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Thread poster: GoodWords

GoodWords  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:10
Spanish to English
+ ...
Aug 10, 2008

Readers of this forum may find interesting this blog post by linguist David Crystal about his experiences with his three-year-old trilingual grandson. Here is an excerpt; he discusses a number of interesting issues and examples in the complete post.
This has been my first close encounter with child trilingualism. Trilingual children are by no means unusual, of course. Some people estimate that maybe a third of the kids in the world grow up trilingually. And certainly it's the normal human condition to be bilingual. But it's one thing reading about trilingualism in books and articles, and quite another to hear it around you in daily practice.


Maria Cortés
United States
Local time: 20:10
German to English
+ ...
How do children handle this? Aug 10, 2008

This blog is indeed very interesting! I'm very interested in this subject since I am German and my husband is half American and half Mexican. We don't have any children yet, but hopefully will some day. And I've been wondering how they will handle the different languages. I would really like to hear some more experiences with trilingual children! How do children handle this?
And I have another question: Do you think that bi-/trilingual people are better interpreters than monolingual ones who had to study a language?


KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:10
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Nothing unusual Aug 10, 2008

My stepdaughters were trilingual as young children. The spoke the language of their father (Dutch), their mother's language (German) and English, with very little crossover or confusion. It was a perfectly normal and necessary thing for them to do. At the time we lived in a somewhat xenophobic rural community in the US where multilingualism was viewed with great suspicion (except perhaps a bit of Spanish to lord it over the field hands), so this did occasionally have social consequences for them, but otherwise there were no difficulties.


Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:10
Spanish to English
+ ...
Not to worry Aug 11, 2008

I was a victim. My mother, also trilingual, a lexicographer, educator and textbook writer (in English), suggested, give it time. Code switching was common in our environment, anyway. It just takes these kids longer to sort it out (like 10 years; the criteria was being able to finish sentences in the same language they were started).

Actually, it was a bit more complicated than I seem to be making it sound (I was "moved around" quite a lot and got some strange nannies), but no harm came out of it. I just became a translatoricon_biggrin.gif

The negative side is, some people I know might be what linguists refer to as "alingual", unable to function outside their cultures without the right mix. In such situations, many become slow talkers.


Daniela Vitancourt
Local time: 22:10
French to Spanish
+ ...
Interesting! Aug 13, 2008

Thanks for the link!

I've been thinking about writing myself some notes about my son after I read Ecco's book on translation, he says something like that to *really* understand bilingualism one should follow up the development of a child who's been raised in a perfect bilingual context (trilingual in this case).

My son is too young yet to talk (he just turned six months), but I pay a lot of attention to every sound coming out of his mouth. Listening to him playing with which already seams to be a mix of the phonetics of the languages he lives in (Spanish, Dutch and French) is pretty amazing.

Although I thought Spanish sounds would come first (Spanish is his mother's -myself- tongue and so far he spends most of his time with meicon_biggrin.gif), he started by trying the French "R" which he founds crazily funny. Some Dutch phonemes too, but no Spanish yet.
I found this very interesting, because it shows how important is the part played by the context and the language spoken by the parents. Even though Spanish and Dutch are the languages in which we speak to him, he lives in a French environment (we live in France and my husband and I communicate in French).


Melanie Nassar  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:10
German to English
+ ...
My kids are all trilingual Aug 14, 2008

My 4 sons all grew up trilingual – Arabic, English and German – and attended an Arabic language school with English and German as required foreign languages. My language is English and my husband's is Arabic and I generally spoke German with my husband and one son, English with one son, and Arabic with the other two in one-on-one situations. And often enough, a mixture of all. Now the three sons who were born in Germany are studying in the US and the only one born in Palestine is studying in Germany, so the languages of communication are in a state of flux. (Yes, 4 children in college in various stages of completion and post-graduate studies, sigh...)

The most interesting situation occurred when I took my son from Germany to the US for 2 months when he was two years old. After speaking only English for two months, he returned to Germany and couldn't speak German, just listened to his Disney cassettes in English all day long. (I think he had to convince himself that it wasn't all in his imagination.) His German cousins just threw up their hands and wondered what happened to their playmate. This phase lasted about 3 months, then he suddenly started speaking German again.

Another son was 1 and a half and just beginning to talk when we moved from Germany to Palestine. He stopped speaking completely for 6 months, then began speaking Arabic, but understanding all the languages.

None of them appear interested in using their languages professionally at this point.

If one third of the people in the world grow up trilingual, I wonder how many are truly quadrilingual or even more. And what circumstances lead to this?


United States
German to Slovak
+ ...
I was trilingual Jul 1, 2009

when I was a small child. My mom is Slovak, my Dad Ukrainian, I was born and raised in Slovakia, listening mostly to the Slovak language, but my dad sometimes spoke Ukrainian to me, or I could hear it very often when he was talking to his Ukr. friends and I picked it up really quickly. Also, as they both had lots of Russian-speaking friends who often visited us, I picked up Russian too. So at the age of let`s say 5-6 years I completely understood these 3 languages. Today I`m 30 and I can fluently speak Slovak and Russian, I can understand everything in Ukrainian BUT I don`t speak it only because I`m not used to speak Ukrainian. Maybe if I was forced to, I would. Bec. I can read Ukrainian and understand everything. Besides this, my mom put me into a bilingual German-Slovak school when I was about 10 y.o. When I was about 13, I started to study French, too. I attended later a French college and after I finished it I continued studying German at a University. I completed a 5-years programme and became a simultaneous interpreter from German and Russian into Slovak. As you see, meanwhile I picked up English, too, without having to study it from the textbooks..I just picked it up when talking to the English-speaking people...with no special effort, really. What I want to say is this: don`t be afraid to speak any number of languages to your baby. Don`t worry about its brain, the baby is smart and will pick up everything. The baby`s memory is like a sponge, it will absorb it and it will stay inside its brain. Maybe all these skills and words will emerge later on, don`t be nervous about anything. The baby will later sort things out and you prepare it better for the life. My mom was travelling with me a lot and whenever we went I was just picking up the foreign words automatically. It`s a great training for your brain. And what`s the best, you learn the natural accent quickly as a child which is not that easy to learn when you are an adult. Now when I have a baby I am totally determined to make sure he can speak at least 4 languages. All the languages I know helped me to meet many international friends including my husband, and also helped me to read the books written in their original language, and helped me to understand different cultures better. It`s simply great and it opens you doors to people and their hearts. I love it.

[Edited at 2009-07-01 02:12 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-07-01 02:13 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-07-01 02:13 GMT]


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