Q&A: How to plan ahead for raising a baby to be trilingual?

by | Jul 28, 2016 | Babies, Coaches, Q&A The trilingual+ child, Rita R | 9 comments

How to plan ahead for raising a baby to be trilingual?

Question

Hello!

My name is Fatima and I live in the USA. I’m originally from Russia, and my husband is from Jordan. My baby is only 4 months old, I know it’s too early to think about languages now but I don’t want to be late! So I read a lot about multilingual parenting, I’m so glad that I found you and your newsletter! It’s good to know that there are many people like myself.

I speak Russian, English, Turkish, one more language that is spoken in Russia (which is my first language along with Russian) and Arabic. My Arabic isn’t perfect. My husband speaks English and Arabic. We speak English at home and my husband speaks Arabic with me as well. I do understand Arabic and I try to speak it but I’m still learning it myself.

Now, we want our daughter to speak at least three languages (English, Arabic, Russian). As many of your readers I am scared … I don’t know how is this going to work. So I need help from professionals – wht  should I do! Where should I start? I’m sure you deal with many situations like mine every day! But we all need you!!

Looking forward to hear from you soon!
Thank you! Have a nice day!
Fatima

Answer

Dear Fatima

Thank you for your question and for your feedback, I am pleased to hear that you have found the site useful! You are definitely not too early with your question. I know it will still be many months before your daughter says her first words, but now is the right time to plan ahead how you want her to learn all the three languages she will encounter.

There has been quite a few questions about raising a trilingual child in the past, so I would recommend that you also take a look at our answers to Marco, Elena and Iren, Eva, Valerio and Erico and Idania. Another recommendation is to type in ‘trilingual’ in the search box of our site and you will get a list of articles on the topic.

As you live in the USA, English is the language you need to worry least about. Your daughter will learn that once she starts nursery or school and the language will most likely become her strongest one by time. My recommendation is that you and your husband both speak your native languages to your daughter, i.e. you speak Russian and your husband Arabic, following a variation of the one parent, one language (OPOL) approach.

I would also start gathering Russian and Arabic resources such as books, rhymes, songs, toys etc. so you have them handy. Start reading books to her now, so you get into the routine!

Since your husband does not know Russian, but you know Arabic, I would recommend that you make Arabic your common language at home. If you currently also speak English with each other, it would be good to phase it out, so that only Russian and Arabic are spoken in the home. By not making English one of the languages you speak at home, you will have a better chance of your daughter becoming used to always speaking Russian with you and Arabic with her father.

One important reason why it is great that you are thinking about this now is that you need to discuss and agree this plan with your husband. Since he does not speak Russian, there will be times when he does not understand what you are saying to your daughter – and he needs to be okay with such situations. You on the other hand need to be mindful and translate whenever necessary so he does not feel left out. If you are the one who will spend more time with your daughter, then it is highly likely that her first words will be in Russian – another situation your husband needs to be mentally prepared for.

All this said, many families have gone through this very same process and can vouch that it will work out, as long as both of you consistently stick to your languages when you speak directly with your daughter. Although her first words may be Russian, she will also pick up Arabic, as she will be speaking it with her father and hear both of you speak it together.

Since you will be hearing more Arabic than before, your skills will improve as well – and, if your husband is willing to learn a bit of Russian, he can also learn a bit alongside his daughter! A true win-win-win story for the whole family.

Best of luck to you all!
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.

9 Comments

  1. Ola

    Hello Fatima, I’m from jordan, living in the states and originally from Chechnya. I speak all three, my husband speaks Arabic and English. He only knows few words in Chechen. So he speaks Arabic to our daughter, and I started speaking only Chechen. We never spoke English to her, but she picked it up very quickly from tv and just being in the environment. So it was very hard in the beginning, she was almost 2/2.5 when she started to speak and communicate, and it was mostly in English, just words no sentences. 2.5 we went to jordan for 6 weeks, that’s when she really started to pick so much from all the kids in the family and just being around people who spoke the language, and after we came back she started talking more and more. Now she is turning 3 years old in 2 weeks.and she is talking so much more, she is leaning much faster. When she plays independently she speaks English, and I don’t encourage nor discourage it, but when she talks to us, we are very strict about it. And when I started to see that she is doing good in Chechen I started to speak Arabic more and more with her, and now I try to speak only Arabic when her dad is around. I’m noticing that she now knows that she should speak to me in Chechen and to her dad Arabic, and when ever she says anything in English I make sure she say the equivalent words in both languages. At some point it felt very discouraging and it was very hard to communicate with her, at that point it felt easier to just give up, but I’m glad we didn’t. Kids are smart and it takes a lot of patience. I try to read to her every day, and try to put some Arabic cartoons for her on YouTube, I know I don’t do it enough, and I know she prefers English cartoons, just do what you can do, it will get easier in few months.

    Reply
  2. Julija

    Hi Rita, I’d like to ask something similar as Fatima’s question. 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 learn English as well, so I am struggling between two options in about a year time:
    1. OPOL and English/Finnish day care
    2. OPOL and Finnish day care and learning English through songs and she might learn some word 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

    Reply
    • Rita

      Dear Julija
      Thank you for your comment – as your question does require a new answer, we will publish it as a new Q&A. We answer questions in the order they arrive, so your query will be featured on the website on Sunday the 8th of October, please check the home page on that day. If visit the website after another Q&A has been published after yours, you can find the article in the Q&A Archive.
      Kind regards
      Rita

      Reply
  3. Sehee chung

    Hi Rita,
    I have a dilemma as well. I have a 15 month old and she was born in the US. When we were there I spoke exclusively Korean (my first language though now not my best language), my husband spoke exclusively in Bulgarian (his native language), and we knew our girl would eventually get English from the community (and she was in daycare by 9 months). That was somewhat straight forward for me though my Korean wasn’t great. however, we moved to Bulgaria this summer and now my girl is getting Bulgarian from my husband and relatives and the surrounding community. I was worried about English so I have switched over to English, which I feel is more important in the case we move back to the States but also because I’m more comfortable speaking it. But now I’m wondering when to squeeze in the Korean, which is important because I want her to be able to communicate with her grandparents and know this heritage language. There is absolutely no Korean community nor resources where we live. I recently heard about Place and Time strategy, where I could speak one language on certain days and then switch to another on other days (English and Korean)- how would you recommend going about this? or wondering if my husband should switch to English so that I can speak in Korean? My husband and I communicate to each other in English but it is his 2nd language and he has a thick accent. Also in the case we move back to the US I would like my husband to continue speaking Bulgarian to my daughter. Help! This is very confusing. Thanks so much in advance!

    Reply
    • Rita

      Dear Sehee Chung

      Thank you for your question and sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

      Due to the big amount of questions coming in and to reduce waiting times, we have decided to answer some queries in LIVE Facebook Q&A sessions. The sessions will be aired in the Multilingual Parenting Facebook group. Click on the link to join the group if you haven’t already done so. Remember to answer the three joining question for a quicker approval.

      Your question will be featured during the Facebook Live Q&A session on Thursday the 16th of November – the exact time of the session will be announced in the group. If you attend the live session you can also ask any further questions through the comments. There will also be a recording available in the group for you to listen to later in case you are unable to attend the live session. If you cannot attend live, please do not hesitate to send us any further details you would like us to consider when answering your question.

      Kind regards
      Rita

      Reply
  4. Daniel Zadeng

    Hi Rita,
    Recently I was a proud father of my second baby boy.The question is I want both my sons to learn my native language besides the english language. We all live at my wife’s native place where my elder son has pick up his mum’s language instantly.The spoken english is practically poor at their native place.I fear that both my children may not have the chance to speak my native language besides english with which I basically communicate with people from other communities.My wife and I communicate in her language as she is notfluent in english.My wish is for my sons to speak both my native language and english. PLEASE HELP.

    Reply
    • Rita

      Hi Daniel,
      thank you for your question. I will answer your question in this week’s LIVE Q&A which will be aired on Thursday the 1st of February from 4 pm GMT on the Multilingual Parenting Facebook page. I would be beneficial if you could add a few more details – what is your native language and in which country do you live? If you attend the live session, you can also add follow-up questions in the comments.
      Kind regards
      Rita

      Reply
  5. Sara

    Dear Rita,

    I am having some trouble figuring out which languages we should focus on as a family. I only speak English and my Husband is tri-lingual speaking Arabic, English, and German. We communicate as a couple in English and live in Dubai where the dominant language is English.

    We were thinking of having my husband speak Arabic at home and I would speak English and our child would go to a German school. The only problem with that scenario is that I would not be able to help our children with their studies, as I do not speak German. I want to be involved in their education and if we send them to a German school, I would be unable to supporting their learning process and unable to help with homework, etc. What are your thoughts?

    Thank you in advance!
    Sara

    Reply
  6. Thippi

    Hi Rita,

    I have twins that are 1 year 6 months. I have some concerns that they are not picking up the other languages that they hear at home. We live in Thailand and I speak mostly English and some Thai to them. Their father is Danish (he speaks only Danish to them) but we speak English together. My mother (who is Thai) speaks to my daughters in English and Thai. I know my daughters are still young but they only know a few words compared to the other children their age. They do not go to daycare, I take care of them full time. So I guess my question is should I be concerned that they are not really speaking yet. And is there anything that I can do to help them?

    Reply

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