Raising polyglot children.

Zoidberg

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Hi all,

So, the one good thing to happen this year is that I had a baby boy a month ago, and I want to get input from as many people as possible regarding this big question we have about him. I'm already completely bilingual French+Spanish, and the mother is American (she took some French and Spanish but it's not nearly enough for her to get by), so I want to know if anyone here had experience raising trilingual babies in a natural, not forced way. Is it better if I speak both French and Spanish from the beginning and the baby will know how to discriminate both or should I stick to say, French and introduce Spanish later on with books/movies, while I keep French as the main language with him? We live in the UK and we speak English at home, so English will be the lingua franca.

My own experience is slightly different, as we spoke –mostly– French at home but I was raised in Spain, so there was always a very clear demarcation. The last thing I want is to confuse the poor child.
 

DT

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Hi all,

So, the one good thing to happen this year is that I had a baby boy a month ago

Hey, congrats! Dig in, enjoy every second, I know it's cliche, but FFS, I'll swear the little G was just racing down the stairs for XMas, sure that Santa had come, and now she's like, "If you and Mom want to do Xmas first, you can, and just wake me up later .."

(though I think she's trying to play it cool, but everytime a shipment comes I can see the excitement ... snicker ...)
 

Zoidberg

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@despondentdiver

congratulations on the birth of yr baby.

achieving true bi lingual natural ability for your child is not difficult if the parents themselves are self disciplined in their approach.
achieving true tri linqual natural ability is more difficult. but the French/Spanish pairing lends itself well to this aim.

a lot depends on how much time each parent is actually with the child in a variety of situations.
the since the world surrounding your home is in the UK, the mother's role as the English role model s less critical.
if you yourself do not spend adequate time with your boy, he will not become fluent. he will be able to get by probably, but will end up having large gaps especially in stringing more complex ideas.

but my actual concern for your situation is not any of the above.
its the high likelihood, unless you and your wife work very hard at it, that your boy will speak an ideolect that is common in muiltilnqual families where the child is mixing languages -using whatever word is used in that family. this occurs because there was no riqorous separation of the two/three languages so the child ends up with sub-ability in all of the target languages except the language of the school/community around him.
the child has natural ability to know what is english vs. french vs. spanish. if he sees cartoons in French he won't think its spanish.
so show him and speak with him in both French and Spanish, but separate the times you are speaking these to him.
you have until the age of about twelve to get him situated. after that, it will be up to him to become fluent through hard work.
to give your boy true native level ability and power him to higher level studies in any of the 3 languages, mixing is a no-no.
when youre speaking French with your child, demand French back.

again, congratulations !
Thanks for your thoughtful answer!

Yes, there are many nuances to being multilingual. With my sister we constantly switch languages based on what we're talking about, who we're talking about (and of course, who's around us!). We also both fall short when it comes to speaking about some fields where our experience only covers one language (leading to interesting situations where we have to speak English). Interestingly, I speak Spanish with a slight undetermined twang, whereas for her it's when she speaks French.

I don't have specific goals regarding the kid being trilingual, but I know speaking several languages opens a lot of doors, so I want to make sure we take advantage of this opportunity, at least to achieve fluency. I tend to speak to him in French, and he might go to a French school later on, so I was trying to think of ways to increase his exposure to Spanish in a natural way.

Our biggest fear, though, is that he starts saying "innit" :ROFLMAO:
 

Alli

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Congratulations on parenthood! It’s a marvelous adventure.

You will need to speak a single language at home. Obviously, I’d go for French cause I’m biased. It will be exhausting for Mom if she’s not fluent. I gave up with my son early because his dad is monolingual. Inside is French, outside is English. You could do movies/TV in Spanish.
 

Zoidberg

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Hey, congrats! Dig in, enjoy every second, I know it's cliche, but FFS, I'll swear the little G was just racing down the stairs for XMas, sure that Santa had come, and now she's like, "If you and Mom want to do Xmas first, you can, and just wake me up later .."

(though I think she's trying to play it cool, but everytime a shipment comes I can see the excitement ... snicker ...)
Thanks! Right now, he's just hard at work soiling diapers, so I'll be honest, I'm not enjoying every second.
 

Zoidberg

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Congratulations on parenthood! It’s a marvelous adventure.

You will need to speak a single language at home. Obviously, I’d go for French cause I’m biased. It will be exhausting for Mom if she’s not fluent. I gave up with my son early because his dad is monolingual. Inside is French, outside is English. You could do movies/TV in Spanish.
That's the thing, I think one of the hardest parts for me will be being disciplined enough to stick to whichever language knowing that it will automatically exclude the mother.
 

Alli

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That's the thing, I think one of the hardest parts for me will be being disciplined enough to stick to whichever language knowing that it will automatically exclude the mother.
I’ve known plenty of people while living abroad who did it easily. They spoke English in the house, and anyone coming in spoke x language to the children. I was partly successful with my daughter when we had a Haitian housekeeper for a while. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long enough. I have a cousin who did very well, but only because her husband also speaks Hebrew, so they spoke Hebrew at home and English outside or with non-Hebrew speaking guests.

I’m afraid I’m at the age now where I can forget words in multiple languages, and sometimes the only word that comes to me is not in the language that would be helpful. 🤣
 

Zoidberg

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I’ve known plenty of people while living abroad who did it easily. They spoke English in the house, and anyone coming in spoke x language to the children. I was partly successful with my daughter when we had a Haitian housekeeper for a while. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long enough. I have a cousin who did very well, but only because her husband also speaks Hebrew, so they spoke Hebrew at home and English outside or with non-Hebrew speaking guests.

I’m afraid I’m at the age now where I can forget words in multiple languages, and sometimes the only word that comes to me is not in the language that would be helpful. 🤣
Don't underestimate my lack of self-discipline.
 

DT

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Thanks! Right now, he's just hard at work soiling diapers, so I'll be honest, I'm not enjoying every second.

Hahaha, yeah, some folks are really into the infant experience, when ours hit about 3 was when we really started digging on things. Full speed mobility, really engaging intellectually in different experiences, got her first [push] bike, started doggy paddling, etc.

Don't get me wrong, right from when we brought her home, she slept through most nights, ate pretty regularly, so as infants go, it was a breeze.
 

P_X

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Hi all,

So, the one good thing to happen this year is that I had a baby boy a month ago, and I want to get input from as many people as possible regarding this big question we have about him. I'm already completely bilingual French+Spanish, and the mother is American (she took some French and Spanish but it's not nearly enough for her to get by), so I want to know if anyone here had experience raising trilingual babies in a natural, not forced way. Is it better if I speak both French and Spanish from the beginning and the baby will know how to discriminate both or should I stick to say, French and introduce Spanish later on with books/movies, while I keep French as the main language with him? We live in the UK and we speak English at home, so English will be the lingua franca.

My own experience is slightly different, as we spoke –mostly– French at home but I was raised in Spain, so there was always a very clear demarcation. The last thing I want is to confuse the poor child.

My two cents as someone born into a trilingual household and raising bilingual kids: it really depends on the child. Your advantage is that all 3 languages you mention are the same language in different packages. The general concept is that primary language cortex develops in the first 6 years of life, so whatever you teach them in that time frame will utilize highly efficient language networks, and they'll also do a better job getting phonemes (the elemental unit of sounds) down with languages learned this age.

We've been speaking our non-romantic first language at home exclusively whereas my older daughter interacts in english with people from outside the household. One of the notions people don't talk about is your kid even with two languages will likely start speaking later, which for me as a neuroscientist had been excruciatingly worrisome/frustrating, even though I myself started speaking at age 3. It's fine. It's normal, but you have to tough it out and it's really really painful when the tamper tantrums come but your kid still does a poor job expressing what's wrong. What happened with my older daughter is she now started speaking in full, nearly grammatically correct full sentences in 6 months from nearly nothing. Trilingual households I know usually assign a paternal and a maternal language, but if one of those languages are english it is harder, so I don't have a good recipe for you. I myself dropped my third language instantaneously the moment our environment dropped to bilingual (i.e. we moved to another country).
I’ve known plenty of people while living abroad who did it easily. They spoke English in the house, and anyone coming in spoke x language to the children. I was partly successful with my daughter when we had a Haitian housekeeper for a while. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long enough. I have a cousin who did very well, but only because her husband also speaks Hebrew, so they spoke Hebrew at home and English outside or with non-Hebrew speaking guests.

I’m afraid I’m at the age now where I can forget words in multiple languages, and sometimes the only word that comes to me is not in the language that would be helpful. 🤣
The biggest trick is to have peers that speak the target language. Parents will never be as motivating as their buddies.
 

Scepticalscribe

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Brilliant thread.

Several of my friends are in this situation; they seem to have resolved it so that the parent who speaks the language that is not spoken in the country where the family lives, addresses the children (but not their spouse, naturally, if the spouse is not familiar with, or fluent in, that language) exclusively in their own native language, while the other parent addresses the children in his or her native language (which may also be the language of the wider environment or society).
 

P_X

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Brilliant thread.

Several of my friends are in this situation; they seem to have resolved it so that the parent who speaks the language that is not spoken in the country where the family lives, addresses the children (but not their spouse, naturally, if the spouse is not familiar with, or fluent in, that language) exclusively in their own native language, while the other parent addresses the children in his or her native language (which may also be the language of the wider environment or society).
Agree, but I think English is also an easy language they can pick up quickly because everything is in English. It unfortunately also has a trapping effect. I used to speak a little German, but my motivation to get it down to a fluent level was thwarted by the great conversations I've had with my German friends in English.
 

Scepticalscribe

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Agree, but I think English is also an easy language they can pick up quickly because everything is in English. It unfortunately also has a trapping effect. I used to speak a little German, but my motivation to get it down to a fluent level was thwarted by the great conversations I've had with my German friends in English.

True, but if on parent is a native speaker of another language, for that parent to address the children (in private settings) exclusively in that language while the kids are young should give them an excellent grounding in that language.

What is interesting is that kids - in the teenage years - may rebel against this, as they want to "fit in" with their peers; as children, or, later, at university, they may well be more open to soaking up what a different language can offer them.

But, it is more than just language, it is also the more subtle stuff such as "culture" and how that language is used.

A friend of mine is a Scottish university lecturer who teaches English, and is living in, and teaching in, Portugal, where she is also married to a Portuguese academic. Their children are completely bilingual, but also had to master the cultural nuances of each language when speaking it in the country where that was the dominant language.

Thus, when visiting their grandmother in Scotland, while they knew English perfectly, it took them a day or so to master - or recall, and apply - how English should be spoken in that setting - less directly, less robustly biological, more understated, more "politely"; the converse applied on their return to Portugal, where their Portuguese speech - native, and fluent - was, for a day or so, influenced by the patterns of the more understated English they had been speaking in Scotland, to the scoffing disbelief of their friends.
 

P_X

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True, but if on parent is a native speaker of another language, for that parent to address the children (in private settings) exclusively in that language while the kids are young should give them an excellent grounding in that language.
Exactly! The tricky part is on the French vs. Spanish end, because both languages would come from a single parent (on a native speaker level). I think speaking all these languages = fantabulous EU job opportunities (even post-Brexit, lol).

What is interesting is that kids - in the teenage years - may rebel against this, as they want to "fit in" with their peers; as children, or, later, at university, they may well be more open to soaking up what a different language can offer them.
That's exactly when kids of the American diaspora lose my language.

A friend of mine is a Scottish university lecturer who teaches English, and is living in, and teaching in, Portugal, where she is also married to a Portuguese academic. Their children are completely bilingual, but also had to master the cultural nuances of each language when speaking it in the country where that was the dominant language.

Thus, when visiting their grandmother in Scotland, while they knew English perfectly, it took them a day or so to master - or recall, and apply - how English should be spoken in that setting - less directly, less robustly biological, more understated, more "politely"; the converse applied on their return to Portugal, where their Portuguese speech - native, and fluent - was, for a day or so, influenced by the patterns of the more understated English they had been speaking in Scotland, to the scoffing disbelief of their friends.
You are absolutely spot on. There are contextual aspects that go beyond mere language. I for example was taught to be impeccably polite in my native language and tailored it so latent racists cannot make up a reason to get offended (makes life much easier, even if you know some just have ridiculous double standards). That attitude isn't something you can switch back and forth, as I'm getting older it takes many days to adjust. So I can express myself just fine, but I come off somewhat blunt at best, rude at worst during those days of adjustments.

This said, social skills are very very hard to teach.:D
 

DT

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We've been speaking our non-romantic first language at home exclusively [...]

Japanese, right? I believe I remember you saying you were Japanese-African-American (apologies if I'm misremembering).
 

Zoidberg

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I think speaking all these languages = fantabulous EU job opportunities (even post-Brexit, lol).
Once we have sorted out the paperwork (which is being slow due to covid slowing down everything) the kid will have four citizenships to use as needed (US, UK, FR, ES). And partly due to Brexit and the general way the UK is going, we're already discussing moving to either Australia or New Zealand in a couple of years, which eventually would add a fifth one if the stars align. I've never felt like collecting passports, and when I moved to the UK I didn't plan on getting UK citizenship at all but given the recent turn of events I've changed my view on things and now I'm counting the days (319 to be precise) until I get it.
 

Zoidberg

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My two cents as someone born into a trilingual household and raising bilingual kids: it really depends on the child. Your advantage is that all 3 languages you mention are the same language in different packages. The general concept is that primary language cortex develops in the first 6 years of life, so whatever you teach them in that time frame will utilize highly efficient language networks, and they'll also do a better job getting phonemes (the elemental unit of sounds) down with languages learned this age.

We've been speaking our non-romantic first language at home exclusively whereas my older daughter interacts in english with people from outside the household. One of the notions people don't talk about is your kid even with two languages will likely start speaking later, which for me as a neuroscientist had been excruciatingly worrisome/frustrating, even though I myself started speaking at age 3. It's fine. It's normal, but you have to tough it out and it's really really painful when the tamper tantrums come but your kid still does a poor job expressing what's wrong. What happened with my older daughter is she now started speaking in full, nearly grammatically correct full sentences in 6 months from nearly nothing. Trilingual households I know usually assign a paternal and a maternal language, but if one of those languages are english it is harder, so I don't have a good recipe for you. I myself dropped my third language instantaneously the moment our environment dropped to bilingual (i.e. we moved to another country).

The biggest trick is to have peers that speak the target language. Parents will never be as motivating as their buddies.
Thanks. I'd already been told that multilingual kids tend to start speaking later. As you said, the conundrum here will be getting two languages from one parent. I'm prepared to have to let one of them take a back seat if needed, as long as he still gets some exposure to it (cartoons, books, etc).
 

P_X

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Thanks. I'd already been told that multilingual kids tend to start speaking later. As you said, the conundrum here will be getting two languages from one parent. I'm prepared to have to let one of them take a back seat if needed, as long as he still gets some exposure to it (cartoons, books, etc).
If you have to make a decision, put the easier language in the back seat. Is that Spanish?
Japanese, right? I believe I remember you saying you were Japanese-African-American (apologies if I'm misremembering).
EU, but the rest are correct.
 
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Zoidberg

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If you have to make a decision, put easier language in the back seat. Is that Spanish?
Yes, I'd put Spanish last because it's easier to catch up if needed, and also I expect we'll spend the holidays there often so he'd still get the chance to speak even outside of the family bubble.
 

P_X

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Yes, I'd put Spanish last because it's easier to catch up if needed, and also I expect we'll spend the holidays there often so he'd still get the chance to speak even outside of the family bubble.
We only allow the kids to watch cartoons in our language in the hopes of getting them to associate it with fun and make screen time meaningful.
 
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