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  Reply with quote  #1 
Hello! I hope someone can help. My husband and I are American. We both have intermediate Spanish skills and I have intermediate German skills. We would like our 4 month old to grow up speaking Spanish and feel that shouldn’t be too hard as we will be in Spain for his first two years and Spanish-speaking opportunities abound in the states. I would like to speak German to him also, as I find the language comes more naturally to me and, having been an au pair in Germany, am inclined to speak to babies in German. I am home with him all day and my husband is only comfortable speaking English and occasionally Spanish to him. 

I would really like to try to speak both German and Spanish to him, dividing the time very clearly between the two so he doesn’t get confused.  My husband thinks it is too much to try to give him three languages and that he will get confused. He thinks that, since we are in Spain and working on improving our own Spanish, we should just speak Spanish to him, but am reluctant to let go of the German and am enjoying using those skills again! Is this too ambitious a goal? Should I just pick one ML and stick with it?

(we are also doing baby sign language) 

Thanks for any suggestions!

Country: Spain (for 1.5 more years), USA
Languages: Native English (both), intermediate Spanish (both), intermediate German (mom)
Children’s ages: 4 months old
Language System: still figuring that out!
  Reply with quote  #2 
Hi Blythe,

I have raised two tri-lingual children and it is not always easy – but well worth it. Im Danish, my husband is English and we live in Spain. So we have a solid “native” source for each of the three languages spoken in this family. We have had family, friends and social networks to support us and the children understood the need to be able to communicate in different languages with different people. I honestly don’t think we would have succeded without this help, support and background.

I can only see you doing this succesfully if you give your son three very clear sources for his three languages. Let Spain take care of Spanish – put him in a Spanish nursery for the next one and a half years, realizing that you´ll have to continue once you are back in the States. Let your husband teach him English (read to him, watch film and cartoons etc.) and you stick to German. Can you do that? Its not your first language? I would find that very difficult, but maybe you can do it. Even if you can manage to do that for the next 5-10 years, I would worry that even if your son learns several German and Spanish words within the next one and a half years (my oldest had no proper language at 2 y.o. even if we could recognize words in all three languages), he would have no motivation to keep it up once he is in a fully English speaking evironment. Will there be Spanish or German speaking people around him that he’ll really want to communicate with?

You asked for suggestions – my suggestion is you stick to English at home and between you as a family and then get as much Spanish influence as possible from your community – nursery, playgroup, neighbours, babysitter, tv etc. When back in the States you look up the possibilities for keeping the Spanish influence from an outside source. I would forget the German for now if I were you. Neither you nor your husband are native German speakers, so you have no network to support you and give your son a reason for speaking German. He might find it fun or easy to learn single words in German in the beginning, but I doubt it’ll be solid enough for actually speaking the language.

Maybe not the piece of advise you were looking for. But good luck with whatever method you decide on!

  Reply with quote  #3 
Thanks Caroline. I had just about come to that conclusion myself, but am glad to have heard it from you. I think Spanish is enough and there will be many Spanish speakers and learning opportunities around when we go back to the states as well. I think my sense of adventure and experimentation got away with me!

  Reply with quote  #4 

If you and your family will be living in Spain soon enough, or already living in it, then please, please, please continue/ restart speaking German with the baby!!!

So what if you are an intermediate speaker only? You can continue to study learn German as your child grows and find more outlets for his German exposure. Let the Community take care of Spanish, your Husband English and if you want to/ or can feel comfortable speaking to your baby in German than please do!

Look for German media to share with Baby and do what you can to maintain German for him in the early years of his life. A child will benefit more from learning and forgetting a 3rd language early on than never having learned 3 languages to begin with!

When he is a little older and back in the states than you can continue to speak German domestically if you want, and let him watch German Cartoons and hear stories in German. While learning Spanish in school and from whatever sources. Children aren’t incompetent! They can actively study two languages after 5 years old. It probably wont be his favorite thing to do, but it can be beneficial in the long run if for no other reason than he and mom will have shared a special language during his youth.

  Reply with quote  #5 

Thank you for your response! I have continued to sing German songs and otherwise speak some German with him, but will definitely consider doing more. I find the language so much fun and would love an excuse to learn more of it, but want to be sure I’m not confusing him! I don’t know if I could speak German with him 100% of the time, but could definitely do it while we are alone in the house during the day.

Erik K
  Reply with quote  #6 
I hope this response is not too late.

Because you are enjoying relearning and practicing German, I think you should speak it to your son all the time. Of course it will be good for him also.

Based on the info I’ve seen in other parts of this website, it sounds like you can help your child be fluent in German if you can find other speakers to talk to your son.

You can search the web for German/Austrian/Swiss expatriate groups in your local area of Spain (and search again once in the USA). Or post your own advertisement, seeking parents of native German speaking children, for play-dates with your son.

Once in the USA, you will also need play-dates or other exposure to Spanish speaking children.

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