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How many languages at the same time?

(8 Posts)
MagdalenaAlec Thu 05-Jul-12 18:52:05

Hi! DH and I were both brought up in a multilingual environment and somehow the languages we speak fluently are part of our culture, which we would like to pass on to our children, to the extent it does not turn out to be detrimental to them, of course.
So, question is: how much can a child take? Do you think we can start 2 languages at an early age and add the others later? If so, when?

DH was brought up in English (mother), Ukrainian (father) and Arabic (location) whereas I was brought up in French (location + Father) and Polish (Mother). DS is now 2 yo and we each speak to him in our own "main" language at home (English for DH, French with me). However, as DH still cannot have an entire conversation in French, I speak English when we are all together.
We are now discussing DH teaching DS Ukrainian but I am concerned that, with DC expected in a very short time, it would be too big of a change for poor DS. Plus he will be starting kindergarten in November, so it may not be the best timing. What do you think? Do we need to start now or wait?

evamummy Thu 05-Jul-12 19:22:16

My children are raised bilingually (one parent, one language) but we have friends where both parents speak their own language and the children go to an English school, so they are growing up speaking 3 languages. One will normally be more dominant than the others, but 3 languages is very do-able.

Best to start from birth - that way kids associate a language with a parent.

And, do not worry about English as your ds will automatically learn that from school and it will soon become his dominant language anyway!

AussieCelt Wed 11-Jul-12 11:29:04

My kids have 4 languages: 2 minority languages at home (one from each parent), the majority societal language (English), plus a fourth minority language at an immersion school. DD (almost 8) is remarkably fluent in all as she's a bit of a language nut like her father and is keen to learn more, even pestering our Korean neighbours to teach her Korean. DS is not quite 2, and is progressing OK even if it consists of orders barked at people and animals.

It doesn't happen 'naturally', it takes lots of planning and effort. We had a plan and rules from the start: mostly OPOL, as little English in the house as possible, books, comics, DVDs etc in the minority languages, cable television in 2 of the minority languages etc. We even try to have extra curricular activities in the minority languages. Never underestimate the power of the societal language - despite the fact that there's very little English in our house and most of the lessons in school aren't in English, it's the still the prime language for DD.

I have friends in South Africa who have 3 kids who have spoken 5 languages from early childhood: French, German (home), Zulu (with nanny, gardener etc and local community), English & Afrikaans at school and with friends.

Pinetreeland Sun 16-Sep-12 13:42:29

I am doing 4 languages with my son at home and he seems to understand at least 3 pretty well. He's only 19 months but making good progress in all the languages for his age. I didn't follow one parent one language but we read to him all the time in all the languages and that seems to help. We also gets songs and DVDs for the minority languages. However I don't know what it will be like when he's older and whether he will be speaking fluently in all. But right now we are trying to get asante vocabulary in as possible through lots of reading and hope that if he knows the words then hes more keen to speak.

Pinetreeland Sun 16-Sep-12 13:43:33

Sorry iPhone typo. I meant to get as many words in as possible.

Bonsoir Thu 20-Sep-12 19:57:23

You can bring your children up speaking four languages, I think, but you need separate sources for each language ie mother = language 1, father = language 2, school = language 3, nanny = language 4

MmeLindor Mon 24-Sep-12 09:41:50

I think that three or even four languages are doable, but that you won't reach the same level of fluency in them all.

When the children are young, the language of the parents, particularly the parent who is the main caregiver, will be strongest. As they grow older and spend more time out of the home, at nursery and then school, then the language of the location becomes more dominant.

Can I ask why you have decided to teach Ukrainian next instead of Arabic? I don't know these two languages, but would have thought Ukrainian would be easier to learn as an adult or older child.

sanam2010 Tue 25-Sep-12 10:39:44

Agree that the earlier the better, it will only be harder for the child to pick it up later. My daughter is growing up with three languages (Dh's and my language at home, English in nursery), she is 23 months now, understands all languages perfectly and says lots of words in all three. English seems to he the most developed of the 3 as she has been in nursery since 6 months and we speak a lot of English when we're with friends over the weekend. Dh has a second language that we could have added as a fourth but actually we thought it might be complicated and left it at 3, not sure if it was the right decision.

I'd start Arabic soon as others have said bc it's very very hard to learn later, esp pronunciation.

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