Before a move, should children learn some of the language used at their new nursery?

Question

Hi,

we are a German-American couple with two kids (4.5 and 2). We’ve been pretty successful with being a bilingual family so far. Our older son is fluent in German and English. The younger one is just starting to speak, but already understands both languages as well.

Now we will move to Sweden. The kids will go to daycare there. Will it be problematic to introduce Swedish as a third language? Do you have any tips? Does it make sense to let them hear / learn some Swedish beforehand, so they know already a little bit instead of starting daycare without knowing the language at all?

I am already learning some Swedish with a do-it-yourself course with a book and CDs at home, so I could involve the kids, especially the older one, in this.

Thanks and looking forward to your answer!
Rebecca

Answer

Dear Rebecca,

Thank you for your question and congratulations on getting off to a good start with raising your children to speak the family languages, German and English! With your move, your children will become trilingual, adding Swedish to the mix.

I presume your children will start attending a Swedish-speaking nursery, and your question is whether you should prepare your kids for the move by teaching them some Swedish in advance and whether adding a third language would be a problem.

Children pick up languages very quickly when immersed in them. The younger they are, the easier it is to fit in, even if they do not know the language. My daughter was six years old when she started school in English, a language she only knew a few words of. It took her about three weeks to start understanding what was happening at school (based on the answers she gave to my questions about her school day) and after three months she started to speak, little by little. It was onwards and upwards from there.

Especially with your 4-year-old you will be speaking about your move in advance, so I would take this opportunity to also speak about the new language he or she will be learning. Bilingual children have the advantage of understanding the concept of different languages early on (something which may be much more difficult for monolingual children to grasp). If at this point your child shows interest in knowing more about Swedish, then go ahead and introduce some everyday vocabulary such as mum, dad, eat, play, sleep and so on.

I would also teach him or her words for bathroom/potty, water, hot/cold – basically words that are good to know to communicate a need at nursery. In addition, you could make simple picture cards for such occasions, so your 4-year-old can let the carers know what he or she needs. If you already have contact with the nursery your children will be attending, then you could get in touch with them to discuss this in advance.

Since you are learning Swedish yourself, let your children participate as much as it is practically possible, if they want to. There are lots of different Swedish learning apps for children, should you want to try any of those. I would let your children take the lead with regards to the Swedish-learning, if they show interest, go along with it, but don’t worry if they do not learn much before it is time for you to move. They will worry much less than their parents will!

Wishing you all the best with your move and all that it entails!

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