I am Russian and my husband is British and French (totally bilingual). We live in the USA and thus speak English. Since the birth of my son I always spoke Russian to him and his first words were in Russian as well. But now when he is nearly 3 he clearly prefers English.
What is more I can see how difficult it is for him to pronounce a Russian word (half the sounds are missing or incorrect). He does not refuse to try but gives up after the 3rd attempt to pronounce a simple word (and I do not insist much). I spend 99% of time with him as my husband works in another state so supposedly Russian should be dominant.
My son watches English programs but he is not in day care, his interaction with other people is quite limited due to our lifestyle.
Should I look for a speech therapist? I am afraid it would be impossible to find anybody working with Russian language. Unfortunately, I do not have Russian speaking friends and he has never been to Russia yet.
I am a bit at a loss how to improve his Russian. Any suggestions?
If your son clearly prefers English to Russian, as you say, he must either have had significant input in that language or otherwise found out that English is important to him.
One reason could be that he knows that you speak English too, and so he might be attempting to put into practice the very human Law of Least Effort: one of its linguistic effects tells us that if one can get away with using one language, there’s no need to use more than one. I am not saying that you should stop speaking English in his presence, I’m saying that children, even as young as yours, are extremely skilful at sorting out whatever goes on in their environment for their own benefit (just like all of us).
Speech-language therapy helps only in cases where there is a clinical issue involving language, not particular languages. Your son would be a candidate only if he showed signs of trouble with all of his languages, which, as you seem to imply, is clearly not the case.
He has, from what you write, trouble with certain sounds of one of his languages, Russian. This is typical of child language acquisition, whatever the language(s) in question and whatever the number of languages in a child’s repertoire. He has besides reached the age when children become aware of their surroundings, and of themselves as a simple part of it, not the all-important “centre” that up to then they instinctively felt they were. This crucial stage of cognitive development is bound to create all sorts of difficulties for children, and this is why the first signs of rebellion date from it – point-blank refusals and/or demands, serious tantrums, and so on.
I think you’re doing the right thing not to insist on calling attention to his Russian sound productions. You yourself wouldn’t want to use a language that someone else is constantly correcting for you. My suggestion is that you go on giving your boy as many chances of using Russian as you can, of making him feel confident in its use, and of having fun in it too. You could engage with his favourite activities in Russian, whether doing jigsaw puzzles, climbing monkey bars or discussing the latest TV show he watched. Give him time, and enjoy your time with him.
To further assuage your concerns about his Russian pronunciation, have a look at this Ask-a-Linguist FAQ, where I discuss these and other matters of typical child language development: linguistlist.org/ask-ling/lang-acq.cfm
Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.