Q&A: How to introduce a family language to older trilingual children?

by | Apr 30, 2017 | Coaches, Q&A How to motivate a bilingual / multilingual child to speak a family language, Q&A The trilingual+ child, Rita R | 0 comments

How to introduce a family language to older trilingual children?




We are a family of four living in Germany. Father is British, mum is Norwegian but moved to France at 16. Kids (girl 10 and boy 7) are in a French school, but are also thought German every day as a mother tongue. They are completely trilingual, French, English, German (spoken all 3 languages, reading and writing in French and German taught in school, reading in English is fine – writing not perfect).

We speak English as a family language, German is the community language, and mum speaks French with the kids when dad is not there. I would really like as well to teach the kids Norwegian which is my mother tongue, but is a language I only speak to family on the phone and when they visit. I have no contact with any Norwegians in day to day life, in fact I don’t know any at all where we live!

I used to speak Norwegian to the kids when they were little, but gave up as I found it impossible to maintain/ being the only source for two languages (French and Norwegian), and I judged French to be more useful. I am not sure now how to reintroduce Norwegian.

Should I make certain days Norwegian days? Should I just keep on talking to them in Norwegian and hope they pick it up? My daughter is interested in learning, but my son stated that he can already speak three languages so he doesn’t need a fourth one! Maybe it’s too ambitious, but I really would like them to speak my mother tongue.

Any advice would be highly appreciated.


Dear Lis

Thank you for your question on how to introduce your family language, Norwegian, to your children – who are already trilingual. May I also congratulate you on bringing them up to be fluent and literate in three languages at such an early age!

You mention that you used to speak Norwegian with your kids when they were little – your strategy of reintroducing the language will depend on whether they still understand of it, i.e. how much Norwegian you can use while still keeping the communication going with your kids.

Since your son is the younger of your children, he will be the one who you have spoken less Norwegian with, hence it is not surprising that he may be more reluctant than your daughter to engage in picking up Norwegian. His unwillingness is less likely to be based on an assessment of how many languages he will need in life, but on what he sees as a big task for him. I would not put pressure on him, but try to think of situations where Norwegian could be useful or fun for him to know. Do you visit Norway during holidays? Does he have relatives that he could connect better with if he knew the language?

As your daughter is already showing interest in Norwegian, I would start with her but at the same time making sure you do not exclude your son (i.e. translate whenever necessary). You could pick certain times of the day when you speak Norwegian – to start with, choose situations where it is fairly obvious from the context what you are saying. You could also introduce something fun that you do together in Norwegian – e.g. board games or anything else your kids are interested in. A visit to the zoo or a theme park entirely in Norwegian could be another idea.

Do whatever you find that works, especially with your son to get him engaged. What are your son’s general interests? Can you find a way to connect these with Norwegian? I know screen time is not the most effective way of learning a language, but if for example playing a computer game in Norwegian could entice him to engage with the language, it could be a good way of drawing him in.

I don’t think your plan to reintroduce Norwegian is too ambitious, but it will not be a walk in the park either. Concentrate on getting off to a good start with both your daughter and your son. Remember to stay positive and appreciate any small wins along the way. Praise them for any attempts to understand and use Norwegian. Talk with your children about why Norwegian is so important to you, and work together with them to find the optimal way of bringing back Norwegian as a family language into their lives. Good luck!

Wishing you a successful multilingual family journey!

Kind regards

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.


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