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May 31, 2010

Learning proper English in a trilingual environment

As I mentioned in a few earlier posts about Daniel's progress in language development, English has now become his primary language, by far. It's not really surprising, since Daniel is surrounded by English speakers for 9-10 hours a day at daycare, TV from time to time and American friends we meet during the weekends. At almost 2.5 years, Daniel is able to make correct complex sentences in English, while his sentence structure in French and German is very basic, if existing at all. In most cases, he just starts a sentence using the English filler words (e.g. the, with, tomorrow, etc...) and just includes the main words in French and German as he sees fit, depending on the person he is talking to. Interestingly enough, when we explain to him a complex concept in French or German, Daniel repeats the explanations almost word by word... in English. He definitely understands everything we tell him in the other languages, but he processes things in English. In a way, it's a good sign: it means that he is now self-sufficient in English to be able to create his own sentences from scratch. It doesn't look like he is eager to speak full sentences in French or German, though.

As a way to continue to boost his French and German, my husband and I make a point of repeating most of what Daniel tells us in English in our own language. This way, we think that at least, he gets familiar with the vocabulary around concepts he is currently thinking about. Over time, we hope that it will encourage Daniel to make his own full sentences in French or German when talking to each of us.

That said, we regularly have some concern that Daniel doesn't really get a lot of support in learning the proper English. While his sentence structure is good, Daniel still makes a lot of mistakes in English. Recent examples include: "I ate all of them" (when talking about eating all the yogurt), "He is crying" (when talking about his sister). Since we repeat these sentences to him in different languages, we don't have the opportunity to correct his English at the same time. I doubt that the friends he mostly talks to at daycare correct him either, and the teachers probably don't have time. So, how will he know how to correctly use "all of" or the right words for the right gender? I guess it will take him more time to fit all the pieces together. And in the absence of someone repeating right away with the proper form, he will have to use long-term memory and deductive reasoning to come to his own conclusions on the grammar rules.

Hopefully, it's not a big deal... He has already made it this far without any support from us in English. We need to be patient and hope he will listen well when other people speak proper English around him. We will see. To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure he'll get it over time. Lately, Daniella has been saying "my do it" for "I'll do it". But that could just be because she's very into the "My, My, My" phase right now! She also says, "I no like..." and I keep correcting her but she still insists on saying it her way. Oh well!