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How many languages are too many for a child? The case of Luxembourg
Thread poster: Maricica W.
Maricica W.  Identity Verified

English to Romanian
+ ...
Sep 19, 2008

Hello everyone,

I've been living in Luxembourg for over an year now and found out quite a bit about school here. Children start school at 6 speaking Luxembourgish, but they don't learn to write the language. Instead, they learn how to write in German and they study German and French from the 2nd year. Although this is challenging enough to make good students from native Luxembourgish speakers, I am unsure whether it would be too much for my daughter (now 2). Her father and myself are Romanians and only speak Romanian at home. She goes to French creche and, if we decide that she is to go to public (Luxembourgish) school, she'll have to go to Luxembourgish kindergarten when she is 3. Probably she will keep understanding French at a lower level, since it is the most spoken language here.
We are a bit reluctant to have her learn Luxembourgish since it is spoken by very few people and, put aside the mental exercise of learning it, one can't do a big deal with it outside this country. We are expats and may think about changing coutries at some point in the future.

Do you think that 3 languages is too much for a 3 year old?
Thank you.

Regards,
Veronica


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Wa'ad Younane
Lebanon
Local time: 08:26
English to Arabic
+ ...
My own experience Sep 19, 2008

Veronica,
When I read your post I couldn't help but think about the Lebanese academic system where every child has to learn three languages (Arabic - native tongue, French and English) from Kindergarten. By the time the children are 6 years old, they already know the alphabet and know how to write and read simple words in three languages. Not to mention that they have to adapt to the fact that while French and English have the same alphabet and are written from left to right, Arabic is a completely different universe, a completely different alphabet, and is written from right to left. Plus, the Arabic that we read and write is completely different from the spoken Arabic in everyday life.

And we turn out to be ok:)
As far as I am concerned, I think three languages is normal for a child to learn even at the age of 3, especially that your daughter won't have to memorize aphabets and learn how to read and write Luxembourgish.

My two cents!


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Adam Lankamer  Identity Verified
Luxembourg
Local time: 07:26
English to Polish
+ ...
Walferdange Sep 19, 2008

Veronica,

Ecole francophone a Walferdange seems to be a perfect solution.
It's a Luxembourgish public school with French as a language of instruction and German classes five times a week.

My daughter has just started the 2nd year there (she's 7 years old). She speaks French (creche and ecole maternelle) and Polish (both parents at home). And at school she learns German as her 3rd language.

Regards

Adam


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Maricica W.  Identity Verified

English to Romanian
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TOPIC STARTER
Thank you, Wa'ad Sep 19, 2008

Thank you for sharing the Lebanese experience

Yes, Arabic is a challenge for native speakers as well as for foreigners. From the European perspective, phonetics is the tricky part of it.

On the other hand, there is the native/non-native language issue. My daughter would have to learn 3 languages besides her native language, which is Romanian. Around 7 she would have to express herself well enough in all four (LU, DE, FR, RO). German and French are official languages of the country and are taught as such, not as foreign languages. They also study 1 or 2 foreign languages later in school.


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Kobe Vander Beken  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 00:26
English to Dutch
+ ...
The younger the better Sep 19, 2008

Hello Veronica,

I think this depends a lot on your child as well, but normally the younger you are the better/easier you learn languages.
My wife is from Peru, I'm from Belgium (dutch speaking part) and we have a 4-year-old son. Until now we've always lived in belgium, so he mainly speaks Dutch.
We are trying however to learn him Spanish as well. My wife always speaks Spanish with him, and although he often responds in Ducth (he knows my wife will understand him) he does have a good knowledge of Spanish. We notice this when he finds himself in a situation where he can only speak Spanish (like when he has to speak with his Peruvian grandfathers or Spanish speaking friends of us). Ans he manages quite well!
A few months ago we were in France, and I was really baffled by how fast children pick up words or even sentences in other languages. In one week time he could already order his own meal and what he wanted to drink in French without me or my wife learning him how to do this.
He also likes to listen to the Beatles and sometimes he watches English films. He seems to have picked up quite a lot of that language as well.

Now we have decided to go and live in Peru or a while, and we have opted to send him to a bilingual school (English-Spanish).
I am not sure if this will turn out ok, but I have a feeling he won't have any problems. I will of course continue speaking Dutch to my son, which is in fact his "best" language at this moment.

So, to conclude, in my experience, the more languages a child hears the better. If he/she picks something up that's nice. Why not learn another language? I imagine it depends on the child as well. some children may learn a foreign language much easier than others, but then again, if you notice it's not too much for yopur child I would advise you to send your daughter to the public school where she'll learn quite a lot.

Kobe


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:26
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
The younger the better Sep 19, 2008

In my (limited) experience, very young children have an astonishing capacity to learn several languages at once, picking them up naturally by hearing them and repeating them, which is by far the best way, and not muddling them up. I used to teach French and Spanish in a British school, and the younger pupils were always the quickest to learn.
When I was about 7 my mother took me with her to Holland to stay with friends for about 3 weeks and, apparently, I learned to speak and understand quite a bit of Dutch that I had never studied at all by playing with the family's children - now all forgotten, alas.
I'm sure your daughter (the child of linguists, after all) will manage three languages very well - and the younger she starts, the better.
Have you read Steven Pinker's fascinating book "The Language Instinct"? He posits that the human brain is adapted instinctively to learn languages when very young, but that this capacity declines quickly after the age of about 7 or 8, as I remember. Anyway, do read it.
Best wishes,
Jenny.


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Paul Peeraerts
Local time: 07:26
German to Dutch
+ ...
Don't worry Sep 19, 2008

Don't worry about "two many languages": I know a family where are children have been raised in 4 languages: Dutch (language of the society), Spanish (language spoken by the mother), Catalan (language spoken by the father) and Esperanto (language spoken between father and mother). And in school they had to learn French and English. They are almost fluent in 6 languages now.

The most important rule is: do not mix languages: e.g. the father always uses language A when he's alone with the children; always language B when he talks to his wife; mother always uses C etc. If you start mixing languages yourself, the children will get confused and won't speak well.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:26
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Maybe in your situation it's not the best idea Sep 19, 2008

Veronica Durbaca wrote:
We are a bit reluctant to have her learn Luxembourgish since it is spoken by very few people


I agree with other posters that learning languages is no big deal for youg kids - it's retaining them that is difficult. My son was 7 when we arrived in the Netherlands, and by the time we left 3 years later he was happily nattering to his Dutch friends, even though he went to the French school and both parents are English. However, a few years later and living in France he had only just a couple of words of Dutch, mainly the food items he most enjoyed (for Dutch speakers: vla, oliebollen, poffertjes!).

The question I would ask in your own personal circumstances is - why bother to learn Luxembougish? Of course, if it's the only way your daughter can get a decent, affordable education, then put up with it - it'll do her no damage. Otherwise, try to get her into a school where the main language is a more useful one for her.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:26
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Make sure they are awfully happy... Sep 19, 2008

My honest opinion? If you are concerned about their professional future and development in life, at this stage make sure that your children are tremendously happy, get lots of hugs and kisses, laugh a lot, play a lot with you and the rest of the family, and have some time to hang around doing nothing. Playing, growing as a happy person and enjoying frequent and BIG expresions of love to him/her is the best you can to for his/her intelligence, balance and professional and personal success in life.

Don't worry too much if your child does not speak everything perfectly at this stage. Let them be children for a while! They will have plenty of time in life to learn more languages and other things!


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Maricica W.  Identity Verified

English to Romanian
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TOPIC STARTER
You spoke my mind, Sheila Sep 19, 2008

As a linguist, I feel a bit guilty not exposing the child to every language spoken here. On the other hand, to what depth can one understand four cultures instead of one? What is the use of knowing many languages on the surface and miss the subtleties of all?
For me as a translator, it would be unprofessional to translate legal documents from 10 languages because it is obvious I have no chance of really knowing the terminology involved in all 10. Then, why should I apply a principle I don't believe in professionnally to the way my child is educated?

What I read on several other threads in this forum made me think about a couple of other things:

What a child learns in school is supposed to create a system of related concepts. The more the languages of these concepts, the longer it takes to switch between them and the longer the thinking process. Since thoughts and ideas are the primary items we exchange, why lengthen the process of thinkng? Of course, I am speaking about studying in more than one language, which is the case in Luxembourgish schools, not about knowing several languages as complementary tools for expressing one's self.

Moreover, it is obvious that if a child is taught many languages and she speaks them every day, she will know them all. But how many non-linguistic things are there left for her to learn given the effort of knowing how to express anything in many languages?


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:26
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
At what age? Sep 19, 2008

Veronica Durbaca wrote:
As a linguist, I feel a bit guilty not exposing the child to every language spoken here. On the other hand, to what depth can one understand four cultures instead of one? What is the use of knowing many languages on the surface and miss the subtleties of all?


Let me ask you this Veronica. It is sheer curiosity: At what age did you learn English and French?

(Edited to fix a typo).

[Edited at 2008-09-19 10:19]


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Maricica W.  Identity Verified

English to Romanian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I totally agree Sep 19, 2008

Tomás Cano Binder wrote:

My honest opinion? If you are concerned about their professional future and development in life, at this stage make sure that your children are tremendously happy, get lots of hugs and kisses, laugh a lot, play a lot with you and the rest of the family, and have some time to hang around doing nothing. Playing, growing as a happy person and enjoying frequent and BIG expresions of love to him/her is the best you can to for his/her intelligence, balance and professional and personal success in life.

Don't worry too much if your child does not speak everything perfectly at this stage. Let them be children for a while! They will have plenty of time in life to learn more languages and other things!


She probably doesn't speak everyting perfectly and I couldn't care less because I know she will speak as she should when she grows up. I just have to decide to what kindergarten she goes in several months and I don't feel very confortable putting more pressure on her with yet another language


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Maricica W.  Identity Verified

English to Romanian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Well, uh, I'm still learning Sep 19, 2008

Tomás Cano Binder wrote:

Let me ask you this Veronica. It is sheer curiosity: At what age did you learn English and French?



I started learning English at 7 and French at 12.


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Cecilia Coopman, M.A. in Translation  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:26
English to Spanish
+ ...
I will not worry about how many languages she learns Sep 19, 2008

I read your post with interest. Here is my experience:

I have a 3 year old daughter who speaks Spanish, Dutch & English. You would be amazed at how fast they can learn other languages; especially if they are not "learning" (in the traditional way) but listening and interacting in other languages that surround them.

At home I do speak Spanish with her and my husband speaks Dutch to her. She obviously goes to an English speaking nursery and she doesn;t have any troubles on switching languages depending on who she is talking to. Yes, she would sometimes mix some English words in her Spanish sentences but she is only three and I am convinced that as she grows, she would correct these mistakes. She is very aware of the three languages. However, "her" language, as she puts it, is English. We live in North Wales, so when she goes to school she will also learn Welsh and French (as the school she will be going is also teaching French). Am I concerned about that? To be honest with you, not at all. The most languages she is exposed to, the better.

Last year, we went three weeks to France and I was amazed at how much she could understand and repeat words in French. She would enter a shop and immediately say "Bonjour" or in the restaurants, she will always say: "l'eau s'il vous plait". I was really very proud of her as we never taught her any French at all... she just heard French people speaking French and she just tried to do the same (of course at basic level).....

I believe it is not only the language they learn, they are also learning to respect and to know other cultures.

Just my two cents.

Cecilia


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:26
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Same situation here Sep 19, 2008

Veronica Durbaca wrote:
She probably doesn't speak everyting perfectly and I couldn't care less because I know she will speak as she should when she grows up. I just have to decide to what kindergarten she goes in several months and I don't feel very confortable putting more pressure on her with yet another language


I have two beautiful boys aged 5 and 3. I would love to see them learn English, German and Spanish, and eventually take over when I retire... But I think it's a bit too early to start chasing them about languages other than Spanish, their mother tongue. They do have tons of chances of listening to English and German at home though, and I slowly widen the scope of things I say to them in English and German, just as a fun thing to do. For now my priority is that they grow happily, while "softening their ears" with frequent exposure to other languages.


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