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We live in Israel. My two and a half year old grandson and I have had quite a close and warm relationship until fairly recently, when he began to feel that I was using a different language (English) to that used by all the others around him (Hebrew). He has begun to appreciate that Grandad uses different words for things, and gets status in the kindergarten because he teaches his friends to count in English - but with that he also began to distance himself from me. I can speak in Hebrew to him, but want him to acquire at least a background sense of English.
My questions are whether being the sole English speaker in his environment is enough for him to get that feel for the language, and whether it is worth putting the relationship with him at risk over this. Does anybody have some experience that can shed light on my dilemmas?
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The distancing could be due to many things, not necessarily the language you use. Have you asked his parents about it?
Do any other family members speak English reasonably well? If so, ask them to speak to your grandson in English, so that the language seems more relevant to him. Ideally, you or the child's parents would find English speaking children for him to play with (kids are very strongly influenced by the kids around them). Perhaps you can advertise on websites for American families visiting or migrating to Israel; invite them to join you.
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Greetings, Reuben Moses. Your question is so very thoughtful, and I unfortunately do not have any direct experience to share. My brothers and I were raised bilingually, and I am now raising my daughter bilingually, so I can at least draw on the experiences in my life. This is wonderful news that you have chosen to share English with your grandchild, and for the sake of him having this unique (in his case) experience, I encourage you to continue. You are but one of a community aiding in his growth and eventual maturation, and languages are important. It may very well be a phase that he is experiencing, this withdrawal from you, and perhaps he will come to see your speaking English to him as something special that only the two of you share. This is my hope for you. Perhaps you could enlist his parents to positively encourage the interactions between the two of you in English. They could certainly let him know how special it is to have a grandfather with whom to speak English to. They could demonstrate their acceptance and encouragement by asking you to translate or say things in English occasionally. I do not also know how frequent your interactions are, but I presume you are close, and I think just hearing different sounds, and words and tones and the different ways these interact together will leave an imprint in him.
I do understand your concern. In the younger generation my daughter's age, we have some of the children who for various reasons have not picked up the language (we are first generation in America, our parents and grandparents refugees from Latvia). But some of these children in our ethnic and social group who have not been successful in acquiring the language are repelled when hearing these sounds they don't understand. I call it a closing of the ears. I feel, not being a grandfather, that the ears will not open (nor the heart) if the child is allowed to shut off this world, like turning off the television. Children want and children don't want, these are there concerns. As adults, we can help to perhaps open their ears and hearts, and I certainly don't mean forcibly, but we can provide them with positive interactions, ones that will open the world for them and not close it.