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Oct 292015
 

Question

Hello,

My daughter is in Kindergarten in a German School, where they use the one person, one language method. Both my husband and I have Spanish as mother tongue and we live in a Spanish-speaking country. We don´t know how to speak German, so at home we only speak Spanish. I am fluent in English, so I was wondering if I should begin speaking English to my daughter, or would be it confusing and too complicated for her, as she already struggles with German due to the fact that neither my husband or myself speak German?

Thanks a lot,
Maria

Answer

Dear Maria,

Thank you for your question and for reaching out to us!

A child does not get confused when several languages are used around him or her, but there are other things to take into consideration, such as the amount of exposure the child gets to each language. It is great that you have found a bilingual day care place for her – by the sound of, it they are well set up for the children to learn both German and Spanish.

You mention that she struggles with German – is this something that the nurses have mentioned or how have you noticed this? Also, how old is your daughter and how long has she attended the German Kindergarten? Remember that the pace of children’s language development vary greatly, and one should be very careful when comparing small children’s abilities with each other. If the other children at Kindergarten have parents who speak German, they will naturally have more chances to use their German and pick it up quicker.

What will happen when your daughter leaves the Kindergarten – how long will she be able to attend a German-speaking school? To maintain the German skills she acquires, she would need the continued exposure to the language. Since you and your husband do not speak German, the contact with German-speakers must happen outside the home, and you will have to find time to support her with this.

With regards to English – will your daughter come into contact with any other English-speakers outside the family? If you are the only person she would speak English with, I would be very hesitant about switching to only speaking English with her. As you have already started using your native tongue, Spanish, with her the switch would be a big change for both of you. I wrote a series of posts on passing on a non-native language to a child, so I recommend that you start by reading the first part about what to consider before taking on a task like this.

What you could do to introduce some English to your daughter is to use a variation of Time and Place where you dedicate certain situations or (time of) days to speaking English with her. You can start with songs and rhymes and reading simple picture books. Compared to many other languages, it is fairly easy to find resources and opportunities for exposure to English, which makes it easier to introduce it as a third language. Also, knowing two languages, Spanish and German, is an excellent base on which to build further language skills.

I hope this has helped you – please do add any comments and further questions below.

Kind regards
Rita

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  3 Responses to “Q&A: Is it a good idea to introduce two additional languages to a preschooler?”

  1. Hi Rita,

    I really enjoyed reading your reply. My kids were born in Germany and went to a bilingual Spanish-German pre-school there. I am German-Peruvian and spoke Spanish to the kids when they were very little, my husband is German and grew up in Asia, so speaks perfect English. We have lived in Hong Kong for a few years now and the kids are 8 and 10. Throughout these years my kid’s “mother tongue” (by this I mean the language they speak best) has transformed, it was Spanish when they first started speaking, became German when they started school and in the meantime I would say it is English. However, it constantly changes depending on what books they are reading, what movies they are watching, what friends they are with.The family language is German and even though I have tried the last few years to go back to only speaking Spanish to the kids, as it is the language they hear the least, I have not been very successful. They constantly respond in English or German and only use Spanish when they want to tell me a secret or something embarrassing. Languages definitely need constant exposure in order to develop, this is something I did not realize before having kids.

    • Thank you for your kind comment, Gabriela, and for telling us the story of your children’s ongoing language journey. Yes, to keep a language alive and active it needs to be used. That said, a “forgotten” language is always easier to rekindle than learning a completely new one.

      Your family is a great example of how many languages definitely do not confuse children, but make them very skilled at using their languages in different ways. Sometimes they do it in a way that we did not plan, but that is parenting for you 🙂

  2. Thanks for your answer; it has helped a lot. I will give you further information that might help:

    – my daughter is 6. She has been in this German School for 2 years and the plan is she graduates from highschool in this same school; therefore, exposure to German is not temporary.
    – I would be the only person she speaks English to.

    I already started using Time and Place after reading your post, so thanks a lot!

    Best Regards,

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