was like asking me not to be myself anymore! Now that I have 3 kids and 2 are verbal, I sometimes find it hard to speack French to them as they mainly use English.
    But when my folks visit, oh boy! The French takes over the whole family and husband feels lost! lol
    As long as there is no delay in French (his main language), I would not worry too much.
    But it is very challenging to be the only source and teach our kids the other language.
    If I were you, I would go ahead and enroll him in the billingual school. I so wish that were a possibility for my kids...
    Multiple languages are an asset and even if he is not as fluent as you wished. Hewill catch up the day he needs to (complete immertion, studies, etc)
  13. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Malika, we went into this a lot because of difficult child 3, and also because of a young boy, a neighbour, who had problems.

    With difficult child 3, he had language delay although the speech pathologist happened to observe some old video we had (thanks to the TV interview a year ago, they took our videos and turned them into DVD for us) and she said he had language, I just wasn't recognising it. But it was slow to develop further, and some concepts (such as how or why) he just did not understand at age 5. he could manage who, and what, barely manage how, but not the rest. We were told to not let him learn a second language. However, ti is compulsory here in Grade 7 but at that point I managed to get his work modified to include only one extra language and not three.

    I remember reading that the part of the brain we use for our primary language, is a different part of the brain we use for subsequent languages. Everything from there gets referenced back. With difficult child 3, it was as if his first language was the written word. Once he learned to read a word he was able to use it and understand it.

    Malika, your son's English sounds like French word order. "Let fall" sounds like literal translation of "laisse tombe". And other things you listed. But the masculine/feminine is a concern because he should be picking that up really fast, if French functionally is his first language. Especially if he uses it at school every day.

    Yes, multiple languages can slow apparent language development, but only apparently. And the delay is usually younger, not at age 6. It is possible that learning that bit of Arabic recently may have slowed things down or even caused a regression briefly. But I do see the concern.

    The kid over the road who had problems - he was being raised to be bilingual, like his older sister. The parents were bilingual (Spanish-English). We don't have many Spanish speakers in Australia so the only Spanish they had was in the home.
    When the boy was not quite three years old, he had a bad accident which left him brain-damaged. The doctors at first thought he was in a permanent vegetative state because he didn't respond to them. But his dad insisted that the boy would respond when he came into the room. The doctor would hold up a finger and say, "Follow my finger," and the boy would not respond. Then the dad would do it in Spanish and the boy would respond. What had them confused - the boy had been fluent in English before, but the accident had lost the English.

    He was not expected to survive at first, but he eventually came home. I remember his parents throwing a party, it was 10 pm and the boy was tired and whiny. No language output any more, none at all. Just noises. He was sat in a high chair and I sat with him while his mother went to set up his bed for him. He continued to whine so I took his hand and counted his fingers. He continued to whine so I switched to Spanish (numbers are pretty much the only Spanish I know, other than the words to "La Bamba"). Suddenly he stopped whining and focussed on his hand and my fingers. He had recognised the Spanish, not just the language but the words (even with my atrocious pronunciation).

    Over the next year he learned to understand instructions in English. They moved away when he was about 5 years old, we stayed in touch for a few years but have lost contact. the last we heard he was about 10 years old, still non-verbal but using a computer to communicate. He was back to being bilingual, however, in the language he was using on the computer.

    His sister never had any problems with language delay in either Spanish or English.

    Malika, I agree with the others, it does sound like his main language is French. Let him use all his languages, but perhaps give him some remedial support. For example, with his French nouns, label things around the house. Label in French and English but also give the gender. Add Arabic if you want. For example, "la porte" plus "the door"; "la table" plus "the table". This is what I did with difficult child 3 to deal with his real language delay which was coupled with his preference for the written word. We used the written word obsession to help him learn meaning and pronunciation.
    I also did this with the other kids when they were learning to read - I labeled everything around the house. I also wrote stories for the kids and we read them together. Kids love stories about themselves and especially when they were little, I would get old photo albums (the sort with those sticky overlay pages) and put photos plus story into the albums. That way they could turn the pages easily without ruining them. The sort of story you write - "My name is... I live at... My favourite food is... I am special because I can speak three languages. Here is how I would say this in my other languages..." Include photos of him doing his favourite things, perhaps a photo of your house. And if you move, change it to a photo of your new house. Maybe write a story about the trip to Morocco and the fun he had with his cousins. Set this up like a Rosetta Stone for him, with all three languages side by side. This will teach him sentence flow in all three languages.

    How this will then work for him, will tell you if the problem is simply too much trying to happen in his brain, or if there is something else. I know you've been told he does not meet criteria for autism in any way, but I am still not convinced. However, if I am wrong, then this strategy I suggest should remedy the problem. And if I am right, then it will still be a good benefit.

  14. Malika

    Malika Well-Known Member

    Thanks for your thoughts, Marg. by the way, Jacob is 4, not 6! Yes, I could help him with his French, I guess - hadn't thought of this, actually.... Labelling things won't help as he doesn't read at all yet (they approach reading very slowly in France) but I could certainly devise some game where we have to think of an adjective for feminine nouns to work on gender and noun/adjective agreement. He may not actually do the masculine noun thing any more - trouble is, I don't really hear him speaking French that often, but I will listen carefully next time I hear him.
    Ktllc, I wish it were as simple as just enrolling J in the bilingual school... If he were an ordinary child, I would up sticks and move to the part of France where I want to be without a thought. But, you know, transitions are so difficult. For any child, being uprooted from the familiar, from friends, is difficult but so much more so in our cases... He loves his little world of the village school where he is definitely integrated now - if he were to leave, it would leave a definite hole. Maybe a more peaceful hole, but his absence would definitely be felt :) So it is a big decision and I'd have to be really sure the positives outweighed the negatives.
  15. Malika

    Malika Well-Known Member

    When J got up I asked him how he says a few objects in French - some feminine nouns he got right, but some others he makes masculine... So we talked about putting it with an adjective "white" and then "big" and how that changes according to whether it is a "girl" or a "boy". He very quickly grasped the concept and when I asked him later, he remembered correctly. So maybe it is simply that it has never been explained? Actually, I remember that the speech therapist here also commented on it but remarked that it was normal because the first language he learnt was English, so he has no inbuilt sense of things being masculine or feminine... I guess the way in which he has learnt the two/three languages just is rather unusual.
    Just from interest, I jotted down his chatter over breakfast (it is not quite Boswell recording Samuel Johnson, so it probably won't go down for posterity). Here are the profound thoughts of Jacob, aged four:

    I want to have two eggs
    Me I like eggs
    I did drink (after drinking his milk)
    What you doing? (seeing me writing down)
    At V school (what we call the activity centre), I eat (ate) one of these
    Chocolate takes the force (=strength in French) we've got off = chocolate takes our strength away
    After, I'm going back to bed
    Do you know why I want only one? Because I want to eat two in the night = in the evening (I have said he can have three of his huge Halloween sweet cache a day)
    Can I have something to drink please?
    (Putting his shoes on) I'm a big boy - I put shoes on all by myself. Big boys they put shoes on all by theyselves. (When he saw me smiling) Is true, Mummy!

    So there you are, that's the way he speaks English. Not terrible but slightly "off" and limited in vocabulary.
  16. DammitJanet

    DammitJanet Well-Known Member Staff Member

    That actually sounds pretty good for a four year old to me. Not all four year olds are speaking very fluently here. Many of them refer to themselves as Me want to go to store. Or the shoe thing thing was pretty good. What you doing is fairly normally too. Lots leave out the are.
  17. Malika

    Malika Well-Known Member

    Really, Janet? I would have thought that was more the speech of a 3 year old, but I take your word for it. The French 4/5 year olds I encounter are speaking perfectly grammatically - whether this is something to do with the differences between French and English (French is much more logical and structured so maybe easier for a child to acquire the rules unconsciously??), I don't know.
    But I'm not really fussing about his language level. What concerns me more is that his mistakes are very stuck - no matter how many times I say back what he has said using the correct form, he simply does not (almost all of the time) acquire it. I don't think he has a speech delay in any way - like most hyperactive kids, he loves to chatter and will accompany me everywhere in the house with a running commentary :)
  18. keista

    keista New Member

    Is he aware you're correcting him? I was doing this with my kids and it occurred to me that they didn't know I was correcting them (they probably thought I was a parrot in a past life) So I specifically told them that when I did that that I was correcting them, and I expected them to repeat back what I just said. WORKED! they would often forget, so I'd have to remind them in "the moment". Still having some issues with DD2 in that she wants to "sound fancy" but uses words completely wrong, (she's 8 so it's more sophisticated like hypochondriac and such).
  19. Ktllc

    Ktllc New Member

    Actually to me, it looks like he uses the French grammar with English words. More or less of course.
    My kids do the same thing but just the opposite: use English structures with French words. Their primary language beeing English.
    He "sounds" real cute. I bet you he would correct himself in a matter of a few weeks if you guys were to go to England for a little while.
    I had read somewhere that kids speaking several languages usually have less vocabulary in a single language than their peers. But if you were to combine the vocabulary of ALL the languages they know, it would be FAR MORE than their peers.
    Kind of makes sense to me.
  20. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    Ditto the French grammar.
    He will be fine. He sounds very bright.
    I would view this as an entertaining developmental issue, not a true issue at all.