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Is it possible to teach my dd 3 languages successfully?

(13 Posts)
Honeybunnie Tue 11-Feb-03 15:01:32

Me and my husband speak with our own dialect of Chinese and we both speak English.

For dd, I thought that if we expose both forms of Chinese to her, she will have many more opportunities in life and will be able remember her roots.

I am worried that she might get confused, by having 3 langauges milling around the house and will not be able to speak any of them properly.

It is compulsory for her to learn English, as she will need it when she goes to school, but do I talk to her in one other language or two?

I'm not sure what to do....any ideas?

eefs Tue 11-Feb-03 15:44:58

From what I've read, the best approach is for you to speak to you dd only in your own dialect, and your husband to speak to your dd only in his dialect, and for others to speak English to her. It is easily possible for children to be tri-lingual, but there is the possibility of confusing her which is why it is recommened that each person sticks to one langauge.
My ds is speaking english to me but spanish to other family members, he's just turned two. I think there's another thread that deals with bi-lingual children, it will probably have more information for you. HTH

sml2 Tue 11-Feb-03 17:51:02

Honeybunnie
we have 3 languages milling around as well. The children have ended up with English as their first language, and didn't pick the others up until they spent time in those countries. They are hoovering up French really quickly, having started at school there.

soyabean Tue 11-Feb-03 20:07:56

Hi Honeybunnie
I will try and insert a link to a really useful publication called Multilingual Matters. http://www.multilingual-matters.com/multi/journals_bfn.asp
Hope that works. I think the general advice is 'one parent one language' ie try to be reasonably consistent about the language you use, and the contexts you use it in. Having said that, pleanty of children all over the world grow up trilingual dont they? I wish you lots of luck. It is hard, even two languages, when that is not the norm in this culture. My dh is Chinese, I am English but speak Chinese too. However we have found it hard to get our kids to speak Chinese. Dh tries to speak to them in Mandarin (not his own dialect, as he rarely speaks it himself these days and it is not a common one so he decided it wouyldnt be much use to them. Only problem is, if and when we go to see his parents in China, it will take a bit longer for everyone to understand each other. They understand Mandarin, but dont really speak it.)
Do you have family around? That is what I think would make the difference: we have no Chinese family here, but children with grandparents who only speak Chinese are maybe more likely to learn, especially if they spend a regular amount of time together. My kids quickly seemed to 'learn' that Dad also spoke English, and apparently no-one else they knew spoke Chinese! We have found the books, tapes, videos etc available in Chinese not very appealing.
I would have thought that if you each stick to your own dialect when talking to your dd, she may well be able to understand both, and eventually make the connection between the two, especially if she later learns to read Chinese.
Sorry to waffle on, hth

Jimjams Tue 11-Feb-03 20:16:32

honeybunnie I had a friend who spoke german and english (she grew up in germany with an english mother and german father). she said that in ordere for it to work you would have to speak one language all the time at home. so for example she spoke english at home and german when out.

I wouldn't worry about picking up english- that'll happen anyway from living in the UK. I don't know about speaking two languages at home- maybe you could always speak to her in one language and dp in another? Not sure how practical that is! Alternatively you culds maybe use one language as the main language at hiome and then another one for stories etc. That way she sould get to spoeak one dialect well and the other she would recognise. Interestingly tongiht on a n internet site I teach on there were several chinese students. Some could speak cantonese and mandarin. others could speak cantonese but undersatand hakka and some could speak all three!

Honeybunnie Tue 11-Feb-03 20:44:49

Thanks everyone,

I try to speak to dd in Cantonese, but I can't help speaking English to my dh or starting the sentence in Cantonese and then end it with English, as we have been born and bread here (I even think in English) not to good.

Dd sees her grandparents every week, so they can teach her my dialect (hakka) whilst we can speak to her in Cantonese. I'm sure she will pick up English, because we always slip into it.

What do I and dh speak to each other? For some reason, we end up speaking English and I'm sure like Soyabean said dd will learn that mummy and daddy speaks English, so why speak chinese.

witch1 Tue 11-Feb-03 20:50:48

Hi I have a friend who is English (wiht a degree in linguistics) married to a Persian and lives in Germany. They use their own languages to talk to the children and then keep German for school and nursery for their girls. The kids have no trouble differentiating between languages and only slightly delayed starting to talk. It has been fascinating to watch. The parents also talk German to each other as neither speaks the others mother tongue as fluently as they do German.

Ps Iam English but bilingual from growing up abroad and it is the most useful thing I ever learned - dont give up.

Good Luck

clucks Tue 11-Feb-03 21:37:12

I also know of trilingual siblings in Germany. Mother speaks to them in English, they get German from school and nanny and father speaks to them in Persian. The parents speak to each other in Persian. Interestingly the strongest language for both children is English (only mother uses this).

In my own case my DS speaks English best but understands my second language which I use with him, but DH only understands English.

I imagine your own confidence in the language you are speaking to them in will affect their uptake of it. Despite my terrible written English, it is my first language and I guess DS has picked up on this.

anais Tue 11-Feb-03 22:12:15

I don't have any experience or advice myself, but just wanted to say if you can make this work, what a wonderful gift to your child! I would love to be able to do this for my kids, it would give them such a great start, and while it may not be easy in the first place I have no doubt your dd would thank you in the long run.

Good luck

webmum Wed 12-Feb-03 09:28:37

We have friends who live in the USA but dad is belgian, mum chinese and teh children are learning three languages and they say it works, as others have said mum and dad stick to their own language when talking to the children, not sure what they use between themselves, but it can work!!!

sprout Wed 12-Feb-03 10:49:39

Honeybunnie, there's not much I can add to the advice everyone has already given, except to encourage you that is IS possible. Here in Belgium there are so many ex-pats and mixed-nationality families (and three national languages!) that we hardly know any monolingual kids. It gives you a different perspective.
I think the main thing is to be consistent in keeping different languages separate, i.e. one language per parent, or one/two language(s) at home and another outside the house. And to be realistic: your dd won't necessarily be equally proficient in both/all languages. And the balance might change from time to time.
My dd is coming up to 3yrs, so is still developing her language skills. When she sees her English grandparents, her English language gets better; and the same thing happens when she visits her German grandparents. Then in term-time, when she's at nursery most of the day, her French seems more dominant. People we know with older kids say it's important to use videos/books/visits to give extra input to the weaker language. And your dd will be also more motivated to learn & use Chinese, if she has friends who speak it.

soyabean Wed 12-Feb-03 19:44:24

Honeybunnie Will try again with the link. It should be here
If it works, I have learnt something new!

Honeybunnie Mon 17-Feb-03 15:51:43

Thanks again everyone.

I've been checking out the net and there are some interesting articles about the subject. I'll just have to persist.

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