I have a question about raising a trilingual child and I need some guidance on that! My name is Daniela. My first language is Brazilian Portuguese. My Indian husband is a Hindi-speaker. We live in the United States where I am a PhD student. We have a 7-month-old boy we want to raise trilingual but there are a number of issues which make it hard for us to decide the right path for our son’s language instruction.
The first issue is that we are not sure which country (India, Brazil or the US) we will settle down yet. We will stay in the US for at least another year, though. In terms of language, me and my husband both speak English as a foreign language and this is the language we used between each other at home.
Baby spends most of his time with me and my Portuguese speaker mother and we have a very limited social life in English. My husband speaks Hindi with my baby but they interact with each other very little in this language.
Given the fact that we still do not know where “home” is, and that baby does not go to school or have English speakers around what is the best approach for our family to make baby learn the Portuguese, Hindi and English, at least so both families in Brazil and India do not feel so frustrated?
Thank you very much!
Thank you for your question about raising your little son to become trilingual in Portuguese, Hindi and English.
Since your son is spending most of his time with you and your mother, he will get plenty of exposure to Portuguese, so this will most likely become his first dominant language. I would recommend that you keep to speaking Portuguese at all time when you interact with him. This is especially important if you were to move to India, as he would be less exposed to the language. Should you move to Brazil, then you could increase the use of English, should you wish to do so.
You mention that it is important for you that your son learns Hindi, but also write that there is “very little” interaction in the language between your husband and your son. This will be your biggest challenge – unless you were to move to India (at least for some time). For your son to grow up speaking Hindi, he will need frequent exposure and interaction in the language. If you live either in the US or in Brazil, your husband will be the main source for this exposure.
I would recommend that you discuss this with your husband, to make him aware that his support is vital for passing on Hindi. I am sure he does know this, but it is good to bring it up to discussion. Some parents are known to find it awkward or strange to speak their own language with a baby, if others around them do not understand the language. Therefore, it is important that you show your support for him speaking Hindi with your boy, even though you would not understand what is being said. Also try to source some books that he can read to your son. Sometimes it is easier to read a book than to just talk – especially until a child starts to communicate more actively.
Independent of where you live, you and your husband will presumably continue to speak English with each other. This is fine and will not be confusing for your son – as a matter of fact, it is a normal language setup in many multilingual families. English will always have a place in your home, even if you were to move outside the US, so your son will get some exposure to it. However, just like with any other language, he also needs an opportunity to interact in the language to become a fluent English-speaker. If you stay in the US, this will not be a problem – he will pick up English from the environment, or through nursery or school.
Should you decide to move either to Brazil or India, then you need to pay more attention to the English exposure – maybe consider daycare in English and later an English-speaking school? It would be beneficial for you to investigate the different options before a potential move, so you know what the options are and that you can choose an area where you can find the appropriate services.
Wishing you a successful multilingual family journey!