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Kristina Svensson Piavent

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I know Christina and many think that One Person, One Language is the most efficient way to communicate with a multilingual child, but I just can’t do it in our situation. I try, but it is a complex scenario: I was born in the US to Danish and Swedish parents who now live in Mexico and Sweden respectively. My husband is French and I lived in France for most of my adult life, but I have lived in many other countries as well. The babysitter is Italian and we speak only Italian with her. BUT we live in Luxembourg where nursery school and the “street language” is Luxembourgish. We have specifically chosen a private school that has 40% of the classes in German, 30% in English and 30% in French (the twins start at 6 years old until they are 18) so the students leave school perfectly fluent in 3 languages with no accent. The problem is that I can only speak English to them when we are alone. Otherwise I always speak the language of the people we are around (Swedish with Swedes, French with the French, Italian with Italians, etc.). I have expected big delays due to the fact that they are twins in a multilingual environment, but they are 16 months now and have a vocabulary of about 6-8 words (they understand much more). Am I doing something horrible to my children? Since everyone in Luxembourg is at least quadrilingual, it is considered rather normal to switch back and forth between languages. I understand the logic behind OPOL, but it seems like it is for people with much simpler situations. I remember once I met a family with teenagers and they communicated in 4 languages, mixing constantly, and the children seemed exceptionally bright and not scarred in anyway….


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I think what you’re doing – speaking the language according to your surroundings – is perfectly natural.  I don’t really see how that would cause any problems for your children – especially considering that their school is going to provide them with a rich, tri-lingual education.  I used to have a Belgian roomate whose parents spoke French (Flemish) and Dutch (Walloon), respectively, and he grew up in Brazil and the USA.  He was fluent in French, Dutch, Portuguese and English and proficient in Spanish and German, too.  When he talked with his brother it was like listening to the UN 🙂

A lot of people on this site are in monolingual settings where exposure to multiple languages outside the home isn’t as easy as in, say, Luxembourg.  My daughter isn’t going to hear my native tongue outside the home, so it’s important for me to be consistent in using it when talking to her (especially since I’m not the primary care giver).

But if you think about it, most multi-lingual children (and in the whole world – most people are multilingual) learn multiple languages in parallel from their parents and communities without any conscious effort and without anyone thinking about language methods and such.

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This is just a follow up: they are now 2 and everything is fine so far despite my worries above. They speak French, English and Italian and rarely mix so far. They use each language only with the appropriate person, but accept if I speak with the nanny in Italian for example. They use a few words in Swedish but we really don’t press it, it has been their choice. We are starting “spielschule” in Luxembourgish this week but it is only one morning a week and I will go with them. The teachers speak Lux and the other kids there will also be multilingual and will be in the girls’ nursery school in September.


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Hello, I just found this board, and I know it’s been a while since you originally posted, but I can relate. My husband and I are both native Spanish speakers, but I grew up in the US speaking English. We are now living in Brazil. We have two children. My son is 6 and my daughter 2. My son goes to a bilingual (English/Portuguese) school, and I speak mostly in English at home, but I switch back and forth depending on mys surroundings. I speak Spanish with the babysitter, English when with teachers, Portuguese with friends. My children are not confused at all and they can recognized that different languages are needed in different situations.

I find my daughter’s language progress very interesting, because she has been exposed to more languages earlier than her brother. She understands three languages, but speaks mostly in Spanish and Portuguese. What I like is that she uses the language that she senses is better understood. Is that clear? With me, she speaks Spanish, and no English because she knows I can speak both. But with her friends, she uses mostly Portuguese because she KNOWS that her friends don’t speak the other languages.

We will be moving to Belgium soon, and my son is very excited about learning more languages. We will continue with English based education, but reinforce our native language while at the same time encouraging the acquisition of the local languages. Hopefully we will maintain the Portuguese.

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Hi, thanks for posting. Nice to know there are others out there! In Belgium you’ll find people are very multilingual and expect it from others. Disregarding the “almost civil” war between the Wallons and the Flemish, the EU has many offices there so there are so many Spanish and English speakers. Here in Luxembourg something like 5% of the population is Portugese so it is the unofficial fifth or sixth language of the country. There are radio stations, stores, offices etc. that operate exclusively in Portugese. Depending on where you live in Belgium, your kids probably won’t lose Spanish, English and Portugese! Good luck, Kristina


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Latest update: they aren’t crazy yet! A few months shy of 3 years old, they are happy speaking English, French and Italian and very conversational. It is funny because even if I speak Italian to the babysitter in their presence, they will address me in English, not Italian. We spent August in Sweden and it went really well. They came home with several words and keep asking to go back.

One interesting game we play is while looking at books or objects, we’ll ask, “What does mommy call this? What does daddy call this? And Anna?” They translate excellently and instantaneously.

They did have a speech test that the Luxembourgish government gives at this age and got a perfect score. The woman said they were advanced for their age, but I think they really were confused by a German woman speaking French to me and then speaking to them in bad English. I kept having to “translate” her bad English into correct English so they would understand! It was really strange.

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Kristina, your post made me really happy and excited. We are in a somewhat similar situation. My son is 19 months and is being exposed to 3 languages. I’m Brazilian and speak to him in Portuguese most of the time. My husband is Arabic and speaks to him in English (we live in the US). He uses Arabic daily to communicate with his family members and friends. Right now we are in Jordan, were we will be living soon or at least will be spending one season every year. Husband and I use English at home and I try to avoid Portuguese with child around him because he doesn’t speak it and doesn’t want to be left out.
I can’t use OPOL exclusively and have to switch back and forth. I’m learning Arabic which is the language we are surrounded right now.
My son isn’t talking much yet. He babbles a lot and understands Portuguese and English perfectly. Now he’s been spoken to in Arabic and I thinks he’s starting to understand it. I do worry sometimes and feel the pressure of my husband (who is afraid of confusion and future problems for child and would blame me for it), but I really want him to learn the 3 languages and even if I didn’t, he would always be surrounded by them considering our life style. Thanks for your update, I’d like to hear more from you or even exchange emails.


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