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Mother tongue: how to teach a child the Russian language in the USA

Children-and-languages02 (1)

Illustration by Alexander Shatov for ForumDaily

Whether to teach the Russian language a child born in the USA or not is a dilemma worse than the Hamlet question for many Russian-speaking families. And even if parents want to pass on their language to the next generation, they face new challenges: how to teach, how to motivate a child, and is it worth speaking English at home?

ForumDaily talked with parents, collected advice from philologists working with bilingual children, and found answers to many language questions.

Two languages ​​instead of one

Maria Williford has been living in the United States for the past five years. Married to an American. Her daughter was already born here. The girl will soon be three years old, she speaks only Russian. The child enjoys watching cartoons in Russian and listens to books that his mother reads to her. Maria speaks with her daughter in Russian, dad - mostly in English. “When dad tries to name objects in English, she corrects him:“ This is not a cow, this is a cow! ”. Dad is worried that she is lagging behind in English, but I think she will catch up with him to school, ”says Maria.

“If papa and mama are of different nationalities and each has their own native language, then they should speak with their child in their own, this is the most correct thing in the development of the child,” comments with the BBC said Alisa Baumgartner, director of the Vienna bilingual kindergarten network Multika. - Children perceive a person, a person who speaks to them. Even though five people will speak different languages ​​with him, it is not hard for a child, but he must separate these people, then his brain perceives, and he can learn in parallel German, Russian and English and some other at the native level. "

Bilingual kindergartens are now opening in many countries - and this is subject to the realities of the time. Many families are initially bilingual: each of the parents is a native speaker of their own language. The specialists working in these kindergartens consider it very important to be guided by the principle of "one parent - one language" in the family and "one teacher - one language" in the child care institution. In this case, children easily “separate” native speakers, perfectly understand and speak even several languages.

The principle “one parent - one language”, proposed at one time by the famous French linguist Maurice Grammont, also works well in the form “one language - one situation”.

In conditions when all family members speak the same (native) language, but due to circumstances they moved to another country, the recommendations are as follows: speak their native language only at home, and the local language outside the house.

Three children of the former Muscovites Anna and Igor Wernik were born in America. The eldest son is nine years old, the youngest daughters are five and a half. All went to the Russian kindergarten. The family lives in California, but at home, parents always speak Russian. All three children write well and read fluently.

Anna and Igor Wernik with their children. Photos from the personal archive of Anna Wernick

Anna and Igor Wernik with their children. Photos from the personal archive of Anna Wernick

The son enthusiastically listens to audiobooks in Russian, understands the classics - Pushkin, Chekhov, Kuprin, which is quite difficult for people learning Russian as a foreign language. He began to learn English only when he went to school, his daughters for English had not yet been taken - Anna hopes that they, like their older brother, will make up for everything in school. “Learning a language is good for development. In addition, I understand that I can not learn English to such a level as to convey all my feelings and emotions to children. I would not want to lose my linguistic connection with them, so I strive to ensure that they know Russian, ”admits Anna.

Experts say that children from birth to seven years lasts a sensitive period of development of speech, when a child can learn any amount of speech information, both in native and in several foreign languages. And the more information he receives, the more intellectually developed he will be in the future.

Marina Manevich, mother of two daughters (9 years and 11 months) is a Japanese philologist by education. He speaks Russian, English, Japanese and Dutch. The eldest daughter was born in Moscow, and when she was seven years old, the family moved to Amsterdam. There, a girl studied at a local school for about a year and studied Dutch. Last year in America, Marina gave birth to her youngest daughter. Now the family lives in Miami.

Marina Manevich with her two children. Photos from the personal archive of Marina Manevich

Marina Manevich with her two children. Photos from the personal archive of Marina Manevich

At the end of the school year, the eldest girl received the status of "best student of the class", the child has no problems with English. Marina says: at home she communicates with children only in Russian, but the eldest daughter often answers her in English.

“It is easier for children to speak English, because the local language almost completely fills the life of schoolchildren. And it's easier to write too. But I make my daughter write dictations at home in capital letters in Russian. At school, everyone is surprised at how well she knows how to do this, because they are not taught to write in capital letters. She knows Dutch better than me, honestly. Sometimes we remember him too, talk to her. I also try to give her basic knowledge of Japanese. Now she has such a period in her development that her memory and capabilities will easily be enough for several languages, ”Marina is convinced.

Through “I can't”

Sometimes it happens like this: a child grows up, spends more time outside the home, where he doesn’t need the Russian language, - accordingly, he rarely uses it and gradually forgets.

Olga Novikova brought her daughter to the United States when she was five years old. The girl was already fluent in Russian and even read a little. After I plunged into the English-speaking environment, I began to forget my mother tongue.

“At first, my husband and I, to support her, spoke to her in English, and after a year it became difficult for her to express her thoughts in her native language. Therefore, we returned home exclusively Russian speech and began to motivate our daughter to speak Russian with us in every possible way, ”says Olga.

Olga Novikova with her daughter. Photos from the personal archive of Olga Novikova

Olga Novikova with her daughter. Photos from the personal archive of Olga Novikova

As a result, she, a certified primary school teacher, who is familiar with the methodology of teaching Russian as a foreign language, is now engaged with her daughter and several of her Russian-speaking friends. “Bilingualism is always an advantage. It is easier for people who are fluent in several languages ​​at the media level to learn other foreign languages, and learning in general, ”says Olga Novikova.

Experts in the field of bilingualism advise not to communicate with children in the wrong English, because the child will “absorb” all your language mistakes like a sponge. It is better to speak pure Russian, and in no case mix languages.

“If parents want to keep the Russian language, then initially they should speak with the child in pure Russian and not allow themselves such statements as:“ I’ll go shopping for the weekend ”or“ We booked a holiday ”, - says in interview BBC is the head of Grammar Plus London-based Russian-speaking educational center Elena Pershina.

Irina Serbina from California, the eldest son from four years old lives in America, and the youngest daughter was born here. Now Irina remembers with a laugh, as the grown-up son already asked his parents at home not to talk to his little sister in English, he always said: he would go to school - he would learn English from native speakers.

“That's how it was,” says Irina. “In the second grade, the teacher didn't even believe it when I told her that my daughter started speaking English just a year ago.”

Right motive

So why should children born in America know Russian? Perhaps each family has its own motivation: to communicate with each other and other generations of relatives, so as not to lose touch with their native culture, in order to simply know the “extra” language. One way or another, most parents want to teach their children to speak, read and write in Russian.

“Both in the United States and in Israel I had occasion to talk with elderly people who had given up Russian in childhood. Each of them simply begged me to keep the language in my family. My lecturer complained that the huge library in Russian, inherited from her parents, was simply closed to her. Without knowledge of the Russian language, it is impossible to convey the history of the family, to keep in touch with grandparents, ”admits Evgenia Shpitser. Her children were born in Israel, have lived almost their entire lives in the United States, have never been to Russia, but speak Russian well.

In many Russian-speaking families living outside Russia, children of pre-school age know their native language better than schoolchildren. This happens for a quite understandable reason: they spend more time with adults, native speakers.

The less time a child communicates with his parents and grandparents, the faster he forgets Russian. Therefore, by the way, it is necessary to teach children to read Russian, too, before school.

A grown-up child will find very boring works that he can “master” (simple texts, children's stories and fairy tales), and for more interesting and complex books his language level is simply not enough, and he will not be able to join all the wealth of Russian literature.

Learning Russian will be more productive if you put a goal that your child understands: to learn the language, to watch your favorite cartoons and movies, to participate in a theatrical production, to engage in a circle, and so on. To the learning process was not only useful, but also interesting.

Parents who are serious about teaching their child the Russian language on their own often “go too far” trying to achieve the best results. Linguists who teach Russian as a foreign language give some simple tips on how to avoid mistakes in learning.

Tips for parents

• For your child, Russian is a foreign language, so do not try to learn it as you were taught at school. You came to school, already being able to speak, that is, you had a practice, so you were given a theory, forced to learn the rules. Children living in a non-Russian-speaking environment should, on the contrary, be taught the language itself, not theories.

Avoid endless memorization of the rules, it will only discourage the child from any hunt. A grammar is better learned by ordinary conversation, in which correctly constructed phrases and sentences are naturally used.

• Do not force your child to learn as many individual words as possible (children have a good memory; they can also learn the telephone directory). But why are these words in themselves needed? After all, language is primarily a grammatical structure: the form of a word, the compatibility of words, the order of words in a sentence.

You can memorize poems. At the same time, the rhythm of Russian speech, the correct intonation and the sound of a word are well absorbed. Poems help keep in mind the necessary phrases.

• Try not to overload the child with fairy tales, fables, proverbs and other folklore works. This is certainly a huge layer of Russian culture, and the child should get to know him. But after all, it’s not for every adult to explain the meaning of many obsolete words (lukomorye, lids, turret, brush, tuesok, etc.).

To understand folklore, it is important to have a certain cultural baggage associated with Russian traditions.

• You should not pay too much attention to the entertainment side of language learning. Every normal child is a linguist in the soul and can enjoy pleasure and satisfaction from the very process of learning a language (searching for the meaning of words, searching for the root of a word, making words like acquaintances, and so on).

• What you definitely shouldn't waste your time on is “setting” your handwriting. Forget about sticks, hooks and pressure. All children have different handwriting, and this is due to the unique properties of their soul, brain and hand muscles. Forcing a child to write according to the standard is, firstly, violence against him, and secondly, it is simply unnecessary, especially in our computer age.

Just teach your child to read a printed font and write in block letters, and if you decide to give him a written alphabet, then it is enough just to show the spelling of letters (without fanaticism about the beauty and "correctness" of the handwriting).

Nowadays, hundreds of Russian-language bookstores work in the US, dozens of newspapers and magazines are published, digital media with Russian cartoons and films are sold, many hobby groups and clubs are open, several Russian-language TV channels are broadcast, the Internet is available. But in order for your child to take advantage of this wealth, he must learn the language. And he can do this only in the family.

Read also on ForumDaily:

Stories of five Americans who study Russian

6 errors that prevent you from learning English

How to learn English on the go: four effective ways

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USA children training Russian language Our people Interestingly Educational program Language
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