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Jan 262017
 

Is a dual-language school which introduces a third language the right choice for a bilingual child?

 

Question

Hi,

I have a 4-year-old son. We live in Los Angeles. I’m originally from India and native Hindi speaker. My husband is American and monolingual (English).

Since my son’s birth I’ve been on a mission to teach him Hindi. I’m proud to say that he understands Hindi completely and speaks as well. Though sometimes I have to remind him to speak to me in Hindi. He knows I can speak English too and of course my husband and I speak English. So English is really the language of the household. But I read Hindi books to him before bed and he watches Hindi kids shows and we go to India every year.

Now we are applying to kindergarten schools for next year for him. There are some schools here that offer dual-language programs. Though the language combos are English-Korean or English-Spanish etc. No school offers Hindi. While I’d love for my son to be multilingual, I’m concerned about sending him to a dual-language program. I feel that I’d then be competing with two structured language learning processes and would have a hard time keeping up with his Hindi learning.

I want him to be able to learn to read and write Hindi as well. I’m wondering what to do. I don’t want my uninformed worries to hinder my son from becoming multilingual. Do you think my concerns are valid? Or do you think somehow learning another language will enhance his Hindi learning?

I’d love a response at your earliest convenience. Sooner the better because we are starting to apply for schools. Your blog is so helpful. I’ve been forwarding it to my sister too who lives in France and is raising a bilingual kid too.

Thanks for your wisdom and guidance,
Deepti

Answer

Dear Deepti

Thank you for your very kind feedback and your question on choosing the school for your son.

It is great that you have the luxury of choice between dual-language schools! When picking the right school for a child, the first criteria should always be whether the school is a good fit. I recently replied to a similar question from another reader, so please check it out for the general considerations when making the school choice.

With regards to choosing between Korean and Spanish, also think about the future: will your son be able to continue using and developing his skills in the particular language beyond school? You would want him to have the opportunity to maintain and enhance his language skills when he gets older.

Children can learn three languages simultaneously, as long as there is consistent exposure to all three languages – which would be the case for your son. There is also evidence that the more languages you know, the easier it is to learn another one. However, I would not bank too much on the faster learning when it comes to deciding on whether to add another school language for him.

Your son will learn English at home and at school, so this will soon be his dominant language. In addition, he is learning one minority language at home (Hindi) and would learn another one at school (Korean or Spanish). Like you say, due to the structured nature of the exposure at school (and presuming it is a dual-language school with good results in teaching both languages), he would also learn to speak, read and write the other language of the classroom.

You would like him to learn to read and write Hindi as well – are you planning to teach him yourself, or are there Hindi classes for children available in your area? There is a big difference in passing on a spoken language compared to teaching literacy. Your task is not made any easier by the different script you would have to teach him to read and write Hindi. Will you have the time and the opportunity to do this? I feel a strong commitment to your native language from your message, so I do think you can do it, if you put your mind to it.

I understand your concerns, but also believe you can make the right choice when you take all the different aspects into consideration. I do not want to discourage you from choosing a dual-language school for your son, but I want you to go into the situation with the awareness of the different options and challenges that your choice brings with it.

I notice that you would have liked to receive a quick reply, but since we answer the questions in the order they come in, there will inevitably be a delay. As mentioned in the initial email response, there is always the option of individual coaching, either as a one-off session for a question on a specific topic or a series of sessions starting with an interview and resulting in a tailor-made Family Language Plan.

Wishing you (and your sister in France) a successful 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. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

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