We are a Russian couple living in the Czech Republic and bringing up our 11-month-old daughter multilingual. In addition to Russian and Czech languages, we want her to speak English as well. Both of us speak Czech and English fluently and Russian is our native language. We chose 2P3L strategy, meaning that both of us speak to her in 3 languages, one day – Russian, one day – Czech, one day – English.
We are trying to expose her to each language equally, so we read books to her, sing songs and rhymes in each language. We haven’t seen results yet since she is only babbling for now, but I have doubts sometimes how she is going to manage learning three languages at once. My doubt is mostly about the strategy we chose. For example, isn’t it confusing for her to hear that one day a Christmas tree is Christmas tree (English), the next day it is Елка (Russian), and another day it is Stromeček (Czech)?
When we were thinking about the strategy this one came as the most natural for both of us, but sometimes I have second thoughts about it. I cannot think of another strategy that could suit us since both of us want to use those three languages while talking to our daughter, but not to mix them.
My second question is about teaching our daughter to read in those three languages. We are not quite sure, if we should start to teach her reading in all languages at once or start with one language, wait for progress and add another language. Could you please advise us on this matter? Thank you in advance for your advices.
Thank you for your question on how to best raise your daughter to become trilingual in Russian, English and Czech.
You have adopted a strategy where you and your husband switch between the three languages, speaking each language one day at a time. Am I correct in presuming that you both speak the same language on any given day?
I do think that normal bilingual switching between languages in a family does not pose a threat to a child becoming bilingual, as long as there is enough exposure to each language the child is learning. Children in multilingual family environments do not get confused, as evidenced by the millions of bilinguals who have grown up this way.
Simultaneous bilingualism is a perfectly normal way to learn two or more languages, so this is not an issue either. However, in most cases the child has one person or situation per language, e.g. parent 1 speaks one language, parent 2 another and the child attends school in a third language. In families that use the two parents, two languages approach (2P2L), the languages are usually also equally supported in the community, and the natural choice of language in each situation depends on the topic at hand or on the language skills of the people participating in the discussion.
While your approach is a variation of the time and place strategy (T&P), I share your concerns about your setup. Even very small children have indeed been found to be good at distinguishing different languages, but I would still recommend to look for an alternative way to expose your daughter to the three languages. I think your approach (with longer time spans for each language) could work at a later stage to maintain all languages – this means after your daughter already has a grasp of each one of them. (Though what you will find is that the language spoken in the community will need less support within the family than the minority languages.)
Maria Babin who does switch between Spanish and English with her children does so every two weeks. She found even one week to be too short a time to get into the flow of the other language with her children. I have not tried this approach myself, but I can imagine that switching every day could indeed become quite exhausting in the long run. I also think a more consistent exposure in terms of who speaks what would be beneficial for your daughter as she is becoming trilingual.
I do not doubt your commitment to passing on three languages, but I would also like emphasize the importance of a natural communication pattern in the family. You do not want the languages to become something that stops the communication instead of being the means to it.
I understand your desire to speak three languages to your little daughter, but I would look at it from her point of view and ask myself how can I best support my child to become trilingual? Identifying one language with one parent or situation has proven to be a successful approach. If you were to both choose one language which you speak directly with your daughter and speak the third language with each other, you would still be using all the three languages in the family. Alternatively, you could choose to speak only Russian and English at home (the minority languages where you live) and leave Czech to when she attends nursery or school. Czech is the language you need to worry least about, as she will learn the language of the community you live in.
Wishing you a successful trilingual family journey!