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My wife is a native speaker of Spanish and speaks English and Slovak as well. I’m a native speaker of English, know some French, and twenty years ago reached a reasonably advanced level in Portuguese while living in Brazil for a time. We live in the States with our son, 2 years and 10 months old, who has been spoken to in Spanish and English since birth, and never mixes or confuses the two when speaking with either of us. He recently entered a French language preschool program.

Although my wife and I have always spoken to to one another in English, we’ve decided to make the family language Portuguese, at least when all three of us are together. We are doing so probably for the same reason that many other families here enroll their kids in Mandarin language programs: we think that Brazil and its economy are going to play an increasingly important role in the world and Americans who speak Portuguese, of which there are hardly any today, will be in demand. Plus, of course, it’s a beautiful language and I imagine a lot easier to learn than Mandarin!

Anyway, our plan: first I’ll begin polishing up my long-dormant abilities in Portuguese, while my wife graduates from watching old Brazilian novelas on video to trying to master Portuguese pronunciation, spelling, and those words that have no similarity to Spanish words meaning the same thing. In nine months, when our son is about 3 1/2 and has a greater knowledge of French under his belt, we’ll begin speaking to him and to one another in his presence in Portuguese. I listen to Brazilian popular music and internet broadcasts fairly frequently, and I’ve been surprised that he can already distinguish between the sound of French and of Portuguese.

My question: we are expected by his preschool to help him with his French homework (yes, homework at 2 years old!), a task which falls to me. If I’m helping him understand and drilling him in what his French teacher has taught him, wouldn’t that violate the rule of “one parent, one language” when we begin helping him learn Portuguese? I’m not worried about any Spanish/French/English confusion because of how confident his use of Spanish and English is.

Thanks for whatever insights anyone can give on this.

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Hi Dale,

I am not an expert but these are my thoughts.  You are already planning not to really do OPOL  from when he is 3.5, right? As then you will speak Portuguese when you are all together, so you will sometimes speak English to him and sometime Portuguese.  So by speaking French to him you will just be letting him know that you actually speak 3 languages.  There are lots of families who don’t stick strictly to OPOL.  There is as far as I know no research which shows that OPOL has any particular magic, just some people who have written about it working them them.  It sounds like in order for your son to speak 4 languages fluently you will need to support him in all four and that will mean there’s no way you can do OPOL.  I wouldn’t worry about it, but would just make sure that you keep switching back and maybe even make it explicit to him that you are switching now to help him with his homework.  


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Greetings. Although this is slightly off topic, I wanted to maybe clarify or give another reason why Mandarin is chosen by some of us (one, at least).  And I agree that Portuguese is a beautiful language, and your reasoning is solid. May your adventures be bountiful! The sad reality in our case is that it really was a non choice, choosing Mandarin. I- Latvian, her father-American/English, we-USA. If imagining a day is like a full circle, and realizing that my quantity of Latvian language activation with my daughter is so small now that she is school-aged, and I cannot for reasons home school, then in order for the English to not dominate so completely, I selfishly wanted to find an immersion school program with a third language.  There are countless schools offering preschool language immersion, or so they boast, but many of them when pressed admitted that the language study equated to only about 45 minutes a week! How is that immersion? And still then, there was really no choice, Spanish was the only language I could find (and for 45 minutes a week). Some kindergartens in the area continue a bit of the “immersion,” but after kindergarten, studying a foreign language doesn’t become even a choice/ an elective until middle school (6,7,or 8th grades). What happens to any language activation between kindergarten and middle school? There is one school in the area, nay, in the general vicinity, that offers half a day in an English classroom, half the day in a Chinese classroom from preschool on, continuing in grade school with the goal of continuing through the twelfth grade, and another preschool that offers complete immersion for 2.5 hours a day/four days a week. So, it really was more of a non choice, simplified Mandarin or all English.  There are apparently some private Hebrew schools, but none less than 60-90 miles away, and I do believe there is a mosque that has a small school, too.  We don’t live in a farming community, in fact, we live in a capital city.  It is 2010, and yet, our options are extremely limited. Our third year into the Mandarin, and I am finding myself very, very fond of Chinese language and culture. I am thankful and feel very blessed for the amazing Chinese people we’ve met and who have served as great teachers and role models for my child. But as I said, there aren’t any other options from which to choose. 

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