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I'm thinking of teaching my nephew English (the parents are obviously fine with this). I've got native like fluency in English because I grew up in an English speaking country, but all my other family members were too old to pick it up completely (in terms of the native accent, grammar, and other stuff). I'd be the only one speaking English to him, and he's 2 and a half.

I'm not sure if this would work, since you only ever hear about parents teaching their own children a 2nd language. I live near my nephew, and I have tons of cartoons and TV shows for kids that I can watch with him, but I wouldn't know where to start.

When I speak English to him, he laughs, so he obviously can tell the difference between his native language (a Germanic one) and English. Would I just start speaking to him in English out of the blue? I think this would confuse him since I've always spoken to him in his native language, and we spend a lot of time together. I'm one of the only people who can calm him down immediately and make him stop crying after his mom leaves (when we're babysitting him), when he hurts himself, or just when he's upset in general, by talking to him slowly and explaining everything to him, but I wouldn't be able to do that anymore because when you're teaching a 2nd language, you have to be consistent.

Still, I don't see why he should have to study this language when I could teach him it right now. There are very, very few people where I live who have native like fluency, most of them only have 2nd language like fluency. His brain is designed to be learning languages right now, and by the time he learns it in school (5th grade), he'll use a different part of his brain to learn it and it will be much harder. It'll be a subject he won't ever have to worry about, if I do this right.

However, I'm confused as to how I'm supposed to go about doing this. I'm only 17, so I don't know a lot about languages, but I'm willing to spend a lot of time with my nephew to get this right. It won't be a chore or anything, I enjoy and miss speaking English (but that's not why I'm doing it, it'd be very beneficial for him). But I read somewhere that the child has to be exposed to the language 25% of his waking time, and I sometimes go days without seeing him. I'm worried about losing my relationship with him if I do this, too. He's speaking already, but he hasn't started using complete sentences yet, and he's 2 and a half, so I don't know when he'd start understanding me or being able to talk to me.

Any tips would be appreciated.

asked 22 Jun '10, 11:55

Alicia's gravatar image

Alicia
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Thanks for following my advice, this is an excellent question!

(24 Jun '10, 05:27) Benjol

This is a great question. I can only respond from my own experience. Many members of my family are bilingual (French and English) but I'd say that most members of mine and my parents' generation's primarly langauge is English. Some people have chosen to teach their children French as you are proposing teaching English to your nephew and some have not and are waiting for them to learn French in school (at various levels).

My parents spoke primarily English with me early on but I was surrounded by people speaking French and English from an early age. I learned French by being thrown into French school (beginning age 4) and never had a problem picking up the language. Nobody really taught me directly I was just immersed in it and learned to communicate the same way I learned to communicate in English.

From that experience and watching some of my cousins learning French even younger I think the best bet is to just speak English with your nephew as often as you can and teach him English the same way he has been taught his native language. If he looks like he doesn't understand you can translate in his native language and switch back and forth.

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answered 22 Jun '10, 12:46

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Tammy ♦♦
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accept rate: 18%

I really like this question, thanks for posting it.

Switching languages on someone is very hard, at any age. I did it once with a friend to help him with his English. The advantage was that it was associated with a change of context (he had just moved to the UK, and we were sharing accommodation for a year). After that, we switched back, but he now works for a US company, so I like to think I helped a bit!

With your nephew, it will be different because he won't necessarily understand WHY you're changing languages (though you could try to explain), but he will pick up things much more easily. I've seen my kids on holiday in Italy for just a few days picking up words and phrases.

I'd say give it a go - check with his parents first - but don't give up at the first difficulty. Prepare yourself psychologically to try for at least a month - I'd say.

I'm not sure whether it's better to 'dive in the deep end' and start exclusively talking English to him (a bit tough for both of you to start with), or start with just a particular domain (TV shows, as you suggest) - at the risk of ending up mixing the languages horribly. I think practical things are the best thing to start with - that's how you start with first languages: eyes, nose, hands, cow, moo, cat, miaow, etc.

Also bear in mind that young children can lose languages as fast as they learn them. If it does work, be sure that you don't think "oh, it worked, I can stop now".

Lastly, it clearly is more difficult if you are the only person who speaks to him in English, but I still think it's worth it.

Good luck! Let us know how it goes.

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answered 24 Jun '10, 06:29

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Benjol
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Asked: 22 Jun '10, 11:55

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Last updated: 24 Jun '10, 06:29