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sonitaw 07-11-2011 02:01 PM

Hi everyone!

I am sure this has come up in many threads, in a few different ways but I still think this is specific enough for a new thread...


My daughter is almost 2.5, and for the past year we have been living in Barcelona, where my husband has been doing a sabbatical. At the end of the month we will be returning to the US. My daughter has learned a lot of Spanish while we were here and I want to keep it up. The thing is that my husband is Dutch, and I am American, at home we do mommy OPOL.

English is the dominant language, followed by Spanish which she hears in daycare, followed/ almost tied by Dutch which she hears at daycare too (here in Barcelona they have Dutch students working at the daycare). I am not sure what strategy to take because my husband works a lot and he is the main source of dutch for her, we have lots of books and tv shows for her, which will be the only thing she can watch at home when we return. As for the spanish my neighbor in the US is from spain and has a teenage daughter who just started college and is living with her so I was hoping to set up weekly babysitting where she only speaks Spanish with her....

I want her to keep up Spanish but Dutch is more important. I am fluent but I still make a lot of mistakes. So I guess this is 2 questions:


1. Anyone ever switched from OPOL to only 1 lang in the household, then the dominant language outside of the house or with strangers?


2. Anyone tried to maintain a language that they don't speak well (in this case spanish), and what did they do to encourage it?

Any advice or experiences to share would be greatly appreciated.

Geist 07-11-2011 06:27 PM

Hi, we're also raising our son trilingual. I can't help with the switching language part as we've always done me speaking German, my husband doing Finnish and society (usually) speaking English.

But I can help you with the raising-your-child-in-a-language-you're-not-a-native-speaker bit. I'm not a native speaker in German but  lived there a while and speak it well enough that I can fool the Germans in conversation until they hear just a few too many mistakes with the articles and cases. I try not to worry too much (but I do anyway!) that my German isn't good enough because even native speakers forget their language and it grows rusty if they're out of their home country for a long time.

We do a lot of reading in German and watch a lot of movies and videos. He's also home with me all the time, so that helps. I have a German-English dictionary app on my ipod, so anytime I don't know a word in German that he wants to know, I just say, "in English that is called a ____. Let me look it up to see what it's called in German. Then I look it up, tell him and then try to use the word about a million times so I don't forget it. Today's word was "Pollen"---der Blütenstaub or der Pollen. I would say reading is definitely the most important thing you can do though. Studies show that it's the number one way people increase their vocabulary in their native and foreign languages.

If you haven't read "Growing up with three languages" by Xiao-lei Wang, I highly recommend it! It has a lot of advice even though it does not directly address the issue of non-native speakers raising their children in a third language.
It does mention a bit about language switching though and comments that the times she would speak to her children in English instead of Chinese (like when a guest was there), they did not take it well at all and thought they were being punished, so that's something to consider if she's used to hearing you speak English and your English is a lot stronger than your Spanish. Maybe you could find a Spanish language daycare in the US?

Hollycrand 10-09-2011 05:40 AM

Seeing as the language is Spanish, there is a good chance you could find a Spanish-speaking daycare in the US without switching languages.

We do OPOL, and while we were living in Germany, I spoke English with the kids and their papa spoke French.  They got German from everywhere else.

When we moved to Canada (Quebec), their papa 'switched' languages on the plane (the kids were 5 and 2 at the time) so that they wouldn't forget their German.

I continue speaking English.  They get French at school and everywhere else.  Their papa speaks to them exclusively in German.  It has worked very well so far.

But he grew up in a German family in France - so grew up totally bilingual.  

I think it's always a tricky thing to switch to a language you don't totally master.

Now, having lived in Barcelona, has your child picked up only Spanish or also Catalan?

In many large cites (Boston, NYC, Chicago, SF, LA, etc.) there are lots of people from Spain living there.  It might be easy for you to find some families to meet up with, to find a student to come over and speak Spanish with your child a couple of times per week, and there might even be a Spanish school (from Spain) in some of the large cities.




DariusMom 10-09-2011 11:55 PM

Originally Posted by sonitaw View Post


1. Anyone ever switched from OPOL to only 1 lang in the household, then the dominant language outside of the house or with strangers?



Hi Holly,

Can't speak to your second question but did do #1.


Funnily enough, I'm American and also married to a Dutchie! smile.gif We live in NL, though.


Anyway,  DS went to Dutch daycare and now to Dutch elementary school. He has lots of bilingual (Dutch-English) friends, but they mostly speak Dutch together. Despite doing all the "right" things, DS' English wasn't as strong as we wanted it to be. Therefore, we switched from OPOL to English as our "at home" language. DH will still speak Dutch to DS if I'm not around, but when we're all together, we speak English. It has helped DS' English *a lot*. Just hearing English from me simply wasn't enough, despite also reading to him in English, having English language DVDs, etc.


It was hard for DH and DS to remember at first and I felt like a bit of a nag when I kept saying, "We speak English together!" but it really works.


Good luck!






Eclipsepearl 10-11-2011 12:28 PM

I guess I can say that we're raising the children trilingually. I consider us a bilingual family and then the children go to a bilingual school... in a third language. 


It really makes me the only source of English though. Between trips to English speaking countries and contact with other English speakers, all three are fluent and accentless. My dh doesn't speak English. 


I don't speak German but half of my kids' schooling is in German with French. Their German is fluent but not as good as their English and far behind the French. My son has a French accent in German (although that could be because of the others). I can vouch for bilingual education as a sole route to learning a foreign language, although it's a bit slower than using it every day at home and/or in the community. 


I do know families who have switched in RL but they usually did it while still in the host country, continuing the habit once they got home. I know a family whose children are totally fluent and accentless and neither parent is a native English speaker. The mom did find it difficult a few years after leaving the U.S. and although her English is good, she just couldn't continue. By that time, the children were in a special English language program at school for native speakers. 


If you go for it, I would suggest starting the Dutch before leaving. Again, once you're used to it, you can continue it more easily. No, she will not pick up your accent because she'll hear the "real" version from your dh. Yes, it will be easier with time. What if, down the line, you don't want to explain how a car engine works or the "birds and bees" in Dutch? Well, she'll be fluent in English by then so it wont affect communication in the long run. 


I would research Spanish language schools in the area where you're headed. They might accept her as a native Spanish speaker, which might guarantee a place faster. Look for a dual immersion program where half the children are native English and the other half are native Spanish speakers. Our program is not (designed to teach French children German) but immersion is better for obvious reasons. 


What if you can't swing it or getting the Spanish isn't working? Drop it. Concentrate on the Dutch at home. The fact she's been exposed to the language will be a plus if she ever retakes it. Her little mouth has formed the words correctly and a part of her brain will retain the ability. She will also be bilingual, which in itself, makes it easier to learn ANY foreign language. 


I'm not promoting dropping the Spanish but the above was meant to take the pressure off of you, if somehow it doesn't work out. All is not lost. 


There are nay-sayers who say not to use a non-native language. They do make an argument that it inhibits communication, etc. I would not take this on board too quickly. In your case, your child WILL learn your native language since you'll be living in the country. Also, you'll be able to revert back to English if communication is too stifled later on. That's meant more of a warning, in case someone says anything. They're talking about perhaps a foreign parent not using their native language and thus the children never learn it... Not your case! You're just reinforcing your dh's efforts. Bravo and hope it works!


Good luck with the move! 

FelixMom 10-29-2011 09:22 PM

We are raising trilingual kids here too (me: Chinese, DH: French, community French & English). Although Chinese was the first language I learned, it is not my strongest. The kids go to Chinese school on Saturday mornings, and I speak to them most of the time in Chinese.


Just wanted to offer my encouragement with your efforts. Good luck!

Bena 03-12-2012 07:19 PM

Our daughter is the same age as yours, and she's been exposed to three langages from the start; French with me, my family and daycare, English with Papa, and Persian with his family. 

Her spoken langage is slightly behind what it probably should be, but she's still able to communicate very well (it's her pronounciation that's an issue) and she understands everything she's told in all three langages.


It's hard to find ressource about trilinguism.  Even here, in Canada, were bilinguism is very, very common, it's hard to find ressources on that! 


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