Q&A: How to support all the languages of a trilingual 4-year-old.

by | Mar 26, 2015 | Challenges, Coaches, Q&A The trilingual+ child | 0 comments


I am Korean and my wife is Japanese. We have a 4-year-old boy and currently live in the US. My wife and I speak English to each other, although we use broken English (not perfect English). My wife speaks Japanese to my son while I speak Korean to him. However, when we are together, the three of us speak broken English.

My son speaks neither Japanese, English, nor Korean. He sometimes mixes three languages. I am wondering which language teaching is suitable for him. We are moving back to Korea in the summer, which means my son is hardly exposed to English even though my family speaks broken English.

In this case, should my son go to two different kinds of kindergartens like English and Korean kindergarten in Korea?

I hope you give me a great advice on this.



Thank you for your question, JB.

Children will mix languages more often if their parents do as well, so this is probably why you are seeing that mixing. How much exposure does your son have to each language per day? Are both of you working full-time? It’s harder for a child to acquire a language if they only speak it rarely with the parent. My advice for schooling would be to put him in a program that includes the language he gets the least of at home. If your family is moving to Korea, he will most definitely pick up Korean from his peers in the community. On the other hand, you will also want some schooling in Korean as he will need the academic and higher level language for educational and professional purposes.

Unless you feel there is a need to use English when you are all together, I would recommend using more of a One Parent, One Language method for now while he is young. So you would only speak Korean and your wife only Japanese, even when you are all three together. This would mean that you would be translating conversations as necessary for your spouse, which isn’t always easy, but it will help your trilingual son build a stronger foundation in each language. Adding English in as part of his schooling would definitely benefit his development in that language and that way you could focus more on the Japanese at home.

It also may be worth checking in with a speech specialist that has a strong familiarity with multilingual children. As your son is four now, he should be having one language he is quite comfortable in. He will still be making grammatical mistakes at this age, all children do. A specialist could tell you if these mistakes are normal or if there is more than usual and he could benefit from additional support.

If you have any further questions, please comment below.


Nick Jaworski

Nick Jaworski


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