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Feb 19, 2010

Raising trilingual kids: language at 25 months

Until a couple of months ago, Daniel's language skills were progressing steadily, and he was generally at the same stage across all 3 languages at any given time.
Recently, his English has definitely started to pick up, and it is now a lot more advanced than his French and German. It's not really surprising: he is surrounded by English-speaking teachers and friends 9-10 hours a day at daycare. And he has a lot of incentives in communicating about all kinds of things with them.

Among the recent achievements:
- Daniel can -finally- make sentences using the 1st person (I bring Mama the truck instead of Daniel bring(s) Mama the truck). Granted, he is also trying to make 1st-person sentences in French and German too, but they usually sounds like "I manger", "I werfen" (using "I" and the wrong form of the verb in the respective language).

In hindsight, this is not surprising. Once Daniel started speaking in the 1st person, we realized that we hadn't given him a lot of opportunities to learn this form in French and German. Not sure why, but we had gotten into the habit of using the 3rd person when talking about him or us (e.g. "mama is coming back" as opposed to "I am coming back"). It might have been an easy thing to do at the beginning, when we knew he understood the concept of "mama" and "Daniel" much better than the concept of "I" or "you". But this would explain why Daniel doesn't have a lot of experience with first-person sentences in French or German. Also, the changes in verb use depending on the person might make it more difficult to embrace the first-person form in French or German. That said, it's probably not really an issue, because

- Daniel is starting to use various forms of tenses correctly - in English only. For instance, he will say "I broke the toy", "the toy is broken", using the correct form. Wow, starting with the irregular verbs!

- Daniel is now using more complex sentence structures, with a lot more qualifiers (e.g. negatives, "any more", "many", etc...)

At this point, Daniel's sentences in French and German are still very basic: mostly the key nouns of a sentence. So he is a little bit behind there. However, it's great to see that he is starting to understand how to put sentences together. Eventually, once he masters English, I hope that he will be able to apply the learnings to the other languages and adapt to the specific grammar rules.

Among other news: Daniel also picked up some Chinese at daycare. One of his new classmates had only been surrounded by Chinese until joining the class a few weeks ago. As she had a hard time adjusting, teachers tried to help her by letting her know in Chinese that "mommy is coming back", "everything is OK". Well, guess who picked up these sentences at school? Daniel did! He has been very empathic with his little friend, hugging her when she cries and even talking about her a lot after school. He wanted to help her too. It probably helped that he is already used to picking up different languages. Why not just add a couple of sentences to his arsenal when talking to this particular friend who happens to say things in a different language?

Also, Daniel is really starting to sing a lot, and he can now dissect a song to try to understand what the story is about. I have been playing this CD of French songs during our commute to daycare for over a year, and it's now getting to be a lot of fun (although I am completely bored with it myself). Daniel recognizes some words in the songs, and he asks what this is about. When he understands enough of the story, he wants to hear the same song over and over again, until he knows it all. So cute!
Funnily enough, some of the songs in the CD are the same songs he learns at daycare. But mine are in French while he learned them in English. I am not quite sure what Daniel thinks about this for now. He seems more perplex than anything, usually asking for the English-speaking song when the French version comes in. I try to explain to him that it's the same song in different languages. But I am not sure how much Daniel understands about the concept of languages yet. To be continued...


  1. I am a Euro-American raised in France and Switzerland. I have native fluency in E/DE/FR and speak a few other languages. My kids are 8 and 10 and speak mainly English but have absorbed a lot of words and expressions in other languages, including Urdu. Would be fun to chat with you sometime...Lucien

  2. Nice to meet you. Do you have a blog? Where are you currently located?
    I would love to hear experiences from other people that have gone through the same. We still have a long road in front of us...