trilingual families - Mothering Forums
Multicultural Families > trilingual families
Bena's Avatar Bena 07:10 PM 12-07-2009
If this is a topic that's been discussed before, I'm sorry for the repeat.

Any families out there where the children learned 3 languages at teh same time? How did it go? Any tips on how to make it work?

A little background (not sure if it's relevant, but anyways):

DH's first language is Persian, but he speaks english to DD (DH and I speak english to eachother, also). I speak French, my first language, to DD, and she'll be going to French school. DH speaks very little French, though can follow a basic conversation. My family also speaks exclusively French to her, and MIL and FIL speak exclusively Persian to her. BIL speaks both Persian and English. We live in a majority English speaking community/city, but with a fairly strong French minority (which is why DD will be able to go to French school all the way to University or College).
DD will be at home with me for a year , and then my parents and MIL will be sharing taking care of her when I go back to work. She'll therefore be exposed to French one day, Persian the next, with some English from Dad when she gets home in the evening.

Is this all too confusing? I'm pretty sure we can make it work, and I'm probably fretting for nothing, especially since DD is only 6 weeks old (!) but I am curious about hearing your experience with this! I know several bilingual families (it's very common here) but have never heard from a trilingual one.

cappuccinosmom's Avatar cappuccinosmom 10:50 PM 12-07-2009
We are not, but I just want to encourage you that it can work.

My dh and his older brother both speak 5 languages, mostly fluently. They were the ones that were old enough to learn the languages, as their parents moved around. So they speak three tribal languages (which are surprisingly different from each other, even though in the same country), the national language, and English. There are times when they will have to think hard for a word if they're using one particular language, but mostly it's been a benefit to them. Not just being able to communicate with people outside of their home area. But between the two of them, they love that they have 5 languages to choose from when they talk together. Sometimes one language will have a word or phrase that better expresses what they're trying to say. It is a riot listening to dh talk to his brother.
zinemama's Avatar zinemama 11:02 PM 12-07-2009
We aren't but we have friends who do.

Dad is Chinese American (came here as a child), Mom is Spanish (came here as an adult). From the very beginning Dad only spoke in Chinese to the kids and Mom only spoke in Spanish. They spoke a combination of English and Spanish to each other.

It was clear from early on that their daughter understood exactly what each parent was saying (and it was really fun to watch). She was a little slow to talk. (A lot to process, I'd guess!) but had no problems in that department once she got going. Both parents wohm, so she learned picked up English at daycare.

I would say at this point she's got excellent comprehension of all three languages but uses English the most since she's in school. According to the parents, the most important thing is consistency in who she heard the languages from. That is, it wasn't a problem that two different people might address her in two different language in the space of five minutes, but it would have kind of thrown her for a loop if Dad had switched out of Chinese to Spanish or English.
pixiekisses's Avatar pixiekisses 11:25 PM 12-07-2009
We are. I'm Aussie, and only speak aussie-english to them, that being my first language, my dear only speaks french to them, that being his first language. And we live in Scandinavia, that being the third language, we never speak it at home really, but they've still had friends and family speaking it to them from the start, and learning from other kids and adults in play-groups, daycare, school etc. Other kids/friends being the most efficient teachers, interacting with other kids have made them fluent in that third language as well.

My two 6 yo. are gifted, and love languages (and learning, they are geeks like us) and are currently taking spanish classes at school when the other kids have english lessons. And they've just started mandarin lessons as well because they want too. And even with 3 languages fluently and them becoming really good in spanish, and knowing some mandarin, it still works out really well. No cunfusion or mixing up (well, they're so big too so).

So, at least in my experience, three languages works out very well. It's truly a gift, I think, to give the kids.
mambera's Avatar mambera 05:00 AM 12-08-2009
We are trilingual (maybe quadrilingual actually - I speak English +1, DH speaks English +2 but only plans to teach one of them to LO).

SIL and BIL are in the same situation (DH's sister speaks his same 3, her DH speaks English +1) and their kids speak three languages. It works - even though SIL and her DH speak English to each other - because they are very strict about each addressing the kids in his/her own language *and requiring that they answer back in the same language*.

I would like to do the same with our LO but I don't know if I can be so rabid - I tend to mix up English and my other language when I talk to LO rather than being strict about it. DH does the same thing. I guess we are just not as hard-core as SIL and BIL.

From what you describe, it sounds like your LO will do great in both French and English. I'd guess her Persian skills will depend on the degree of exposure to her Persian grandparents but it probably won't be as good as her French and English since she'll have neither formal schooling nor environmental exposure to it.
Eclipsepearl's Avatar Eclipsepearl 06:04 PM 12-09-2009
My children and dh are trilingual and I know a lot of trilingual families in RL.

I speak English to the children, dh in French and they're in a bilingual French-German program at school. We're in France but near Germany. Dh also speaks German and the German dialect spoken here but he's strongest in French. He was raised bilingually in French and the dialect. He doesn't speak English but after 10 years, understands it pretty well, listening to me with the kids.

You actually have an ideal trilingual situation. Your dh might want to slowly shift to Persian so to make it easier on his mom. Otherwise, she might not use Persian with her granddaughter and that would be a shame to lose it

She'll get enough English outside the home so it's not necessary that your dh speak a non-native language to his own child. It's better for the relationship too when she gets older. Experience speaking! Much nicer to explain how an engine works or the birds and the my native language!!

Don't let the mother-in-law get discouraged and start using English. It's too easy a habit to slide into. So tempting to talk to a child in his or her stronger language. Even my own mom, who doesn't speak French, started saying stuff to my son on a visit. He taught her! He didn't want to be bothered with English. Get bothered sweetheart and get on the bandwagon mom!!

It's better if each person sticks to his or her language and doesn't mix. I've seen that too many times and the child tends to latch on to the community language, refusing to respond in the parents' language. The minority language can quickly land in the heap. Not too useful if they only understand. The real skill to learn is speaking. Understanding wont go on a resume!

It's okay if the languages are not at the same level, as long as the child responds in the appropriate language and can function in it without having to "dip" into the other. Sometimes my kids have to ask me what something is in English but they can have a whole conversation in it. While their English is not as good as their French, the German lags behind that. The older two can speak it but the little one can only say words and can understand simple sentences.

Two children mixed French and English as toddlers but everywhere I read, it was supposed to be normal and temporary. It was. The middle child, the earliest talker, never mixed. I didn't know she even spoke French till I asked at the day care ("garderie").

I've seen plenty of children enter the maternelle (preschool) without a lick of French and did great by the end of the year. There are a lot of refugee families where we live. I do know of a 4 language family but they were very strict. The kids speak both parents' languages, even though the parents don't speak each others', plus the community and school language (English, what the parents use together and they use as a family).

So it can be done. The only "bummer" about Persian is that while Iran is a beautiful country with a rich and colorful history and culture, the possibility of actually travelling there and visiting is not really in the cards for many years to come. It's very helpful to visit the country of the language, as you will learn with French, but the politics are against your family. Perhaps someday in the future. Where I grew up, we had a lot of Persian families and classmates.

It's so worthwhile to stick to the script. Once the child is older, you can be more flexible. But last spring, my son went to Germany. I listened to him translating between the three languages at 9 years old on the phone. I was so proud. He now wants to be an interpreter when he grows up.

So hope it works out. Certainly, it's realistic and can work.

Bonne chance!
Marylizah's Avatar Marylizah 06:38 AM 12-10-2009
We do it, and it does work.

DH speaks his language exclusively to DS. (Even though he is fluent in the other two languages!)

I speak English exclusively to DS.

DS learns the country language at school.

We have English-speaking friends, to help bolster DS's English, and family nearby who speak DH's language with DS.

All of DS's DVDs are either in English or in DH's language, same for the books. Books that are in the country language we translate into our language.

You have to be firm and commit, but it can definitely be done. Right now DS is going through a phase where DH's language is harder, and he tends to address me instead of his father. I just redirect him and we try to help him formulate the phrase.

In your shoes, I would a) have DH switch to speaking Persian exclusively to your child and b) find other Persian-speaking families for playdates. It sounds like your child will get plenty of exposure to French and English.

lostinspain's Avatar lostinspain 06:54 AM 12-10-2009
Both of my children are trilingual--I speak English with them (SAE), dad speaks Spanish (the community language) and they do all of their education in Basque. I do mix languages, and I speak in Spanish with my husband, but both children speak beautifully in English, and respond to me ,even if I speak in Spanish or Basque, in English.

I would say try not to worry about hard, fast rules. Play with the languages, have fun--they are tools for us, not something to be forced on anyone. Both of my kids waited until they were 4 to start speaking in English, but now they don't have any trouble. They're doing beautifully in school, even though we almost never reinforce Basque at home. And DD (6) is now teaching herself to read in Spanish and English, because she only reads in Basque at school.

I have never told them to speak in English, or required a response in any certain language. If they speak to me in English because they are feeling shy, I translate for them. No pressure.

It's worked for us.
mambera's Avatar mambera 07:57 PM 12-10-2009
I would like to hear more from the families in which the two spouses do not speak each other's languages, and use the community language with each other.

As I said above, my SIL and BIL's children seem to have acquired all three languages despite this hurdle, so I know it can be done. But it seems much much harder to do than if both parents at least understand all three languages.

I am working on learning the language DH wants to teach to LO, but he is not making any effort to learn my other language. I am not putting any pressure on him about it, and I don't feel hopeful that he will ever be interested in acquiring it since he is not 'good' with languages.
Marylizah's Avatar Marylizah 04:38 AM 12-11-2009
I don't speak DH's language, and for a long time we spoke 99% the community language. Now that DH's English is so good, we mix the community language with English. And I'm trying to use his language more as well. So between the two of us it's a huge, huge mix, but we're pretty strict about separating languages with DS.
ewe+lamb's Avatar ewe+lamb 06:29 AM 12-11-2009
After many years of persuading dh to speak his language with the kids he's finally started, dd is 7 and ds is 4, I speak english with the kids, dh french and arabic and school is in french, learning the 3rd language now is harder for them and I wish that dh had started sooner so that it would have been easier for them, but then we also had some issues at dd's nursery/school which didn't help. DH speaks fluently Berber, Arabic, French, Italian and English it's so wonderful to hear him and I look forward to the day when the kids are able to switch into whichever language they wish with such ease! I used to speak Turkish and then Italian but having to learn french I have forgotten the languages which I really regret, but then I guess that's what happens when you learn a language at an older/adult age!!!
Geist's Avatar Geist 11:11 AM 01-27-2010
Another trilingual family here! My husband is a swedish Finn and speaks Swedish, Finnish and English. We're raising our son with Finnish, German (which I speak) and English, along with some swedish because his family always mixes them together. So far he does pretty well with it, though his German is far more advanced than his Finnish since he's always around me and so far he doesn't speak any English. We hope to even out his Finnish a bit this summer when we visit his family.
What I wonder is if there are any trilingual families out there who have also homeschooled? I probably shouldn't worry about it too much, but I don't want the other languages to be reduced down to subjects since I don't speak much Finnish and German isn't my native.
physmom's Avatar physmom 12:35 PM 01-27-2010
I guess you could say we're pseudo-trilingual?

DH speaks Portuguese only with DD (although I do have to politely remind him to sometimes because DD is more verbal in English so far, even though she seems to understand Portuguese the same as English if not better and can say a few words in it too. I think it's just because the Portuguese words tend to be longer than English). I speak a mixture of English and Portuguese with DD, although primarily English. However, if she brings over books in Portuguese I'll always read them to her and we listen to and sing a long of Portuguese songs, etc together. We're currently living in the US but that could very well change within the next year...

I also speak German fluently but am not a native speaker so I don't try and teach her it at home. She's had quite a bit of passive exposure because we go there multiple times per year and sometimes for months at a time. I also have some German friends here so she does her me speak German somewhat often (and it will be more often now because another good friend of mine is moving here this week! ). I'm thinking of joining a German-speaking playgroup too but have just been too busy with work to even think about that right now. I also plan on picking up some books/CD next time we go there and at least have them at home. DD doesn't seem to really understand anything in German at this point but she's still really young so maybe that will come later. We're really trying to concentrate on English and Portuguese at the moment so if she learns any German it'll be icing on the cake. However, I might start more formally pursuing it once she gets a bit older and is more communicative in English and Portuguese. I know it's probably better for her to get it sooner but I'd rather have it that she starts talking sooner so I'm going to hold off a bit. Also, DH doesn't speak German, so he feels left out if I speak in German only to her (or with friends).

ETA I agree with PP about your DH switching to Persian. I have some good friends of mien whose father was Iranian and the mother was American. The father next spoke Persian with them and the kids still regret that to this day. They've never got to go to Iran (for various reasons) and feel like a big chunk of their heritage is missing.
FelixMom's Avatar FelixMom 03:10 AM 02-03-2010
Another trilingual family here

DH speaks French. I speak Chinese 80% of the time to the kids (100% to the ones still at home with me). And the kids have babysitters who speak english. DS1 also goes to a bilingual English/French school. We try to stress only French and Chinese at home, although some words and phrases escape me in Chinese, and so I have to dip into French, which is my 3rd language...

Keep up what you're doing and good luck!
Bena's Avatar Bena 05:57 PM 02-04-2010
wow! I am absolutely thrilled at the language diversity you all have and how rich your families seem to be!!! Thank you for the tips and encouragment!
I'm now really excited about her learning to speak. DH is trying to speak Farsi to her, but often falls back to english, as it's become more natural for him. Surprisingly, I've noticed my BIL always speaks Farsi with her.
I agree that a trip to Iran is not in the works for a while, though we still have hope that the situation there will one day change and we can go as a family and feel safe. By then, I'm sure she'll be old enough to appreciate that part of her culture.
Luckily, we still have family there who can send children's book....mombozourk (grandma) will be reading them though, since DH can no longer read arabic writing!! (sad, I know!)
Oriole's Avatar Oriole 08:36 PM 02-04-2010
I want our future kids to speak Russia, Italian and English.
English will be the easy part (since we are in the US), the rest will be a pickle, but I'm delighted to see that so many people make it work. I have heard of "mom=one language, dad=second language, + current culture language" arrangement before. Your stories give me hope!
Bellabaz's Avatar Bellabaz 07:48 AM 02-05-2010
This is us. I speak American English, dp speaks Italian and we live in French speaking country. We just moved here this past summer. Dd1 is in preschool and is picking up French. I know it can work though. I was an au apir for a family like this. Kids had no problem. Its so awesome for them. What a gift! Hang in there. It will work out. I think its just improtant to be consistent, especially inthe early years. Speak your mother tongue and that is it, don't go back and forth with other languages.
GoBecGo's Avatar GoBecGo 08:00 AM 02-05-2010
Not me, but a friend

She speaks Finnish, he speaks English, they live in Germany. So they both speak their own mother tongue to the children, a mixture of one another's languages to one another (which sounds daft, but it is hilarious for visitors like me when they have a tiff and he is protesting in English while she curses quietly back in Finnish ) and the kids speak German out of the house.

They have 6 kids, the 4 boys all spoke really quite late (by comparison with monoglot kids) but by 5 or 6 were completely fluent in both home languages and by 7 or 8 were fluent in german also. The girls seemed faster, talking more and earlier but were still similar ages before they'd gotten the various grammar/syntax sets organised (they would speak German with Finnish construction or English with German construction and so on).

The only thing which bothered mum is that by the time they were teenagers, though they could completely understand it and speak it fluently to their maternal grandparents, all but one of them "quit" speaking Finnish. It seemed to be that English is more widely used (i.e. they did it at school and got easy good grades) and German more useful to life (all their friends spoke it). Nevertheless they CAN speak Finnish if need be.

It can definitely work!
mami to 3 :)'s Avatar mami to 3 :) 02:14 AM 02-07-2010
My daughters are multilingual (English, Spanish, Danish and Icelandic) and DH tries (when he remembers) to speak French to them. They understand the language but they will speak it when they want to so it's not constant. Now with DS, DH uses mostly French with him. The girls will catch up on it eventually, and if they don't it wont matter, they have 4 languages in their pockets already.

We live in the US so they get plenty of english, DH is American of French parents and I explained our situation about the language in the paragraph above. I speak a mix of Spanish and Danish to them so does my dad and my mom speaks to them in Icelandic. I also speak Norwegian as I grew up in Norway, but I don't find it necessary for the kids to learn it right now.

Plus we are moving to Denmark next year and if everything goes right we're staying there for 5 years. So we'll have plenty of time to go to Iceland.

The thing here is consistency, your DD is young and there's a chance that she speaks the language just as well as the other two. Persian is your DH's mother tounge and he should stick to that.
That's why I don't even dare to speak English with my children, becuase it's not good and I'm afraid they'll learn it all wrong.
kcstar's Avatar kcstar 03:40 AM 02-07-2010
Pseudo-trilingual. DH speaks English + Spanish, I speak English + Spanish and Russian. We're both learning ASL starting with baby sign. DS is starting to speak English, and signs pretty well. We both have tried using Spanish with DS, but it's slow going. We also have neighbors who are native speakers of Russian, and I try to speak that when we visit. Another set of neighbors are native speakers of Korean, so we use our very limited Korean vocabulary around them.

DS is only 2.5 yrs, so I'll have to let you know how it works out.
JuniperBCN's Avatar JuniperBCN 08:34 PM 04-09-2010
Trilingual here in a bilingual region... I speak English to DC, DH speaks Catalan (although lately has been mixing in a lot of English) and we speak Spanish to each other. DS (3.5) sorts out his English and Catalan pretty well, understands Spanish perfectly but never uses it to respond. DD (1.5) is knocking our socks off with how quickly she's progressing in both, starting to address each person in their language. As for communication between the DC, seems that they are defaulting to the language of the closest adult in general with English predominating as they are at home with me.

Have been thinking that DH's Catanglais is sort of messing with DS's Catalan, but as it is the main language of our environment, suppose it will all sort itself out. As for English (minority language), we've got tons of books, music and do a lot of our screen time in English... that being said, DH and I are now comfortable enough to simply read in the language that the book is written in (or if the going gets rough, simply point this out) and we switch into whatever language(s) work best to make sure all people around us feel included. This whole process has done wonders for DH and my capabilities in each other's language(s)! As long as both parents are on board with the idea, I don't think anyone would feel excluded
ingriid's Avatar ingriid 11:50 PM 04-09-2010
Japanese, Spanish and Swedish