Reply with quote #1
I am interested in raising my children quadlingual. I have my masters in Education from Harvard (I actually specialized in bilingual education) but I have no resources on teaching children languages that neither I nor my husband speak natively. I am an elective quadlingual – russian, spanish, french, english. I am about to get pregnant so I wanted to start researching the best method for my child. I was thinking of having my husband speak English to the children and we would speak English to each other; I will get a spanish speaking nanny 2 days a week and a Russian speaking nanny another 2 days a week and I would speak to the kids in only Russian or Spanish. At 2 I will enroll the kids at a french preschool, a spanish preschool, and start a russian playgroup. I will send them eventually to a French Immersion preschool – 8th grade. In addition, I run a tutoring company so I will provide my children with tutoring.
Is this feasible or am I just going to end up confusing my children since I am a non native bilingual? Could you point me to any resources that may be helpful? All of the books I have found are about teaching a child the parents native language or raising bilingual kids – not quadlingual kids but I met a 5 year old girl in Italy who spoke arabic, german, italian and english and I hatched this plan.
Thank you again – I love your site and I have told my Harvard friends about it.
Reply with quote #2
Hi, I also want to teach my baby 4 languages. She is just six weeks old. My husband speaks Arabic, French, and English. I speak Spanish, French, and English. I want her to learn all four languages, but I don’t know how to do this. So far, I’ve been speaking to her solely in Spanish. My husband speaks to her in French, and my husband and I speak to each other in English. We’re still missing the Arabic. I want to find out what’s the best way to teach my baby four languages. Can anybody help? If you find any information, please let me know. Thanks.
Reply with quote #3
I’m in the same situation as these moms and I’m very interested in any information the Moderator or other readers can share on this regard.
Alana, someone at Harvard must have done research on this topic. Are you sure there is nothing for us there? I will check at Stanford. I have gathered some information on this topic and I will check with the provider whether it is ok to share her views with you. One of her comments is that if you want to have your child speaking as a native, you have to expose him/her to the language before the age of 7. If fluency is not an issue, waiting until after 7 is fine and will cause less confusion. She also recommended the following book: “Raising Multilingual Children” by Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa My plan for now is to start a playgroup with the 4th language (Norwegian). Hopefully, exposing him to it this way will at least help him pick up the language’s sounds. Sue Menlo Park, CA Portuguese, German, English, Norwegian My son is 5 months
Reply with quote #4
I am very relieved to read there are others with the same challenges that we are facing. Our daughter is 2 years old and she is also exposed to 4 languages:
1) Persian (me – the father),
2) Spanish (mother),
3) Chinese (We live in China now. She attends a Chinese kindergarten 4 hrs a day),
4) English (through cartoons and the language my wife and I use when talking to each other).
So far she only says a few words such as: Mama, Baba, nini & potata!!
I have been told by several people that her speech development will be delayed but this is quite normal. However I wonder if there is anything more we can do or do differently to reduce her confusion and improve her chances of learning all 4 languages well?
Any advise would be very much welcomed. I look forward to the continued discussion between everyone on this site regarding this issue.
All the best
Reply with quote #5
Ah, so this is the super multilingual crowd — great! Many children speak four languages, but rarely learn at the same ‘intensity’ level — and sometimes not even at the same time. However, and this is the crux of the matter: a child needs to hear a language about 30% of its waking hours to become proficient. This rule of thumb is both the result of research, but also a number I put great trust in from my own experience, and something I hear over and over again from immersion teachers and parents. So, that would mean only three languages are possible. And indeed, more than one family that wanted to raise their child with four languages ended up with a strong community language, and the rest as passive languages. Just understanding another three languages is wonderful, of course, but not what most of these families had in mind. So, the pragmatic approach is to focus on three languages that you can easily maintain, and allow the fourth language to remain in the background for the time being. That way you ensure the best possible chance for the first three, and you can simply gauge if the fourth language takes root or not. Some children do very well, whereas others rebel even with two languages. Remember, that there are always immersion schools, so you don’t have to do all languages from birth either, and the 7 year age limit is not that critical for someone that already has three languages in the bag. That language brain will remain nimble for many years to come – trust me!! Best of luck and let us know how things develop. /Christina PS. Sue, just FYI, there is a Scandinavian School in San Francisco that usually has a weekly Norwegian Play group every semester (depending on interest). – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Christina Bosemark Founder & List Moderator Multilingual Children’s Association
Reply with quote #6
I have to say raising your kid as anything else besides but bilingual is a waste. You will delay development and cognition. Most of us cant speak one language well, let alone 2 or 3. I used to be in favor of multilingual children until I saw the reality. As a parent you should stop trying to build what you see as the perfect you by making a child speak various langauges. Stop living through your child and let your child choose what language other than his or her native tongue they want to speak.
Reply with quote #7
Dear Ms. Christina Bosemark
Thank you very much for your prompt reply and extremely valuable advise.
I am very happy to have found your website. Besides the reassurance and knowledge gained from reading the posted messages, in a matter of hours you answered questions that my wife and I have been tackling for years.
Congratulations on this great site and I will certainly be referring to it regularly. I have already signed up to the “Keep me posted” e-mail service (although I am not sure if it was registered by your system) and will of course be recommending it to our many multilingual friends.
In the meantime, I will review our situation with my wife to see which one of the 4 languages should take a back seat with our 2 yr old Sara.
Thanks again and best wishes
Reply with quote #8
Thank you for your advise, Christina. I will keep it at 3 for my son to begin with and only expose him to Norwegian when it falls naturally. I’ll check with the Scandinavian school about the playgroup.
As for donjuan’s posting, I consider his/your point of view interesting and valid. It certainly builds on his/your experience with his?your children and nothing is more valid than that. I do however disagree that what we are looking for here is to live through our children. Some of us already speak multiple, or even, 4+ languages so we have it already. Learning these languages may have cost some of us quite some effort and if we can make it easier for our children to learn them, why not do it?! Obviously we are interested in doing what is best for them and, most important, what they are comfortable with. (Breeding an over-achiever is by no means my personal intention.) I also believe we realize all kids are different and the fact that some children are able to learn 3+ languages doesn’t mean ours will. Yet, all multilingual person knows that for every language one learns there is a significant amount of culture and understanding following, and that knowledge is an invaluable gift. And this is the main reason why I would go far to help my children learn different languages.. In addition, some of us multilingual couples have no choice. We have to teach our children our native languages so they can speak with our families back home (and that contact I believe we all agree is extremely important) and they also have to learn the language of the country they live in, or the language the parents use to speak to each other. I personally believe it is possible to teach a child 3, and even 4 languages if you are consistent and do not impose it but make it an enjoyable experience for the child. And yes, we need to pay attention to their responses to it and change course if things are not working for one particular child. . As for us, parents that would like to teach their children 4 languages, let’s keep in touch and share with each other what we learn on the way. My apologies for such a long posting.. Sue
Reply with quote #9
Thank you for your e-mail. I completely agree with everything you say.
I have a friend who at the age of 25-30 was upset with her father why in her childhood he imposed a one-language family (English) even though her mother had a different native language.
To counter this she spent a great deal of her time travelling to her mother’s home land to absorb the culture and learn the language and in doing so complete a part of her which she felt was missing. As you say, it is as much about learning and sensing the culture and bonding with family member as it is about learning a communication tool.
I certainly do not want my daughter to ask me in later years, why I did not help her learn her father’s or mother’s tongue….
Reply with quote #10
Sue is absolutely right!
I’m a native Portuguese speaker, my partner is a native Swedish speaker, and we use English between the two of us. Moreover, we live in Brussels, Belgium, which is a bilingual town (French and Dutch). Our daughter (one year old) is now learning Portuguese, Swedish and English at home. She will learn French at school (and possibly later some Dutch, if she shows an interest in learning more languages).
As Sue pointed out, this is not something we are imposing on our child, it just happens to be part of our lives (I myself have to speak five languages on a weekly basis, whether I like it or not…). We want her to be able to communicate with our respective families of origin back home, to know the common language her parents use to talk to one another, and to communicate in the language more widely used in our town (French). We are very much aware of the fact that this will pose certain challenges and that it may not always be easy (we, the parents, know it from personal experience), but we also know that it is possible, and that you can be fluent in many languages and be culturally empowered by it.
I found this site via a friend who is also raising multilingual children. I look forward to exploring more what it has to offer. And what a relief to find a place dedicated to our families!
Reply with quote #11
This is a very interesting forum indeed. I am not an expert in linguistics or cognitive development but I really think that four languages may be too much for a child unless you have some very specific conditions that can support the four languages (e.g. biliingual parent speaking L1 and L2, other parent speaking L3 and the community languages as L4).
In my opinion you need to have native speaker support for all of the languages. In my situation I am an English speaker from Ireland, my wife is Polish and we live in Holland. We speak our native languages to the kids and English to each other. Our older child goes to Dutch playgroup and will got to a Dutch school.
My brother’s wife is French and my wife’s cousin’s husband is Spanish so we hope that the kids will take these languages at school in the future. I can speak both these languages and I hope to take a degree in French from next year but this will only benefit the kids later if they take these languages.
If you try to structurally introduce a language without native speaker support I think that there is a chance that the child will only be semi-lingual and make all kinds of mistakes and have a strange accent. I think that language acquisition needs to be natural and easy.
The other thing I would worry about in a four plus language scenario is whether a child who may be a slower developer in other cognitive areas will be further undermined by pushing so many languages on him. What if the child has dyslexia or has trouble with basic mathematics?
Good luck to everybody though.
Reply with quote #12
Yes, Aidan is right too when he stresses the importance of “native speaker support”. This is really important if what one has in mind is a higher than average level of fluency (unless one’s child is particularly talented). And as Christina mentioned in a previous posting, multilingual children do show a tendency to have a dominant language(s). We already see that with our daughter, who seems to grasp Portuguese and English more than she does Swedish (although we travel more often to Sweden than to Portugal). It wouldn’t surprise me at all if in the end she would turn out to be fully fluent in English (common language at home) and French (school language) and have a good passive knowledge of both Portuguese and Swedish. I see this happening with many of our friends whose children are raised in a multilingual household. One of our big advantages though, is that living in Brussels and working in a very international environment, most of our friends are in the same boat, and our children look at multilingualism as the natural way to be. At our place there are often six or more languages being spoken in the same room and everybody finds that just normal…
Reply with quote #13
Brussels is a great place to live for anybody interested in languages and multilingualism. I have often thought that it would be a dream place for me to live but my life has taken a different path.
What you describe with Swedish and Portugese falling off a little is something I worry about with our kids with Polish. We are trying to promote Polish the most so that it is very established. I speak only English but I let watch more TV in Polish than English. What happens to quite a few kids in Holland is that they get bullied at school if they speak foreign languages (with the exception of English as that is the prestige language for Dutch people). One Polish kid I know told his mother to speak only English to him a school (she can’t speak Dutch) as he was bullied for speaking a ‘crazy’ language.
We will send the kids to the local Polish Saturday school and we go to the Polish church every two weeks. We are also always looking for Polish playmates. I know of many Polish parents who now speak to their kids in Dutch because the kid started replying in Dutch and the parents abandoned OPOL as a result.
With English I don’t have any worries because Dutch kids think from the youngest ages that it is a cool language so I expect zero stigma. We also know plenty of English speaking families so playmates are easily found.
Even when you have the right conditions you seem to still have to continually reinforce the weaker language(s). That is why I think that that non-native speakers might succeed in teaching their kid one other language (with the help of the right childcare and school) but I think that aiming for more is too big a challenge.
Reply with quote #14
My daughter is 6 months now, we also live in Holland. I speak with her my mother tongue Lithuanian, my husband is speaking his mother tongue German. We with my husband speak English.
In Holland it is difficult with German language issue, dutch does not like German, so i am concerned if my daughter won’t be discriminated for the language she speaks.
We are not going to emphasize English. Hopefully I can speak good Dutch by time she is 2-3 year old. Then I go for German, to be able understand my husbands and my daugthers talks. My husband is studying Lithuanian also.
Other concern I have about her social abilities when she goes in to preschool (4 year old) and does not speak Dutch very well. Or I can expect that she will learn good Dutch from daycare (that she is already going to, 2 times per week) and friends of mine?
thank you for your opinions. Indre
Reply with quote #15
Happy to report exceptional progress in first second and third language acquisition on behalf of son, just three.
From very early we (father with Italian and I using English) read three books a day to our son- most days I read many more than three. In addition we chatted to him all the time. He is soon to start kindergarten and although exposure to community language 3 (German ) has been limited, timely extended visits from dedicated Oma have instilled groundwork for L3. His acquisition of German at 2 and 9 months during Oma’s last visit was remarkable. Due to start bilingual kindergarten soon, his social needs have trigged an intense interest in L3 community language and the lang of the playground etc. We feel we have hit the jackpot. By the way, I have agreed to use other languages with my son at times, but only with a puppet in persona, or my pretending to be Oma. Yes, I am somewhat cracked. Downloading song texts for singalongs and nursery rhymes are aids in consolidating language with rhyme and musicality. And a dose of drama puts the finishing touch to the mix. I felt I owed my son the best chance in the challenging 3 language context we chose for him, and have treally given my best in this respect. Yes, three languages are possible by age three…