I am Macedonian living in Finland and my spouse is Finnish. I speak quite good English but at home we speak Finnish almost all the time. We have 2,5 months old baby for whose future I’d like her to speak Macedonian and Finnish and to learn English as well. I am struggling between two options in about a year’s time when our daughter starts day care:
- OPOL (mum Macedonian, dad Finnish) and English/Finnish day care
- OPOL (mum Macedonian, dad Finnish) and Finnish day care and learning English through songs and she might learn some words from her brother who is 15 and prefers to speak English sometimes at home.
I was quite convinced we should take the option 1 but my spouse prefers option 2 as we’ve heard of such cases when trilingual children have problems with mixing and speaking, as well as stuttering which worries me the most.
Would you please kindly suggest on our situation, and many thanks for your help!
Thank you for your question about choosing the day care language/s for your little daughter.
First, I would like to address you last comment about stuttering. There is no evidence that bilingualism causes stuttering (the definition of a bilingual is someone who speaks more than one language, be it two, three or more). Of course, bilinguals can stutter just like monolinguals, but research has found no cause and effect relation between the two. People who experience stuttering will do so independent of how many languages they speak. Stuttering is often more prominent in situations where a person is nervous. If a bilingual child with a tendency for stuttering is very apprehensive about using one of his or her languages, then this may lead to the stuttering being more noticeable in that situation. The stuttering is however not aggravated because of the language, but by the uncertainty of the situation itself. Hence, it is not recommended to stop speaking a language (which would lead to even more apprehensiveness), but to support a child with the language to build up confidence.
Having taken the stuttering out of the question, let’s briefly touch on mixing languages. It is perfectly normal for a child who learns two or more languages to initially mix them – this is nothing to worry about. Bilingualism does not cause language confusion.
I often come across anecdotal “evidence” about cases of bilingual children who have “problems” with mixing, stuttering, not knowing any language properly – the list goes on. The real problem usually lies with the person observing these situations and only seeing a fragment of a child’s communication. The observer is not knowledgeable about how bilingual children acquire their languages (or, is against bilingualism of some reason) and so the Chinese whispers start. This is how myths are created and perpetuated. Let’s all do our best to stop them from spreading!
Back to your question about choosing the language(s) for your daughter’s day care. As I understand it, you are the only person who speaks Macedonian with your daughter and your home language is Finnish. (You did not mention which language your 15-year-old normally speaks). In any case, Macedonian will be the language that your daughter will have a restricted amount of exposure to.
You live in Finland, so Finnish will soon become your daughter’s strongest language. For her to learn, maintain and develop her Macedonian it is important that you are as consistent as possible in speaking the language with her.
As stated, putting your daughter in dual-language day care will not cause any of the issues you mention in your message. Yes, she might be using parts from different languages in the same sentence, or even in the same word, but that is part of the learning process – so please do not panic if it happens.
If you want your daughter to learn English early on, then I see no reason to not put her in the English-Finnish dual-language nursery. On the contrary, this may even support the Macedonian, as Finnish will have a less dominant role in her life, than if she were to attend an all-Finnish nursery.
All this said, don’t make language the only, or even the most important criteria when choosing day care. You want to make sure that you put her in the best possible care, where she will be happy, well taken care of and able to develop all her life skills in a fun, safe and supporting environment.
Wishing you a successful trilingual family journey!