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Thoughts on how to add a Third Language

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
My husband speaks strictly Portuguese with DD and I speak English (but I'm guilty of speaking a lot of Portuguese with her too because I figure she'll pick up English from schools etc). We speak a mix of Portuguese and English with each other. We're also doing baby sign language with her too.

Here's the thing. I'm fluent in German but I'm not a native speaker. I think it would be good for DD to learn some German but I don't want to speak with her in German all the time since my husband doesn't speak German plus I still have somewhat of an accent in German. I have some books but they are for older children/adults. Should I try and formally teach it to her or maybe just speak to her in German once a week? Would she still be able to pick some up from that? Anybody have experience with that?
post #2 of 15
We are adding Spanish to DD's vocab, but slowly. Right now she's got English and Arabic...so it will be easier for her to pick up another language. We're using Spanish cartoons, picture books, etc. Nothing formal though...she's still young for that anyways. I'd stick with fun stuff (playgroups etc) if I were you!
post #3 of 15
Our kids are English/Hebrew speakers/comprehenders and I tried to add a few other languages into the mix. They both know SOME modified ASL and every now and again get a hankering to take out the books and learn some more. I used to count in Spanish and French and say a few words here and there but they just didn't retain it. I mean, they did so long as I was doing it, but when I backed off and focused on other things, they just lost it. I'd like to think that it's retained somewhere in the recesses of their minds though. Also fil's first language is Moracain (very close to Arabic) so I asked that he speak with the children only in this language. It lasted for about 10 min. : Same with my mom, though every now and again she will speak in French (her mother tounge) with the children, or teach them a word or phrase, particularly when they try to teach her a word or phrase in Hebrew.
post #4 of 15
We speak English and French at home and I'm wanting dh to introduce Kabylie to the kids - a dialect of Arabic from Eastern Algeria, it's just getting him to do it that's hard, any introduction of language is a good thing, the more the merrier!
post #5 of 15
Thread Starter 
thanks for the help everyone! I think I might look into joining a German speaking playgroup. I know they have a few in the area. That way it wouldn't be as confusing for her when mom all of a sudden starts speaking German to her.

I have a ton of German grammar books, etc. from when I studied it in the past so if she's interested I might break them out when she's older. In the meantime, I'll probably just do exposure.
post #6 of 15
My children are trilingual. Me, English, dh French and half their schooling is in German (with French).

Supposedly, according to linguistics, a child needs exposure to another language at least 20% of their waking hours to pick it up. This is active, not passive interaction so while videos, etc. help, it doesn't strictly count towards that magic 20%.

To learn a language, small babies and toddlers don't do well in a former learning setting. The language has to have it's own little "kingdom", mom, dad, babysitter, grandparents (if they see them a lot), preschool, etc. You have established your relationship in English so if you start spouting German, don't be surprised to get a lukewarm, if not outright cold reception from your little one.

Just to clear up two misconceptions you had in your original post. 1. Both parents do NOT have to speak the language. I don't speak German and my dh can't speak English but our children speak both. It's also way less awkward than you'd think. We rarely have to translate for him and he now understands English very well.

Also, a child can learn a language with an accent and speak it later without as long as at some point, he or she is exposed to the "real" version. Example, a parent speaks to the child with an accent, later attends a school where it it taught and then the child will speak like the teacher, not the parent. Same goes if the child travels to that country, or is in contact with native speakers on a regular basis.

Now the good news; the better the child picks up the second language, the easier the third comes. I know from experience! My kids had an easier time just because their brain was already wired in two languages. So unless you have a German preschool or German speaking daycare provider, it would be a better effort to concentrate on getting the Portuguese well established, so that she's prepped to learn German or whatever language later on.

Got to run!
post #7 of 15
There's a book out, something like [Edited]"7 Steps to Raising A Bilingual Child", by Naomi Steiner. [/edited]It seems good for putting together a plan and keeping the languages coherent.

Beyond One Parent - One Language, you can create situations (i.e., for several months speak the third language at bedtime, then eventually might switch it or add in breakfast, etc.) where a language is spoken.

We've focused on English and baby ASL for DS at the moment, but are planning to add Spanish very soon. (Well, okay, we've read him some books in Spanish and used it irregularly. Need to plan a regular time/place for it.)

We're interested in Russian (I've studied) and Korean, we have two sets of neighbors, one fluent in one, the other in the other, so he could learn it situationally visiting them, but they're not as high a priority.

I'm working on Mandarin myself, in the car on the way to work. Eventually when I take a formal class, my son might become my practice partner.
post #8 of 15
I agree that it's best to get both Portuguese and English well-established first; your dd is too little for introducing German in any formal way to do much for her. If you sing her songs, lullabies, etc. in German that will "stick" for later. (If you hire a German-speaking au pair or nanny that would do it, but otherwise I don't see much point in pushing too hard with it now.) It's also true that natively bilingual kids pick up third languages more easily -- my kids are proof of that (native speakers of Slovene and English, both now learning German without much trouble or drama).

One word of caution regarding mixing languages: my dh is a linguist and we're very careful not to "code-switch" with our kids. That is, don't mix languages within a sentence, like "Will you take out the Abfall, please?" It's very easy to do when both parents speak both languages, but you should really make a clear distinction all the time. Now that my kids are as old as they are, we also require them to use all one language when recounting a story, etc. Sometimes this is hard because they've experienced it in one language and are retelling it in another -- the lazy way is to just repeat what happened in the original instead of translating it. We encourage them to say it all in English by reminding them that Grandma wouldn't understand "My teacher gave me an obvestilo today."

Your dd is still just soaking everything up, though, so I'd just persist with the Portuguese at home and wait and see what kind of person she is when she starts talking.

By the way, one language at home and a different dominant language outside of the home works well -- we are native English speakers living in Slovenia and our kids are perfectly fluent in both.
post #9 of 15
I think that all of this is way overthought. Of course you can mix up the languages. Have fun with it. Throw in whatever you can. We have trilingual sentences at our house and the kids have no trouble using the appropriate language when needed.
It's hard to comprehend just how good kids are at learning language.
post #10 of 15
Originally Posted by spajak View Post
I think that all of this is way overthought. Of course you can mix up the languages. Have fun with it. Throw in whatever you can. We have trilingual sentences at our house and the kids have no trouble using the appropriate language when needed.
It's hard to comprehend just how good kids are at learning language.
Mixing languages can mean the child doesn't learn the vocabulary in the other. My dh was raised bilingually but has trouble coming up with words in the dialect he speaks. When he has to speak it purely, it's hard for him and he's missing a lot of words. He's so used to mixing that the dialect kind of got the short stick.

I'm also from California where many people speak "Spanglish". They often can't effectively communicate in either because they're so used to mixing.

"Having fun" wont hurt the child, but may compromise his bilingual skills in the long run. It's not "overthinking" but just being practical and realistic!
post #11 of 15
I agree with this. I used to feel just as you do that I could mix and match the language around and this was making for kids that were also mixing and matching language around and having trouble identifying which words belonged to which language. I would get "BUT I DID say it in English" from my very frustrated kids. I would also get "how do you say this in hebrew" and the word being asked was actually IN Hebrew. So, I decided to switch to full time English while dh took on Full time Hebrew. It has increased the knowledge of each language and made the kids better able to communicate in both like a native.
post #12 of 15
I agree that if the child never hears a word in the other language, then he won't learn it. However, in my experience, education, intuition, most kids eventually sort out which words belong to which language. In my opinion, the trade-off of having slightly delayed pure language use is totally worth the un-self-counsciousness that comes with not having had someone "reminding" you to speak a certain way.
post #13 of 15
One thing that has to be clarified in this type of discussion is who is doing the code-switching: the parent, the child, or the community. If a child grows up in a Spanglish community, for example, then, in effect, that is a "language" and he will have trouble distinguishing English and Spanish because he has heard and received positive feedback on his usage.
If a mother throws in a few Spanish words into a very well-established English foundation, this will only add to the child's linguistic world. It would only take one or two occasions of "negative feedback" (confused faces, no response, etc.) before a child using a Spanish word in an English sentence figures out that it doesn't work. Language learning (and use for that matter) is an on-going experiment. You form a hypothesis based on what you hear and you test it. When that hyposthesis doesn't work, you form a new hypothesis.
As much as possible, language learning should be encouraged and appreciated for the joyfully organic process that it is.
post #14 of 15
First of all, you don't need to be fluent or have a perfect accent to introduce the language. I only speak French (my second language, in which I am strong but not perfect) with DS. We give him more opportunities for language acquisition by also having him in a French daycare full of native speakers.

Secondly, I think that if you can find other German speakers, that makes it really easy to create the association between the person and the language, which helps to keep things clear, though it isn't the only way to do it. That way, even if you aren't around them, you can play hypothesis, e.g., "And how would Dieter say that? I think he would say ..."

This is one of the techniques that we use -- we have a fairly multilingual family and set of friends, so in addition to the two main languages, we also occasionally talk about other languages by associating them with the people we know who speak them.

FTR, I read recently that newer research suggests that OPOL is not necessary. Since we do OPOL, I'm not quite sure how I feel about this, but for what it's worth, here is the link to the magazine article.
post #15 of 15
I agree that saying "how would Abba (daddy) say that" has been very effective in our home. Sometimes I'll say "how do you say that in Hebrew?" and the kids get really confused and blank out. But if I say "how would so and so say that" then they are like "oh!" and they know right away. They are aware that this is Hebrew, but it doesn't always occur to them in the abstract. Though now, dd (age 4.5) is having a relatively easy time with translation. If I say "how do you say that in Hebrew?" (NOT TESTING her but genuinely asking her, as if I don't know or forgot) she will be very helpful in reminding me how to say something. And we help each other. Lots of times, I ask her "what does that mean?" and she'll tell me in English. So that is getting exciting.

Also interesting to note, dd definately has a preference for English and ds (age 2.5) has a preference for Hebrew. He walked into the bedroom the other morning and started talking with dd in Hebrew. DD said "Speak to me in English, I'm an English speaker!" and so ds switched! lol

It's so fun to see them acquire the language. I'm so proud of them.

Oh, one more thing. DD was saying "I can't speak in Hebrew. My Hebrew is bad." stuff like that. And so I made a point of saying, after asking her why she felt that way, of course, "wow dd's Hebrew is SOO good. She's so lucky she can speak English and Hebrew perfectly." stuff like that. Just kind of dropping it every now and again how much I believe in her and how I just know that one day she'll open her mouth and perfect Hebrew will come out. After about a month or two of that, she started speaking much more and having much more confidence about the language.
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