Author Topic: raising a child with three languages, possible?  (Read 7138 times)

Offline Hinda

  • New Linguist
  • *
  • Posts: 1
raising a child with three languages, possible?
« on: April 29, 2016, 06:33:24 AM »
Hello everybody,

I am here seeking some advice and help.
I am a mother of a 13 months old child. As much as I was excited about the fact of raising a bilingual child, having read about its benefits on the child's cognitive and intellectual development, as much as I am growing worried about confusing her with our multi-lingual communication.
I am from Morocco, therefore I speak an Arabic dialect called Darija. Being a kind of mixture between Arabic grammar, French and Spanish vocabulary and some influence from the native language of north Africa "Amazigh / Berber", It is one of the furthest dialects from the classical Arabic language. That makes Darija and Arabic my native languages in addition to French because I have been to a French school since kindergarten. I also speak fairly well English and I have majored in English linguistics.  I currently live in Germany, so I do speak German. My husband is Greek therefore I am also learning Greek, I can already have not too complicated conversations and can without problems read and write it. Also, my husband and I communicate with each other only in English.

With all that being said, when it comes to daughter, she hears us speaking English, her father speaks to her in Greek, I speak to her in Arabic, when the grandmother is here, we speak to each other in German. I do talk to her sometimes in English or Greek or German, I even go too far sometimes and sing to her in French (because I only know french songs for children). I try to expose her to German through some songs and toys.

The one side of being an expat in Germany, is that I don't have family here so my daughter's only exposure to Arabic is though me and when she hears me on the phone, the other side of it, is that she gets neither enough exposure to German as we just moved to a new city and we have no friends.
I will be looking into play groups where my daughter can be exposed to German before she goes to Kindergarten because Ia m not sure how good it is to send her to one that early.

Do you think this diversity of languages could confuse her and cause her some issues with learning to speak?
Does anyone maybe have a similar experience, or just an opinion, a new perspective or an advice.. I will be grateful.


Offline Daniel

  • Administrator
  • Experienced Linguist
  • *****
  • Posts: 2074
  • Country: us
    • English
Re: raising a child with three languages, possible?
« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2016, 01:14:59 PM »
Sounds great to me. Generally bilingualism doesn't hurt children and can sometimes even lead to better performance in school or cognitive advantages (there's some current research in this). But there are two things to watch out for:

1. That's so many languages that they might not learn all of them to any useful amount. Many children experience attrition where they can use a language as children and then later, as adults, forget it. With 5+ languages, that's very likely in this case. So decide which languages are important. For example, I know that a lot of Arabic-speaking families in the United States have children who do not retain their ability to use Arabic as adults if only their parents speak it-- they know a little, but not very much. German, of course, will come naturally through schooling there. And probably English. The others you'll have to decide about. There's certainly nothing wrong with singing to your child in French, for example, but there's no chance they will actually learn French from that alone, or remember it well later. But it might HELP if they do study it later in school or want to learn. So this exposure and experience only matters if they actually use the language later. No harm in exposing them to a lot, but make sure to focus some on the ones that matter most to you or might matter to them.

2. One problem that can happen is that young children can get confused about separating the languages they know. So this can make them a little slower in school at first or a little confused socially, when they first leave the house and then need to speak one language with one person, and another in another context, and so forth. But this corrects itself naturally. With so many languages, this could be especially confusing at first. But having different contexts at home (mother and father having different languages, for example, and relatives, etc.) might help.

Also see the discussion here:

3. Specifically in this case with so many languages you might want to do some research on polyglot children (a polyglot is someone who speaks many languages). This is beyond bilingualism, trilingualism, even normal "multilingualism". I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but I think it's fairly rare. The simple answer might be that it doesn't usually work because the children end up limiting the languages they actively use to a few (around 3?), regardless of input, but I don't really know. Children will absolutely learn to speak and communicate well (might take a little time to adjust to some things) but that doesn't mean they'll learn ALL of the languages around them, just those that are important, whatever that means to them.

Also see
Welcome to Linguist Forum! If you have any questions, please ask.