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Jan 142016
 

Question

Hi!

I am Spanish and my husband Thai, we have a 10-month-old baby girl, and we live in Thailand. My husband and I speak to each other in English (not a very good one). I would like to know what would be your advice because we would love her to learn Spanish, Thai and English. I searched about this but I have normally found literature focused on bilingualism, not how to do it with three languages.

We are using what we read as “One parent, one language”, that mostly says that we should speak to her in our mother tongue. So I speak to her in Spanish, and my husband in Thai (well, we try our best, it is not easy!) but I am concerned about English… as many people say that she will get it listening to us, but I have my doubts… (mostly because our English it is not that good…)

I know the perfect thing would be sending her to an International School but, one, they are sooo expensive and two, we would love that she starts school as later as possible. So I wonder maybe it is too late… I would really appreciate any advice :)

Many thanks!
Eva

Answer

Dear Eva,

Thank you for your question. As you live in Thailand, Thai will become your daughter’s majority language in a couple of years’ time, so the most important thing now is that you speak as much Spanish to her as possible and become used to Spanish being the language between you and her.

You mention that you do not find it easy to be consistent about your language choices and for this reason it might be wise to stick to the one parent, one language approach for now. When you have made it habit, then you can consider bringing in a bit of English also when you speak to her directly.

It is correct that she will pick up at least some English when you and your husband speak it between yourselves, but unless English is also spoken directly to her, she will probably not become an active speaker of the language. This means that she will understand English but unable (or unwilling) to speak it. However, if she gets some other exposure to English as well (e.g. in a play group), then her English skills will develop significantly quicker compared to a child who starts learning the language from scratch.

If you and your husband are the only people your daughter hears English from, and if she were to speak it, she would sound like you. For a child to become fluent in a language he or she needs to have interaction with a native speaker of the language. However, do not let this stop you, and especially your husband, from speaking English with her when you feel that Spanish has a solid foundation for her, and, most importantly, you feel sure that it will not affect your habit of speaking Spanish with her.

I am emphasising the importance of the Spanish exposure, as this will be the language which will be most difficult to get exposure to. Visiting Spanish-speaking places and online calls with Spanish-speaking relatives and friends are great ways of boosting the language.

It is definitely not too late for your daughter to become trilingual. Maybe you can join up with other parents who want their little ones to learn English and start a play group in your area?

I hope my answer has helped you and given you some confidence and ideas for how to proceed on your multilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

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