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Brian Smith

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Briefly something about my family’s background. My wife is Russian and I grew up bilingually in and Anglo-German family (in Germany). We now live in Hong Kong. Before my son was born I did some research and learnt that an average child can pick up as many as four languages without any problems if it is exposed enough to this language. Obviously the first three languages for us were English, Russian and German. As I am very fond of Latin I decided to use Latin as a fourth language once a week when talking to my son. When he was one year old he seemed to understand things in all four languages but didn’t speak. After his second birthday he began to talk and made huge progress every month. English, Russian and German are his main languages and he seems to know them almost equally well. His Latin is lagging behind, but he can understand many things and speak simple sentences. eg: The dog is barking (Canis latrat.); I want to go to the park. (Viridarium ire volo.)
For the first two years I only used Latin on one day every week, but after his second birthday I used it more frequently. In his first two years the languages were separated strictly: Russian with his mother and with me English and German three days each plus one day Latin. After his second birthday we became more flexible and may use different languages in one day. He is very inquisitive now (his third birthday was a month ago) and may ask for the names of things first in one language and then in the others: What is it? (Reply in English) Was ist das? (Reply in German) Quid est? (Reply in Latin)
I read a lot to him, typically five to six books/stories a day. His longtime favourite Latin book was Tres Mures Caeci (Three Blind Mice) by David Noe.
Another book he loves is Puer Zingiberi Panis (The Gingerbread boy) which includes eight stories translated into Latin with lovely pictures.

He can understand the stories well and his ability in his fourth language (Latin) is making good progress. I am looking forward to see how his Latin will develop in the years to come.

It is not always easy to use a non-native language,but it works. Sometimes I don’t know something and I have to check in a dictionary. I keep learning with him. But that doesn’t matter. My son is used to it and if I can only tell him something a day later it’s also all right.
If you have the chance to use another language with your child then do so. It’s quite a bit of work, but the results will repay you.

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I have a baby girl 5 months old now. I have done some reading and are conviced that between now and until 3 years is the window of opportunities for her to build a strong foundation on languages, I am not sure what is the limit but 3-4 languages would be great. I am thinking of exposing my kids to English, Bahasa, Chinese, Spanish and Latin. I’ve no problem with the other Modern Languages, but Latin I am not sure how to approach it, since I dont speak any Latin. Is there any multimedia educational tool which I can use to immerse my baby into latin and at the same time for me to pick up the language?    

Brian Smith

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I would advise you to approach Latin just like any modern language. A great book to learn it the natural way is “Lingua Latina” by Orberg. You can also get cds with it. You don’t have learn it all to help your child. Just learn and prepare some simple things to start with and repeat them regularly with your daughter. That way you will learn together. In addition get some easy children’s books to read to her and read out a story every day. She will soon pick it up.
I don’t know of any multi-media tool that would be suitable for her.
Adam Aburatam

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Brian, thank you for sharing your experiences with Latin. The information you presented was most helpful.

We live in Malaysia. I have a daughter who is slightly younger than your son. I am of Anglo-Palestinian origin and my wife is of Yemeni-Betawi origin. My wife speaks solely Betawi OPOL to our daughter, and my wife and I between us speak English in front of her. I chose from the very beginning to speak solely Standard Arabic OPOL to our daughter, wishing to avoid dialect, even though Standard Arabic is only spoken in speeches, on the news and by educated people in the Arab world. It is also, however, the proper ‘written form’ of the language and from it the transition to slang is very simple. As such, I am the only main source whereby she is exposed to Standard Arabic, with the exception of some books, cartoons and the occasional Standard Arabic-fluent friends who come to visit. She is also picking up Malay from friends, neighbours, other children and my adult children

Although I have no intention of discontinuing this path and despite that she has never, as yet, spoken Arabic to me (although she fully understands me) your experiences in Latin with your son have given me extra encouragement.
Adam Aburatam

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Just to add to my last post that my daughter started speaking Arabic all of a sudden on the morning of 14th Feb when we were at a playground! I am now firmly convinced that if we gently persist on the OPOL way, our children will speak in the language we use, albeit sooner or later, even if we are the child’s sole exposure to that language.

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