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Jul 172016
 

Bilingual school – a good way to add a third language for a bilingual child?

Question

Hi,

I am a first time mom (my baby is 2mo) and both my husband and I are interested in raising our child as multilingual/trilingual. We are both Spanish and living in Ireland, and as per all the reading we have been doing about bilingualism we are speaking Spanish to our baby and she is exposed to English when we are out of the house.

She will start attending a crèche when she is 8-9 months. Between ourselves we switched to English when we moved to Ireland, in January 2015 in order to improve our level of English. One of my questions, I think I already know the answer: should we switch back to Spanish to talk to each other to setup a common family language? Or at least when we are with the child.

My second question is more like seeking advice: we have the opportunity to send our child to a German-English school (after kindergarten). It is not necessary to speak German prior to enrolling, and the classes follow the Irish curriculum, but introducing around nine hours per week of German. Some classes could be taken either in English or German but the teacher will always be bilingual or proficient in both languages.

It might sound like a weird move us wanting to send our kid to a German school (there are no Spanish schools here) but we are both very conscious about the importance of learning languages. When we were kids in Spain, English was taught since sixth grade, three hours per week (this goes on for seven years) and we both know that this is not enough to be proficient enough in a second language.

My husband has learned German as adult, he has a medium level. I started learning French some years ago but I have a very basic level. None of us have seated official exams of these languages. It is mandatory in Ireland that secondary students take a second language (French, German or Spanish) so our kid will have to learn French/German in secondary school and the approach is similar to the one in Spain 3-4 hours per week during several years.

I have to say that most of the people I know here tell me that they didn’t really get a very advanced level of any language during the school years. My question is if this could be manageable? Our intention is that her sources of Spanish will be the family, and there will be yearly trips to Spain during the holidays. We see the German school as a great opportunity to be exposed to another language since the early years…

Maybe she won’t end up being trilingual, but there is a good chance that she becomes a competent enough user of German and Spanish. As I said, our personal experience is that we have become almost bilingual (Spanish-English) through a lot of effort during our adulthood, and we still find it difficult sometimes…

We are keen to make a great effort to give our children the best chances to achieve plurilingualism.

Regards,
Deborah

Answer

Hi Deborah

Thank you for your questions, I am pleased that you are thinking ahead and looking for the best way for your daughter to become trilingual – parents with a language plan are usually successful in raising a trilingual/bilingual child!

You have already more or less answered the first one of your questions – whether you and your husband should switch to speaking Spanish between you. I agree with you, the answer is yes, switch to Spanish so you can give your daughter the best possible chance to become a fluent Spanish-speaker. You would then follow the minority language at home (mL@H) family language strategy.

After she starts attending the crèche, she will get a lot of English exposure, so having the home as a Spanish-only zone will ensure that she can maintain her skills in the home language. If you and your husband were to continue speaking English with each other in the home, the majority language will get a foothold as a family language, and it may be difficult to ensure enough Spanish exposure for your daughter.

In your second question, you wonder whether it is a good idea to send your daughter to a bilingual school with English and German, thus introducing a third language for her. I don’t think it is “weird” at all that you want to offer your daughter a chance to learn a third language at an early age. Also, I agree with you that it is so much more difficult to achieve even a conversational level of a new language when you are an adult. It is not that we lose the ability to learn a language when we get older, on the contrary, in many ways we are more efficient learners, but it is the lack of time  and ability to fully commit to language learning that makes it more difficult.

Attending a bilingual English-German school sounds like an excellent way of giving your daughter a great head start in learning an additional language, German. You have the added benefit of your husband having some knowledge in German, so he will be able to help your daughter with any homework and other assignments.

This kind of language exposure setup is not only manageable, but close enough to ideal for raiseíng a trilingual child. The Spanish exposure will come from the home and the extended family, English from the community and at school and German at a school which as its goal has to make pupils bilingual. If you are happy with the school on other accounts – we always have to remember that the most important thing about a school is how well your child will learn and thrive in it – then it sounds like a really good choice!

All the best on your multilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages.
 

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  2 Responses to “Q&A: Bilingual school – a good way to add a third language for a bilingual child?”

  1. My son is English speaking. My daughter in law speaks Japanese. She is able to manage quite well in English, lacking only the processing of cultural and idiomatic expressions. My granddaughter (9) is enrolled in a French Immersion Program where most of the day is total French. This year, in Grade 5 the English content and expectations have been expanded. My granddaughter speaks and understands Japanese with her mother and grandparents, and has visited Japan for three months at a time. My daughter in law has ordered workbooks (Japanese Workbooks in English and Math, and is expecting my granddaughter to work in these every day in addition to school homework, piano and karate lessons. The Japanese workbooks are causing tension and frustration for all. I am an educator and applaud a multi linguistic environment. However, I am wondering if there is too much expectation to master the written Japanese. It appears that this is causing behaviour problems in an otherwise beautiful, well mannered and bright little girl. I have encouraged conversation, reading stories, watching movies in Japanese ( making learning Japanese fun). I see the structured workbook tasks impeding progress, and causing family tension. Can you offer some advice to a grandmother who cares but tries hard not to interfere? Is the written tasks important at this stage?

    • Dear Shirley

      Thank you for your message and sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I am glad you added the penultimate sentence to your question – why? Because I am also a grandmother and I also know how important it is not to interfere with how our children parent. We also always need to keep in mind that parenting styles differ from one culture to the another. I understand that your concern is truly well-meant and you have your granddaughter’s wellbeing at heart, but I would leave the decision about teaching her to write Japanese to her parents, your son and daughter-in-law. Instead, support your granddaughter in any way you can with her English learning – and be there when she needs hugs and encouragement.

      Kind regards
      Rita

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