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Mar 11, 2010

Some challenges of raising a trilingual kid

Since deciding to raise our son Daniel with 3 languages, we have expected some challenges. We were familiar with the issues that affect the typical trilingual child, such as confusing languages and slower language acquisition. While Daniel only seems a few months behind his peers in language acquisition (at least for English... French and German have taken a step back recently), we have definitely experienced various challenges related to the language confusion.

However, we have encountered a few new challenges that we hadn't thought about. At this point, it's unclear to me how much these are affecting Daniel. But they are definitely raising some questions for us.

I already talked about the fact that neither my husband nor I are familiar with English children songs and so we usually don't recognize the songs Daniel brings back from school. Even when we finally decipher the song, we still need to learn the lyrics and any tradition that goes along with the song.

Recently, Daniel has started to be interested in and to learn the alphabet. He is very proud of recognizing "D for Daniel" in pretty much any word he comes across that contains the letter D. He also knows O and V. We obviously want to continue encouraging him to learn, and we have a couple of books or iPhone games that are meant to help with letter recognition. However, these resources are in English, so they match the letters with images of the corresponding English words (e.g. "B" for Butterfly). It is creating a challenge for us as we try to keep the language consistent and we are not supposed to speak English with Daniel, to help with his ability to differentiate French and German. But in most cases, the name of the image in French or German doesn't match the letter shown (e.g. butterfly is papillon in French, starting with P). So we are left with having to switch to English for these exercises, or quickly finding similar books/games in French and German. But even then, the names of the letters themselves are different. And will Daniel be confused to learn spelling using words for the same things in different languages?

Another challenge we face is determining which language to use when talking to Daniel and his English-speaking friends at the same time. I have talked earlier about how self-aware I am when talking to Daniel in French in an environment with English-speaking people. So far, though, there was limited interaction between Daniel and me and the other people. So, we could at least keep the language between us consistent. Now, when I pick up Daniel at daycare for instance, both Daniel and his friends usually come to greet me and they might show me a toy they are playing with or something they just found interesting in the classroom. This is creating a new challenge: when Daniel is present, I would prefer to speak French with him; but when the friends are involved in the discussion, it doesn't work. So far, I have reluctantly used English in these circumstances, trying to repeat some of the sentences in French, so that Daniel continues to hear me speak French. As these situation get more and more common, no wonder his English is getting much better than his French or German. It looks like the solution here would be to find a French or German-speaking playgroup or school... This challenge in itself will be the subject of a future post.

Any parents with experience dealing with these challenges? Any thoughts on how to address?

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