Will multlingual child mix the different languages at some stage? It seems, yes.
Is it something to worry about? It seems, no.
Is it an indication of retarded language developement? Very unlikely.
We went to a French home yesterday, that is French parents with two young boys (one about four years, one about four months) born and raised in Sydney. This is a definitely French family from linguistic perspective, so I was a bit unprepared when the four-year-old (who attends a local child care) suddenly asked his mom one question in English in the middle of a perfectly French conversation. Then immediately it reminds me of what I have read about miltilingual child mixing languages.
According to ‘A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism’, there are three stages in early bilingual development:
Stage 1: Amagalmation. There is no separation between the two languages. The two languages are mixed when talking. Only one word seems to be known for each object or action. Some words and phrases are a mixture from two languages. Many parents of bilingual children worry during this stage about mixing language. However such mixing is only temporary. Children speak their mixed language to different people. The two languages appear to be stored as a single system in the thinking quarters. Stage 1 occurs between 0 and three years.
Stage 2: Differentiation. There is a growing separation of languages. Children will increasingly use a different language to each parent. Equivalent words in the two languages are known. However phrases and sentences may reflect just one grammar system. Also there will be some mixing of languages as the child will not have equivalents for all words. Stages 2 occurs after two years of age.
Stage 3: Separation. While there is still a little mixing of the two languages, separation has mostly been achieved. The child is aware of which language to speak to which person. Awareness of having two languages begins. The child increasingly observe the different grammare of the two languages. Such differentiation is gradual. Stage 3 often occurs after three years (but it can occur earlier), and throughout life!
So I’m prepared that one day, Nina would make one sentence using bits and pieces from English, Chinese, and French. How cute would that be, or not? 🙂