Tag Archives: trilingual child

The Right Time To Introduce A New Language To A Child

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I went to a talk recently titled ‘Bilingualism – Talk for Parents and Carer’, by Ashley Hill, Bicultural Support Consultants from Ethnic Community Services Co-operative (Australia). I was particularly interested in the two questions from the audience.

I’ve already discussed my overall thoughts and the first question in the previous blog: Can Children Learn a Language from DVD?

jacarandaThe second question was: Do I need to wait for my child to be well established in one language before introducing another one?

The simple answer to that would be: No. Start from the very beginning. From day 1 on birth, or even earlier if you decide to talk /monologue with your unborn baby. The earlier the better.

I think the underlying concern from that question is that: is my child to be confused by multiple languages at once? Would introducing multiple languages do any harm to my baby?

Children have the amazing ability to figure out what is what, from very early on. As I discussed in this blog Will Multilingual Child Mix The Languages?, they do go through a period of seemingly not separating anything, and another period of mixing up languages, and yet another period of using the ‘wrong’ language. It’s all part of their learning, and it’s normal. I witnessed all stages from Nina, who’s now 3 yrs 7 mths, and she’s definitely entered stage 3 (separation) since turning 3. She now says things like ‘why are you saying it in English’ (in Mandarin)?

Another complexity is the amount of languages being introduced at once. How many languages can a child handle? While nobody really knows, and I personally am yet to meet a child growing up with 4 or more languages (I’d be thrilled to meet one some day!), trilingual children are not uncommon.

Living in Sydney, a very diverse and dynamic city, I often take for granted that people speak different languages and parents raise their children in multiple languages. It’s a good reminder that there are still many parents out there that need the information/support/guidance in raising their multilingual children. It’s also with this in mind that I found investing time in writing this blog worthwhile – each time someone reads and gives me feedback (in the form of question, joining facebook group, helping answering a question, participating in discussion, sharing their stories, contributing the links/resources), I know that what I does makes a tiny difference. And that’s quite cool.

Can Children Learn a Language from DVD?

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magic lightI went to a talk recently titled ‘Bilingualism – Talk for Parents and Carer’, by Ashley Hill, Bicultural Support Consultants from Ethnic Community Services Co-operative (Australia).

There was no surprising news from the talk, but it’s always nice to be reminded just how lucky we are living in a world where multilingual parenting is appreciated and supported.

I was quite struck by two questions from the audience at the end though.

Question 1: Can children learn a language from DVD/video materials?

The question was raised by a family with a French-speaking dad and a Mandarin-speaking mum (exactly like my own family situation!). Mum said she’s quite frustrated as her daughter had switched to almost entirely English ever since she started pre-school, and she really wanted her daughter to have more Mandarin exposure. So she thought about putting on more Mandarin DVD or video materials. She then went on to explain that she mainly spoke English with her child as that’s what the two parents us between them.

Well, my view was quite simple: speak the language with the child that you wish her to be exposed to, and stick to it! DVD and any video materials can provide great support but will and should never substitute the human interaction for language learning.

Yes DVD and video do certainly help. Dutch speak great English as they grow up watching TV dramas in original English not dubbed in Dutch.

But nothing would substitute the power of the human interaction. Research shows that listening to human speaking stimulate language development in all senses while watching video only (in the same language) without human interaction results only in some degree of passive comprehension, no matter how long the DVD is on.

There is another massive benefit of parents doing the talk: it’s all free and available as long as the parent is there 🙂

I talk about my thoughts on the second question in a separate article.

Question 2: Do I need to wait for my child to be well established in one language before introducing another one?

Six Things to Get Toddlers’ Multiple Languages Going

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WP_20150323_001As I’m often asked what we are doing day in and day out to keep 2 ‘minority’ languages going with Nina, I thought to write a post to summarize the 6 things that we are doing – and that seem to be working – to share.

  1. 1. stick to one parent one language (OPOL), at ALL times. Not pretending that I do not speak other languages, I make it clear that I speak only ‘my’ language with her (if I need to translate when there are other people around, I will). Parents are the best teacher as we are ALWAYS there and we know our children the best! We need to be consistent with the boundary (like all other things) with our children when it comes to languages too.
  2. 2. lots of interactions and playdates with other children of similar age from same language/heritage backgrounds. Nina’s best friend at school happens to be speaking Mandarin too (and her Mandarin is quite solid as she just moved from China to Sydney), the best ‘coincidence’ I could ever wish for. Nowadays we start a ‘weekend child swap’ with another family who speak the same heritage language as mine – a great experience for their language as well as for parents’ sanity (we take turn to have a couple-only Sunday. loving it.

3. stories, videos, games, songs, all sorts of materials in ‘our’ languages – the more the merrier. Weekly Skype session with grandma is perfect for more practice/positive reinforcement too.

4. role modelling – always show-case with pride that it’s a natural thing to speak ‘another’ language. I never switch to English in public when only addressing to Nina. I know many parents do for the fear of not being respectful of others around, but in my experience, I have never once had anyone telling me off. Instead, I very often get compliments from others (shopkeepers, grandma in the playground, bus driver, to name a few) that it’s great for me to keep speaking my language and foster the habit in Nina in replying in my language.

5. immersion – a trip back native country has worked wonder.

6. have faith in her that it will work and that she will get there! I often hear parents saying ‘well I’m not sure. it’s too much. Let’s just get the majority language right, and then we’ll take care of the others’. I say no! no! no! Unless there is a valid concern for speech delay (assessed by professionals who are familiar with multilingual upbringing) it’s totally normal if children are taking time to get their heads around multiple languages.

Nina’s English is picking up – although still very rudimentary with accents and her songs are never in tune. Her Mandarin and French are equally advancing. While there is definitely still long way to go, I’m comfortable in knowing that what we are doing is working in one way or another.

‘Mummy, There’

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05At the check-out of the local supermarket yesterday, Nina saw a toddler wondering off from his mum who was busy paying. Nina went up to the toddler, looked at him, while pointing at his mum, and said ‘mummy, there’.

That single sentence, an incomplete sentence, gave me immense joy and satisfaction. Why?

1) Nina really gets that different people speak different language, and learnt that English is the language of the society she lives in now. So she didn’t speak Mandarin nor French to that kid, but consciously chose English, which is for the moment her weakest language.

2) she’s now comfortable enough in her English to INITIATE a conversation. Such a huge difference from when she hide herself and refused to talk to ANYONE beside her parents. It’s almost like she’s becoming a different child. That sentence (‘mummy, there’) was not complete and far from being perfect, but it conveyed the message perfectly. That’s what it counts in language – to communicate and deliver a message! The refinement of the language can, and will, come later.

3) Nina has a good heart that she wanted to make sure the toddler stay close to his mummy. Kindness and willingness to help is a quality that I value enormously and wish to instil in Nina.

I had a big smile on my face at that supermarket checkout. I was very proud of my daughter who is, at 3 years 2 months old, able to sort out three languages, learning every single one of them (including English which we don’t speak at home at all, but she is picking up mainly from her pre-school since less than 2 months ago), and comfortable enough to communicate via them.

I have to add that I was proud of myself too – it’s at that moment that I realized all our efforts of raising a trilingual child IS paying off. It gave me confidence and courage to keep going. Like what I have always believed, and as part of my lessons from our round-the-world trip: Things always work out in the end, with due efforts.