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Hello, thank you for an excellent website which is very helpful. I was hoping for a bit more advice. My husband and I are expecting a baby in a few months; I am basically a monolingual English speaker and he is bilingual in English and Malayalam (a South Indian language from the state of Kerala). We are moving within a month or so of having the baby to Chile, to both take up full-time jobs in a primarily English-speaking work environment. We should be there for three years at the minimum, and perhaps much more. So: we would like of course to have a chance at getting the baby trilingual, in English,  Spanish, and, if possible, Malayalam. The Malayalam may be very difficult, as I can only speak a few words, so we communicate solely in English, and there will certainly be no other speakers nearby. My husband is discouraged about the possibility of this working as most of his Malayali friends in the US have failed to get their children to keep the language despite BOTH parents using the language at home.

How much Malayalam exposure would be necessary to give our child any hope of being able to pronounce this very difficult (for me, anyway) language in the future? We will try to take trips to India and the US, but at most once a year. The “OPOL” model might not be natural for my husband: he naturally uses both English and Malayalam when speaking to his family (often a few sentences of each in succession). Will the baby be confused by some of this- should my husband try to never address him in English? I am trying to encourage my husband that this is possible and find him some guidelines on how to manage it! Will my learning more Malayalam help? (Might lessen fears of excluding me but might further confuse the OPOL model). 

I am less concerned about the English/Spanish as we will have a Spanish-speaking caregiver and plenty of both English and Spanish speaking resources there, although after reading this website I am not sure if we would need Spanish or English playgroups (or both)…. We’ll be trying to learn Spanish at the same time, so the child will hear us speaking our currently poor Spanish to other people. Is this a problem to be worried about? Thanks very much for your help.
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Hmm, this is a tricky one. You really need to weigh the costs for the family (the effort to ensure enough language interaction) against the benefits for your child with regards to Malayalam. If your child can get Malayalam from only one person, and only a small part of the time, it will most likely not result in active production of the language (speaking). However, who knows, your child may be unusually gifted. Also, understanding it as a child is still a much better base to build on than nothing at all, if your child wanted to pick up Malayalam as an adult.

You need to go into this with an honest set of expectations. Why do you want your child to learn, how much interaction can you provide, how important is it (must have or nice to have), what level of proficiency do you require to feel successful? Remember, OPOL as a language system is not a guaranteed success on its own. Those children typically need supplemental language interaction (other kids, family, trips home, etc). As you mentioned, even the ML@H family system is sometimes not enough for a highly unusual language. Considering that you’ll allow your child to grow up with Spanish and English you may want to focus on those to make everybody’s life a bit easier — in particular, take maximum advantage of the Spanish the coming years. It is still a wonderful thing to grow up with two languages! Bottom line, it is really your call. If you go ahead with Malayalam I’d certainly recommend that your husband speaks exclusively Malayalam to your child and you learn as much as you can yourself. Your child will need every single word he/she can get. Best of luck.


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