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Sep 072017
 

How to prioritise between several family languages for your multilingual child?

 

Question

Dear Sir/Madam

Our daughter is almost 15 months old and we are seeking your advice on how to work on her languages.

Here is the situation in our family: My native languages are Turkish and Russian. My husband’s native language is English. We currently live in Mozambique, so she hears a lot of Portuguese and my husband speaks good Portuguese.

We would like her to learn all these languages, though Turkish and English are a higher priority than Russian and Portuguese. At present, I speak mainly in Turkish, while my husband mixes English and Portuguese. My husband and I speak English to each other.

We’d be grateful for your advice on the best way to introduce different languages.

Many thanks,
Jeyran and Callum

Answer

Thank you for submitting your question Jeyran and Callum!

Your daughter is already a lucky gal! She will be exposed to so many great languages but more importantly, you are planning ahead and laying out some priorities. That is always one of the first steps I encourage multilingual families to consider.

Let’s just do a quick review of the needed ingredients for a bilingualism. You need exposure to the target language or in your case languages. Children need to be presented with quality language interactions to acquire the language. They also must feel the need to use the language. They can be exposed to it all day long but if they do not feel the need to use the language then you will likely not get the results you are hoping for.

With that said, I would suggest you both get together and really think through how much exposure and need can realistically be provided for each language. It may help you to narrow down your choices once you know how much time can be dedicated to each one. There are a lot of percentages thrown around as to what the magic number is to achieve fluency in a language. However, those claims are questionable. I say that, so you don’t fret too much about how you much exposure and need you should strive to provide. Instead, I want you to use it as a diagnostic so you can make some decisions.

I would also encourage you to think through what you would like your daughter to be able to achieve for each of these languages. Do you just want her to be able to feel comfortable in family gathers with the extended family? Or do you also want her to be able to work in these languages when she is older? Take some time to think these over so you can make a sound decision!

Now that we have laid the groundwork and reviewed the main elements of bilingualism, let’s go into the specifics of your situation.

You mention that Turkish and English are a priority for you. With that piece of information, I may suggest you do the following. Mom, continue to speak Turkish to your little girl since you have pointed out that is what you are already doing. It is important that we feel natural and comfortable with the language choices we are making since communication with our children is important and should come with ease. You also mentioned that English is your husband’s native language. Dad, it may also seem like a natural fit that you speak that to your daughter. As a family, you can use the one person, one language strategy to achieve this combination.

Since you live in Mozambique I would encourage you to let community take care of the Portuguese acquisition. The community language is powerful and you may find you have to work a little less than expected in that area because she will be flooded with it.

We have taken care of three, that leaves Russian! You mentioned you would like her to have exposure to all four languages so we cannot forget about Russian. However, we do want to manage expectations on need and exposure.

If you focus on Turkish since that is your priority, her Russian exposure and need will be naturally lower. You must decide if you are okay with that or if you want to split your time between Russian and Turkish. That is a choice that only you will know. Splitting your time is doable, however, it does take a lot of mental gymnastics that you should be comfortable performing.

You may find that Russian will be the language that your family manages through some more relaxed interactions such as audio books, videos and occasional bedtime reading. The choice is up to you, you can make any of these combinations work – it will just depend on what works best for your family.

Best of luck, and have a blast exploring these languages,

Marianna


Marianna Du Bosq

MariannaMarianna Du Bosq was born in Caracas, Venezuela where she spent the majority of her childhood as a monolingual speaking only Spanish. Until one day, right before her thirteen birthday, her family moved to the United States and her adventure and passion for language learning began! Her love for languages started with her own experience and grew into a desire for teaching others leading her to spend several years in the classroom teaching dual language learners. She is now facing the most challenging yet rewarding facet of her life, that of a multilingual parent with a mix of English, Spanish and German! Marianna is the blogger and podcast host at Bilingual Avenue where she interviews multilingual parents sharing their best practices along with experts in the field of multilingualism providing actionable tips and strategy. She has a Master’s in Education with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction.
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