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Anyone raising tri-lingual kids?

(14 Posts)
Lalunya85 Thu 12-Sep-13 12:06:42

Our (first) baby hasn't even been born yet, but I've started wondering what languages we would like it to speak when it grows up. Here's our situation:

I am bilingual myself (Polish/German)
My husband is Israeli
We live (and are planning to stay) in the UK

My partner and I speak English between each other, but neither of the grandparents speak any English at all. In short, we are thinking of raising our child tri-lingually.

I would speak either Polish or German with him/her (have yet to decide!), my husband would speak Hebrew and we are hoping that by us speaking English to each other, as well as through the wider environment (friends, later nurseries etc) that our baby would also learn to speak English.

I don't know anyone who would have tried this, so would love to hear from anyone who has tried and succeeded or otherwise. What are your experiences? And to everyone else: do you think this is a mad idea? I don't want to overburden or confuse the child. Perhaps we should add the languages step by step (e.g. when the child is 1 year, 2 years etc.) rather than all at the same time? Or would that be even worse?

StephaniesMum Thu 12-Sep-13 19:46:14

Hi, no you're not crazy for wanting to do this. It is definitely possible! It is best to start as you mean to go on, straight from birth.
We're teaching our daughter (and baby no 2 when he arrives) 3 languages. I'm Dutch, my husband is half French, we speak English to each other like you, and she goes to nursery 3 days a week where she learns English. She is now 2 years 4 months and our experience is as follows:
- she understands all 3 languages very well.
- she is a late talker, which you would have to expect with yours as well, but hold your nerve as it will work out in the end as long as you're both very consistent with the language you speak, i.e. don't be tempted to speak English to them because this would lead to confusion.
- apparently they go through a phase, which we haven't reached yet but my MIL told me about from raising my husband and sister bilingual, where they will try and speak only their preferred language which is likely to be English because that's what all their mates will speak. My MIL said she had to tell the kids to soak French to her and pretend not to understand or hear when they didn't.
- her English is probably best out of the 3, already, although her Dutch and french are starting to catch up now.
Hope this helps! Go for it, if you find it really doesn't work for you, you can always decide later to drop one of the languages, their English will be fine.

Lalunya85 Fri 13-Sep-13 10:32:53

Hi StephaniesMum,

They are all really good points - it's great to hear from someone who has tried this before us, and it looks like it is working for you! Do you attend playgroups e.g. in Dutch or Saturday schools in French, so that your daughter has children of her own age to use the language with? Or do you use TV programs/cartoons in French/Dutch to improve her understanding?

I also grew up bilingually, so yes - there was definitely a phase where one of the languages seemed redundant to me, when I was about 5 - 9. My parents just stuck with their approach and even though one of my mother tongues is still better than the other I am now confident and fluent in both - speaking, understanding and even reading/writing. I also found it quite easy at school to pick up a third language - I think growing up with two languages helped a lot.

LingDiLong Sat 21-Sep-13 18:56:48

It's definitely possible. There are children in my own kids' school that are trilingual - their mum speaks English to them, their Dad Gaelic and the school is welsh medium. What an amazing gift to give your child - three languages without even having to 'learn' them the hard way as an adult.

cantreachmytoes Sat 21-Sep-13 19:17:30

My good friend's DD (6) and DS (4) speak 4 languages: Italian with mother, Arabic with father, Spanish with nanny and English at school. The parents speak English together, mother speaks to nanny in Spanish and father speaks to nanny in French (nanny is live-in). The kids switch with no problem now and the only thing the parents have done is NEVER speak one of the other languages to the children. When DD spoke to father in English, he'd reply in Arabic that he didn't understand. When she then said, in English, "But you and Mummy speak English together." he repeated, in Arabic, that he didn't understand.

I speak some languages too - not well, but well enough that if I have to speak English to someone I normally speak French to, it's very difficult to keep it up, because my brain switches to French as soon as I look at them. I guess this is why consistency is important with children.

Luna13 Wed 16-Oct-13 10:49:55

Just wanted to point out one thing: late talking does not have anything to do with number of languages child speaks. It's been proven already some time ago. Means bi or trilingual children not necessary start talking later.

sanam2010 Sun 27-Oct-13 21:50:13

trilingual kids here as well. think it is almost the norm in London nowadays. almost all my friends' kids in London are trilingual. don't worry about it.

Frescolita Thu 31-Oct-13 20:39:35

I hope it is possible! We are raising our little one tri-lingual:
I'm British, DH is Venezuelan and we live in Germany. We speak in our mother-tongues to DD, and she gets German from the nursery (100% German- not a bilingual nursery). DH and I tend to speak in English to each other.
DD is just over a year, and understands all 3 languages. She has a few nearly-words, but it is not always clear what they are supposed to be. She was making more progress in English, but the transition to the nursery seemed to cause a bit of a pause.
Most of my friends are now multi-lingual families. The general experience is that you just need to be consistent, make it fun, and don't freak out if they don't say much before 3.

SwedeAway Fri 21-Feb-14 15:16:30

Hello, it's definitely possible. My DD is trilingual (she is 3). We speak Swedish, English and Afrikaans at home. Was definitely a bit of a battle in the early days but has worked out great!

Cuxibamba Sun 02-Mar-14 02:50:27

It's possible. We live in a Spanish speaking country, I speak English naturally, DH speaks English and Portugese. So I talk to the DC in English and DH talks to them in Portugese. We are both fluent in Spanish, he's fluent in English and I am good at Portugese, so it works well. Tough at the start- the DC tend to talk in Spanish between themselves, but throwing in some Portugese or English for emphasis iyswim.

Sunnysummer Sun 02-Mar-14 03:42:21

DH and I were brought up as third-culture-kid expats, and both speak 3 languages, though I would say that for me only 2 would be 'native' and the other is spoken only.

We were brought up speaking my mum's language to her, dad's language to him and as a family (technically, though often we'd slip into something else) and the local language at school and with friends. We also did Saturday language school with my mum's language.

Our trouble was that we never had lessons in dad's language, and didn't speak much after leaving home, so while it's relatively fluent, my grammar isn't great and spelling is atrocious. It's hard to focus on 3! My siblings and I all went through phases of rejecting one or other of the languages, but my parents were very strict about us having to answer in the language you were spoken to - now that I have a DS, I appreciate how exhausting this is, they were so tough to manage it!

My DH's family did one language in the morning, one in the evening and one at school, which seems simpler to me. However they always let their kids answer them in whatever language they wanted, with the result that DH claims to speak barely a word of his mother's native tongue, despite understanding it pretty fully! confused

Both ways do have challenges, but I think it's very possible, so long as you are exceptionally dedicated and don't get stressed about interim setbacks! That said, we are raising our DCs bilingual only, and even that is quite a challenge...

MultipleMama Wed 19-Mar-14 03:36:26

My eldest is 5.6yo and is fluent in English, Russian and German.

I am english/russian and DH is German. Since he was a baby we spoke all 3 but mainly English and German, his first word was VaVa (German nm for Vater). As we don't speak much Russian we gave him lessons for 6-12 months when he was about 3.5-4yo but now he just skypes with my dad and brother to keep up.

DD1 is turning 3 in April, she also speaks English/German, she understands Russian when spoken to her and speaks certain phrases.

The twins who are 18mo are at the same level in German as they are in English (born in England). Although since moving to Germany, one of the twins prefers to use German as his primary language while the other still speaks more English, and they know a few Russian words but not much.

DS1 & DD2 will be attending International school so they will learn German (requirement) & an extra language (which will be Russian or Swedish) when they reach the appropriate grade.

We don't plan on having lessons but instead having my dad and brother talk and coach them.

It's possible and it's not crazy smile

HippoCritic Wed 19-Mar-14 04:58:57

Yes. DC speak English, French (Québécois) and Finnish. I speak to them in French, DH to them in Finnish and they mainly talk in either French or English amongst each other, as they apparently don't like the sound of Finnish, although they talk fluently in it. If they were talking to me in English, then I won't answer- I barely had to do that for them to understand that tbh, and now it works well as it means they have to talk in all three lamguages each day instead of picking and choosing. I know Finnish well, DH knows French, so it works out as us being able to then talk in our own language (for me, one of my languages) and the other being able to respond in their own.

ChudoSchool Tue 13-May-14 05:23:43

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

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