Trilingual - questions about how and choosing the third language - Mothering Forums

Trilingual - questions about how and choosing the third language

chispita's Avatar chispita (TS)
01:00 AM Liked: 261
#1 of 19
05-24-2013 | Posts: 447
Joined: Jun 2011

DH and I are Spanish and live in the US; so we pretty much expect our baby (coming in September!) will be bilingual. Our plan is to exclusively speak Spanish at home, and when the baby is older to spend time regularly in Spain with family in order to be truly bilingual, even if that means that we won't really be able to go on vacation to other countries.


We're also somewhat prepared for the fact that we might have to deal with teaching our kid to read and write in Spanish, though we don't really know how we'd go about it.


Since we live in the US, we're not really worried about English.


Our long term plan is at some point in the next 5-15 years to go back to Europe. Spain would be ideal, but not a must. This is why it's important that our kid be truly bilingual including reading and writing.


Thing is, I would really like my child to be better at languages than either of us is; and I feel that trilingual is what we should really be aiming for, but I'm not sure how to make it work or what language to choose as third language.


My first question would be when to introduce the third language - nanny, day care, preschool, school?


Our plan at this point is to have a full time nanny once we have to go back to work until the kid is 1.5 - 2 years, then day care or directly preschool. I know there are a few language immersion preschools in our area (though I haven't really done much research on this yet) - Spanish and Chinese seem to be options here, though I suspect French, German, and Japanese might also be available though I'm not entirely sure. Also not sure if looking for a nanny who would talk in either Spanish or whatever we choose as L3 is important / desireable - since we both work full time, I assume the nanny would in practice spend more waking ours during the week with our child than either of us (greensad.gif).


My second question is - if you were choosing a third language, how would you choose? I feel like Chinese (Mandarin) or Japanese would be more useful long term, but I can't help but wonder if they would really be that useful if the child never had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time in either country, and / or the education in that language had to be discontinued at some point (what if I find a Japanese immersion preschool but not school? What if we move to somewhere in Europe where these languages are not available in an immersion setting?). French or German feel safer as a long term investment but way less useful.


Any ideas or opinions?

Emaye's Avatar Emaye
02:16 AM Liked: 197
#2 of 19
05-24-2013 | Posts: 623
Joined: May 2008
Originally Posted by chispita View Post
French or German feel safer as a long term investment but way less useful.


Why do you think these languages are less useful than Mandarin and Japanese?  In your position, I'd just make sure to keep up with the Spanish because that itself is quiet a task -- especially the reading and writing part.  A lot of kids lose their parents language within the U.S. setting.  However, Spanish has a distinct advantage over others because so many in the U.S. speak it.  Building onto another Latin based language, one your child is most likely to use, also makes sense to me.  

chispita's Avatar chispita (TS)
12:54 PM Liked: 261
#3 of 19
05-24-2013 | Posts: 447
Joined: Jun 2011
Originally Posted by Emaye View Post


Why do you think these languages are less useful than Mandarin and Japanese?  

Great question, and to be honest, I'm not really sure why I think this ROTFLMAO.gif


Maybe because they're relatively unusual in Europe, so I feel like anyone that knows non European languages might have an advantage later on in life. Though whenever we move back it feels like it would be complicated to keep up a good level in either of those for the same reasons.


Basically I think that a third language is a tool that I would like to give to my children, but since there's no obvious candidate for us for which one to choose as third, I'm trying to come up with practical reasons.


Romance languages would definitely be easier, which I guess also makes them a bit less attractive as something to introduce early in childhood, if that makes sense. I myself studied French from 7th grade till mid high school and got to a pretty decent level quite easily - though I've since lost most of it because I was never in an immersion situation, though I feel like I could pick it back up in less than a year should I need to. Also, the fact that it is closer to Spanish does not necessarily mean that it won't be pushed aside and forgotten (as happened to me) - it's not something preventable 100%, but I feel that the more inmersive and prolongued the exposure to that language is, the bigger the chance that the child won't lose it.


It seems like French and German would be the most useful if you actually end up living there, which wouldn't be our case as a family because DH does not speak French, and neither of us speak German. Most other places in Europe it feels like you could get by with English whilst you learn the local language.


Though you make an excellent point about making sure the Spanish is strong. Maybe nanny that speaks Spanish, later on English preschool, and leave the third language till school?

Erin77's Avatar Erin77
11:52 PM Liked: 29
#4 of 19
05-25-2013 | Posts: 275
Joined: Aug 2010

Perhaps you feel like Mandarin and Japanese might be more economically useful? There are a LOT of monolingual speakers of those languages, and they are big markets, whereas French and German speakers on the whole tend to be bilingual and the total numbers of monolingual speakers are smaller... We are weighing something similar- we have a 2.5 yr old who is doing great with his Russian and pretty good with English (we live in the US so I don't devote any time to the English.) We have a Russian sitter for him during the workday. I'm weighing the idea of an immersion preschool, and trying to pick a third language. For me, I feel like having a third language will help insure English doesn't totally dominate. I have Chinese and Hawaiian to pick from, and I'm actually leaning towards Hawaiian, even though the economic value is obviously not even close. The Hawaiian one is closer to our house, state-subsidized and regulated, and it will help him develop roots here locally. The Chinese one is appealing because there is a huge demand for Chinese speakers and my brother actually lives in Taiwan and speaks Chinese, so there's a family connection. Tough decisions!!

IsaFrench's Avatar IsaFrench
01:56 AM Liked: 263
#5 of 19
05-26-2013 | Posts: 1,979
Joined: Mar 2008

Chinese is becoming fashionable to learn as a 3rd or 4th language in France ... it's possible to learn Chinese in some middle schools now but not yet many,..... by the time you move to Europe, the situation will have changed anyway .... In Spain apparently, Kindergarden-er have been taught the basics of english ... for the last 15 years ....

chispita's Avatar chispita (TS)
05:52 PM Liked: 261
#6 of 19
05-27-2013 | Posts: 447
Joined: Jun 2011

Yeah - I think that by useful I mean economically useful as a grown up, or  a differentiator with other people. I went to an English bilingual school myself, and later on learnt French. Since I never got any use from my third language (other than being able to occasionally contribute to the conversations of my French friends when they forgot there were other people around and switched to French lol.gif), that's what I'm trying to consider non European languages as L3. Though I get the feeling that in Europe even when they are available (and Chinese seems to be easier to find than Japanese), it's not in an immersion / high level setting.


Spain and English is an ... interesting situation. English is tought in schools from a young age, but in general it's pretty useless because classes are too big, teachers are not native speakers, there are not enough hours of classes to try to teach it in a somewhat immersive fashion, etc. So you find lots of people that don't really speak English, or have a very bad level, for having studied it for so many years. Some schools are starting to have bilingual programs available to motivated kids with good grades, which is pretty cool, though it's still quite new.


As an anecdote, I went to college in Spain, and in the field of studies I chose, there were two compulsory English classes. You could have the credits recognized if you had high level English diplomas (which I did), and just not take the class. I initially decided to take the class in order to get what I though would be an easy A (well, the equivalent grade) which would help bump up my average. I gave up after two classes when I saw that not only was the level super low, but the teacher ignored anyone who had a decent level, to the point where I felt that I would get a worse grade than others who were not as good just because they got more teacher attention time angry.gif

IsaFrench's Avatar IsaFrench
11:56 PM Liked: 263
#7 of 19
05-27-2013 | Posts: 1,979
Joined: Mar 2008

well, about english in spain .... haven't been there, but i hear you when you say that the level is super low ... my way of thinking is that just by having the classes,even if they aren't effectively teaching much, they are working on changing mentalities = it will be the "new normal" that people in the future will be expected to learn 2 or 3 languages ....


in my neighborhood, arabic is offered 3 times a week at grade school, to "ethnic students" ... but of course, the system cannot refuse motivated "non ethnic" students in the classes ... so my own kids asked to go to these classes, they haven't been pursuing learning the language at middle school BUT i was very happy for them to learn a language with a different alphabet, just so that they could feel "oh i wanted to try doing it, i did it .... no big deal"

Eclipsepearl's Avatar Eclipsepearl
04:23 AM Liked: 23
#8 of 19
06-16-2013 | Posts: 457
Joined: May 2007

Are you waiting to see what happens back in Spain? if the economy gets better?


I would recommend doing the move within the next 5 years. Moving older kids can get complicated. Easier to do it so that they can stay stable with their friends, education and extra-cirrucular activities. If I moved back to the U.S. (not planned), my son could continue with ice skating and judo but my two daughters would probably have to give up their rhythmic gymnastics, which is kind of rare, and way more expensive (and they only do individuals...). 


They would probably have to drop German. They are currently in a bilingual German-French program. 


I didn't set out to introduce the third language. It was an option at the local school they happened to already be attending. 


If you do German, your kids can't do the music program so there are choices. 


We then moved, within the same town. No problem. The village next door has the bilingual French-German program. Sorry! If your kids don't attend, then you can't send them here. So I was stuck driving them downtown to their old school. It's not the end of the world but not what I had in mind...


There is SO much to consider when you are looking at schools; cost, location, teaching philosophy, after-school care (since that applies to you), etc. that the language choice can rank far behind in all that. 


I would recommend waiting on all this and first concentrate on getting her fluent in Spanish. If her Spanish is not well-established by the time she enters school, a third language is not a good idea. They can get them confused. We had some children who had to drop out. They kinda, sorta, understood their parents' language but weren't really fluent. My kids were welcome but teachers would actually eavesdrop to be sure that I was consistently using English with them. As illogical as it sounds, my children have done well in German because they were already well-established in French and English when they started. 


Btw, I never taught them to read and write. They learned the other two languages first at school and they basically were able to figure out English on their own. My oldest actually prefers to read in English, which is odd since he's never had English schooling nor lived in an English speaking country. 


If you move between 5 and 15 years, that will completely off-set any language situation you've established so be aware. If you move because of work or anything else, and can't control it, that's different. The parents who have to move now that our kids are older are presented with a MUCH more difficult task. Linguistics falls to the wayside as they cope with trying to "recreate" their lives in their old location, which gets more difficult over time. 


Definitely move before the oldest hits age 5! 

IsaFrench's Avatar IsaFrench
08:46 AM Liked: 263
#9 of 19
06-16-2013 | Posts: 1,979
Joined: Mar 2008

well, we moved first when our then youngest was just turned 4 ... but with a speech delay in his mother tongue.

We moved for work so not the best situation for him at his language proficiency then, he did learn the local language ... but didn't retain his mother tongue ....

so in our case, it would have been best for him if we had moved a couple of years later, at least ...

so it's hard to say in advance for each kid ....


i don't think there's an ideal age for moving ... although i hear you about the difficulties of moving older kids .... since it helps (but easier said than done of course) to get out of the mindset of "recreating as much of the old life as possible in the new setting " .... 

flowers92's Avatar flowers92
04:40 PM Liked: 11
#10 of 19
06-18-2013 | Posts: 3
Joined: Jun 2013

Tri <- anything lol had to do it. But we are becoming more of an international community. Asia has the Most population and leads the world in education... how about Chinese?

chispita's Avatar chispita (TS)
11:27 AM Liked: 261
#11 of 19
06-19-2013 | Posts: 447
Joined: Jun 2011

Good point about when we're considering the move back to Europe...


To be honest, we're not sure. I know that 12-13 years is the very top for most of the factors you've mentioned (non language related). 5 seems too soon though not impossible, but somewhere between that and 10 looks likely.


Looks like it might be a better idea to not introduce a third language before school and just work on getting the kid to be fluent and comfortable in both English and Spanish by then.

Eclipsepearl's Avatar Eclipsepearl
08:25 AM Liked: 23
#12 of 19
06-22-2013 | Posts: 457
Joined: May 2007

You can introduce a third language. I'm just saying that moving a child between ages 5 and 10 might be a lot tougher than you think it will be. Your children will be settled into their schooling, friends and activities. It would be devastating for mine if we pulled them away from their lives here. I couldn't "recreate" what they have here anywhere else. I've seen families who had to move with this age and it was really tough. You gotta do what you gotta do but to plan on moving a child at about that age, to me, is not wise planning. 


The obvious reason for doing the schooling you want to do is because nothing is set in stone. You could find yourselves in the U.S. longer than you think, and then you'll be kicking yourselves if the move to Spain doesn't happen or happens later. Then, you would have passed up on a good opportunity...


There was a family who did the same as we did. They put their child in the bilingual program and he didn't do well and had to be pulled out. The difference was that both parents can speak English. The French mom actually lived in the U.S. for awhile so basically, they used English at home. When the son got to school, he was then confronted with basically two new languages. He spoke French but not as well as the other kids and his brain wasn't ready to absorb another language. They then put him in a bilingual French-English language program, supporting the two languages he already had. Later, I'm sure he had German as a subject.


So only a slight difference can make or break a child's experience with a third school language.


Another issue I've faced, especially since my children are in a program, not a bilingual school, is that they see the other pupils in other classes doing an "easier" program. "They don't have to do math in German!" they lamented. We were warned that kids can get a little sick of the German from time to time and that this is normal. It just makes everything harder and that's true. My children don't feel connected to German as they do to English. Even with a German-speaking father, a part-German mother and growing up on the border with Germany, they don't feel drawn to the language. I find living on the border to be its own adventure but my children don't appreciate that because for them, it's always been their reality. English is cool and novel. German is banal. The oldest also claims that German is "ugly" lol!


Just be aware. Chinese is not your heritage language, you're not near the border and your child doesn't have a personal connection to it.   

MamaOutThere's Avatar MamaOutThere
01:40 AM Liked: 17
#13 of 19
06-28-2013 | Posts: 291
Joined: Apr 2007

We've moved our kids every three years since birth; they have been fine with it.  My introvert daughter was going to have the same difficulties transitioning from grade level to grade level and from primary to secondary as she has had moving from school to school.  There are many, many families with lovely, thriving children who lead the same lifestyle.  My husband works in a very limited sphere, which requires us to move around.  That said, the reason for this particular move is that we are looking to settle until my elder daughter finishes high school.


I would say -- in my experience, anyway -- that there are no set rules when it comes to language introduction.  Each child -- and his or her circumstances -- is enormously different from the other, so how can there be any rules to follow? 


There is no one way to do this!  You can be all over the place and still produce a child who is functional in more than one language.  I feel like people are looking for perfection where it probably won't exist.  I don't know any bilingual or multi-lingual child who functions evenly in all of his or her languages -- and I know many, many multilingual children.


As for choosing a third language, I would say it will just come when the moment is right.  But Eastern European languages are very desired right now thanks to all of the new/emerging EU countries.  I have an Italian niece (thru ex-husband) who just graduated and who speaks Italian, French and Spanish.  She can't get a job because everyone wants Russian or Eastern European language speakers.

MamaOutThere's Avatar MamaOutThere
02:03 AM Liked: 17
#14 of 19
06-28-2013 | Posts: 291
Joined: Apr 2007

I'd also like to say to those people who claim that language fluency must occur before the age of 10 or something (saw this recently said by a mom who insisted her daughter be perfectly fluent in Mandarin and Spanish before that age due to brain development) that I learned Italian at the age of 19 and ended up speaking and writing better than many of my Italian peers (I was in total immersion, not speaking English but rarely).  To this day, after fifteen years of not speaking on a regular basis, I can just pick up and sound like a native (according to natives).


Like I said, "no rules."

Eclipsepearl's Avatar Eclipsepearl
12:59 AM Liked: 23
#15 of 19
07-06-2013 | Posts: 457
Joined: May 2007

They sound like classic "Third Culture Kids" in the true sense of the idea. 


I do think there's a difference between families who have to move due to work or other pressing reasons and those who move voluntarily. Often, the company or organization helps out and gives the family help in many ways. A family moving countries on their own doesn't have that support. Schooling can also be a problem if they can't afford expensive expat schools or aren't near one. The children have to adjust to the local school system from scratch. This can work, or not. 


Don't assume the opposite. There are many thriving 3rd Culture Kids out there. I'm just saying that for a family to change countries on their own, doing it before the oldest hits 5 will be much, much easier. Children who have moved, and moved again know that this is their reality so they know this ahead of time. Moving out of the blue for a child will settled in one place might be a different story. With the OP, they have control over this so it's fair that they realize this. 


I just said goodbye to a diplomat family last week. The mother is very unhappy with the next posting but they were limited. Their son has a learning problem that couldn't be handled in a lot of places so they had to take a "safe" posting where he could get the help he needs. He's also really into a sport which can't be found everywhere. It's important for children with learning disabilities to keep up activities where they are more competent than they might be at schoolwork. Stuff like that can pop up... Not all kids can be moved so easily and this was a child born to a diplomat! 


Are you moving here? Feel free to PAN me! 

chispita's Avatar chispita (TS)
12:04 AM Liked: 261
#16 of 19
07-07-2013 | Posts: 447
Joined: Jun 2011

I somewhat resent the hinting that because an international move is planned years in advance it must be frivolous and merely voluntary. I know it's not exactly what was said, and chances are I'm being too sensitive, for this, but it's been bugging me for a bit. It will be a well though out, necessary, and important move for our family - the only resons we are here are career related, and it does not make sense to consider moving back before we're both (or at least one of us) at a certain point in our careers, and we're not yet; though we're aware that there's a time limit on the moving back plans if we want out kid to consider Europe or Spain home, so it's complicated.


I am aware that uprooting children from their environment is generally not a good idea, and is bound to come with many issues; though as a family it is important for us to get physically closer to our extended families. I'm seriously not trying to minimize how difficult this is bound to be, in fact it's something that's been on our mind since before we started TTC, but we really couldn't postpone our personal plans forever.


Though lately we are trying to be more strategical career wise, so who knows, maybe we'll be where we want to be before 5 years and the move can happen sooner.

k x s's Avatar k x s
01:54 AM Liked: 68
#17 of 19
07-07-2013 | Posts: 77
Joined: May 2012

I think if you really want a tri-lingual child then immersion is the best way to give that third language a chance at surviving IMO. So I vote nanny and sunday school for your third language of choice. (Assuming of course your child grows up learning english and spanish from you and does spanish as a second language at school from elementary. A Spanish immersion program would be even better.)


Also while Chinese is a useful language since your child will most probably be moving back to the EU would a third language like German, Italian or French be more useful for job opportunities? Even if they are not jobs in Spain at least they would give them the shot at jobs in neighbouring EU countries. (I've heard that some jobs require you to be fluent in Italian, german and french.) But on the other hand if picking up a 4th or 5th wouldn't be too difficult because the languages are similar enough like french and italian then maybe Chinese is the way to go.

Eclipsepearl's Avatar Eclipsepearl
10:23 AM Liked: 23
#18 of 19
08-21-2013 | Posts: 457
Joined: May 2007

Quite frankly, those are unjustified accusations. I would suggest you have more of an open mind, especially how it relates to living abroad. Also, I was a little confused by this statement that you want "Europe or Spain to be home". Technically Spain is IN Europe but leave semantics for now... You're assuming that a child MUST live in that country to consider it "home". My children are very, very comfortable and have a very well-established American identity and they're never lived there. There is no rule that the only way a child can have an identity is to live in the country. Speaking the language, frequent visits, close contact with friends and family are huge influences. Make the decisions that are right for your family but please don't uproot them and disrupt their lives simply because of a misplaced idea about their national identities and connections! 

AllisonR's Avatar AllisonR
10:17 AM Liked: 244
#19 of 19
08-22-2013 | Posts: 3,100
Joined: May 2006

Why you are moving is irrelevant to the conversation. I say that I won't move for work, uproot my kids to a new country when they are in school in 1st and 3rd grades. Loss of friends, a very hard time to move. But if someone knocked on our door and offered DH an engineering job in Italy or Amsterdam for the next 2 or 3 years, well, I would probably reconsider, real fast. mischievous.gif


I read a lovely quote recently "Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st century." I think that's appropriate. I was raised in the states and knew english and got two years of French in school. The extent of my french is now Voules vous coucher avec moi ce soir. And I had to google translate that to spell it. ugh. Spanish would have been much more practical. Spanish was spoken in the southern states where I was, I could have conversed with others. There was no personal interest in French, no desire, it was just a required class. What I am saying is if you add a language, there has to be personal motivation to learn it. If your child is around no one that speaks mandarin except the teacher once a week, and isn't going to be moving to china shortly, there may be no internal motivation. But, for example, if you sign your child and his/her 3 friends up for mandarin, perhaps they would encourage each other...


I agree with you that I want my kids to be better at languages than DH and myself. They are, just by having 2 languages already. My DS and DD get english at home and danish at school. Their english is better than my DHs and their Danish is better than mine. And there is personal interest in both languages. When they were little they never spoke english, but now that they are in school they now see that english is not just mom talking crazy. They see that a lot of computer programs and games run in english. They see the older kids in school talking in english; or at least swearing in english, and they think that is cool. They want to talk with their maternal grandparents. They see movies in english - it is that or read the subtitles. However, my sons best friend comes from an arabic speaking home, and he sees no one except mom speaking arabic, not the older kids, not computer... his mom is understandably not happy that he does not take up arabic with any interest. 


Once you have two languages, I think adding a 3rd or 4th are much easier. Your brain is already thinking in multiple ways. My Dd also starts english this year in school, 1st grade, starts german in 3rd grade, and starts french in 5th grade. If it was my choice, I would switch french with spanish or mandarin. But it isn't my choice, it is what the school offers. If you have the choice of whatever 3rd language you want, I would wait until the time comes to take a language, then base the decision on your child, their specific needs, and how interesting and useful that language will be. 


Another option would be to move to Belgium instead of Spain. Belgians speak flemmish, dutch, french, english, german - all fluently. On top of that many also speak spanish, french, portuguese, italian... I guess once your adding your 8th language, who is counting?

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