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Triligual Child
Thread poster: Monica Verwoerd
Dec 3, 2009

Hi:

My home language is spanish and my husband is South African, his home language is Afrikaans ( kind of a dutch language).

Between us we speak English as we don't speak eachother languages.

When our daughter Julianne was born 3 years ago, we decided that each of us will speak to her in our own languages ( My husband in Afrikaans and I in Spanish). We have been doing just that for the last 3 years. But I have been worry for the last 6 months since she is not really speaking clearly any of the languages. She does speak English but only two word sentences. In February this year I put Julianne into a play group. She does speaks mostly in English since that is the language that she hears the most in her playgroup and television in general.

She however make herself understand with us, when she wants something. She saids " Mamma juice.... please" or "go away.. cross" But always in two word sentences and sometimes her speech in English is very unclear. She does understand very well Afrikaans and Spanish, because she follows simple requests when spoken on those languages and every now and again she said one word on those languages.

She turned 3 on the 24th of November 2009. I am a bit worry about that, her teacher has suggested to take her to a speech therapist in the new year or eliminate one language also because she seems still a bit emotional immature for her age.

I have seen children her same age and they are talking very well. Some people suggest that I wait until she is 3 and a half.

I am not sure what to do..

I would like to know when does a child who is expose to more than 2 languages would talk in average and if its normal that Julianne at the age of 3, still can communicate like other children?

Thank you in advance.


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xxxblomguib  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:46
English to Flemish
+ ...
my experience Dec 3, 2009

Hello Monica,

I can only give you my own experience with my 3 children in a rather similar situation.

I am a native English and Dutch speaker and my (ex)spouse is French....when we had our children (they were born in The Netherlands), we continued to speak our own languages to them. We had an au-pair who was fluent in French and English. I myself tried to speak Dutch to them and during weekends(when we had time and did things together) I spoke English to them.

People warned us that this would create havoc in our children´s minds and that they would end up not speaking anything....

We held on, and in the beginning it was true that they were VERY slow to start speaking (and I mean VERY slow....the youngest started speaking after the age of 3,5). Also, in the beginning they made mixed sentences; words that they had picked up from their mum, they used in French, and words they had picked up from me, they used in English or in Dutch....the result was that they came up with sentences like: Look maman, le big vliegtuig....

After a while (when they started elementary school at the age of 5), everything seemed "to fall in place" and they were able in their heads to make the distinction between the different languages. They are now (my daughter is 18, and my sons are 15 and 13) almost trilingual....they go to school and university in Dutch which means that this language has the upper hand, but their spoken French and English is very good...they have a (slight) accent, but that is normal....

So; the conclusion I would draw, is not to worry and to keep on speaking your own language in a consequent way to them. Don´t sometimes use your partner´s language when speaking to your child....this requires discipline but it is definitely worthwhile!

Hope this helps,

Stefan


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Jānis Greivuls
Latvia
Local time: 21:46
Member
English to Latvian
+ ...
It's normal Dec 3, 2009

My wife - speech therapist - says that it is normal child's response to trilingual environment to grow in. With due time these problems should disappear.

Speak a lot to your daughter in the manner like: "Why?...Why do you think so?"
Thus her wordstock in your and your husband's language as well as in English will increase.

You have a clever daugher, so be proud of her!:)


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Juliana Brown  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 14:46
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Hang in there. Dec 3, 2009

All kids are different in terms of when it 'clicks' for them. I have one who chattered away in Hebrew and Spanish from around 15 months and then within a month of starting nursery picked up English (albeit with an accent, but that also disappeared after a while). My second didn't speak in sentences until she was over 2 and then mixed the Hebrew and Spanish for a while- when she started nursery she refused to speak English at all! I can tell you though that she is now five and speaks all three beautifully (though she still mixes them around when she speaks with her sister).
Just keep setting the example...


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Derek Gill Franßen  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:46
German to English
+ ...
If it makes you feel better... Dec 3, 2009

If it makes you feel better, you could--as the teacher suggested--take your child to see a speech therapist just to see what the therapist says. The therapist will give an opinion, and then it will still be up to you whether to act on the advice or not.

It used to be suggested that bilingual children were a little slower learning to speak than monolingual children. This is no longer an accepted view. In any case, any such difference would be very small. A bilingual child whose speech is delayed (for example, if they have not said the first word by 18 months) should be treated exactly like a monolingual child. It is dangerous to think that the child's speech is delayed because the child is bilingual. Bilingual children vary from one another just as monolingual children do -- some will be early and some will be late speakers. But all children whose speech is delayed should be assessed by a doctor and (if necessary) a speech-language practitioner, because if the child is deaf, or if there is some reason for the speech delay, it should be dealt with.
See http://linguistlist.org/ask-ling/biling2.html

Most newer studies show that learning foreign languages at a young age is not bad for the child, but much to the contrary: Studies show it is beneficial to the child.

To summarize the research: There are two schools of thought. The older one argues that the multilingual environment may cause speech delay in young children. The newer one refutes these claims and argues that raising children in multilingual environment does not cause any speech delays, but in fact, benefits the child's development. So, if there are young children with apparent speech delay, it is due to some other factors (but not to multilingual environment).
See this list of some more literature on the subject: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/plc/clpp/bibliogs/CLDiMS.html

Have fun teaching your (lucky!) kids lots of lanugages; I'm sure they will thank you some day.


P.S. This site might be of interest to you: http://www.multilingualchildren.org/getting_started/pro_con.html


[Edited at 2009-12-03 15:15 GMT]


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:46
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Patience Dec 3, 2009

OK. I grew up in a trilingual environment. And mum was a kind of therapist, in the sense that she was an educator writing books on education in such an environment.

Bilingual children (the norm in my case) take some years to sort out speech. If a child becomes monolingually competent at 3-5, it doesn't mean a bilingual or trilingual child is incompetent, but rather, his/her competence may make itself manifest in "mixish".

Normally, it may take up to the 10th year for the child to separate language packages acceptably (i.e., acceptable to monolinguals). This is generally qualified by whole sentences in one or another language.

In fact, behind the eyes that gaze out at you is a mass of tortured decision-making processes, generally questioning what the desired output may be (medium as well as message).

It becomes a problem in school because many teachers are monolingual. (I even had a teacher with a German accent that involuntarily affected my English in grade 1).

So take it easy on the kids.


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Monica Verwoerd
TOPIC STARTER
Triligual Child Dec 3, 2009

Wow! Thank you for your comments, specially Janis and Stefan!

You in deed make me feel a lot better! I am going to wait and see. I am sure that in due time she'll speak something.

In the mean time I will follow the advice of your wife Janis. Thank you very much for that.

This whole situation is new to me, since Spanish is my home language and I learned to speak English 12 years ago.

In any case. Thank you all for your comments!!


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Monika Sommerfeld  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:46
English to German
Building separate speech centers takes time Dec 3, 2009

Hello Monica,

I have heard about studies that say that if children are exposed to more than one language at a young age, they develop separate speech centers in their brains--one for each language. This is something that is utterly impossible for an adult who starts to learn a new language. Neatly separating those centers/languages in their brains takes time, however. This process only starts at age three, if I remember correctly, and can take several years. I wouldn't worry about a three-year-old who grapples with three languages. As long as she understands all the languages she is exposed to and her hearing is fine, she'll sort all the languages out eventually. Good luck, and remember to write down the cutest "mix-ups" that she makes! She (and everyone else around her) will find them hilarious when she gets older!

Monika


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Berni Armstrong  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:46
Member
English
+ ...
Therapist??? Beware! Dec 3, 2009

Only take your child to a therapist if you know for certain that said therapist has experience of this situation. I've heard of too many of them who just have the prejudices of monolinguals that your situation MUST be damaging the child. Their consequent actions will then certainly do just that.

My daughter (11/98 - Dad ENG, Mum SPANISH, environment CATALAN) is now perfectly trilingual. As I was the primary carer in her first 18 months, she started off her language adventure in English, though she understood her Mum's Spanish too.

Then she went to nursery and over the next two years her English seemed to have disappeared as Catalan became dominant. At that time, she spoke to her Mum in Spanish, while I spoke to her in English... only to be replied to in Catalan. I began to fear my dream of speaking to my child in my own mother tongue was doomed.

Then on a holiday in England, she walked over to some kids and started playing with them. I asked them later what language she had used and they looked at me as if I were an idiot: "English, of course!" they replied.

Her passive English had become a very active one when she really needed it.

In short, by seven she had sorted out most of her problems and was code switching with the best of them.

She now speaks, reads and writes her two "Latin" languages perfectly. Her English is only poorer in the writing area, because, of course, English speling is a law unto itself.

In short, keep at it. You are both giving your daughter a gift that she will thank you for. Continue doing that with love and you can't go wrong.


PS I was on the Bilingual Families Mailing List for a while and all their collective wisdom says the same. Let it happen and don't trust therapists who only have a monolingual model to judge your child's progress by.

PPS My favourite family on that list had a Dutch Mum, an Arab Dad (who didn't speak each other's languages, and communicated in English). On top of that they lived in Japan!!! At 7 their kid was fluent in Arabic, Dutch and Japanese and had a working knowledge of English. Kids are the most amazing things on the planet!


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Monica Verwoerd
TOPIC STARTER
Triligual Child Dec 3, 2009

Thank you Bernie!!

Your and the other comments are really making my day! I feel a lot more relax about the whole situation.

Thank you very much, I truly appreciate your comments and its an encouragement to speak to my second child ( currently on the way, due late in may 2010) in the same way we are doing with Julianne!!!

Gracias amigo y que Dios te bendiga!


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Sabine Akabayov, PhD
Israel
Local time: 21:46
Member (2011)
English to German
+ ...
It takes time Dec 3, 2009

Our son is growing up trilingual as well (he will be 3 in February).
It took him some time to start speaking, but now he does, even though it's sometimes mixed. But we see more and more that he realizes the difference in languages and he even "translated" the song "old Mc Donalds" to Hebrew while singing. His sentences are still shorter than from other kids in his daycare, but we don't worry too much about that.
As Berni said, it's important, that any professional you are talking to about this subject (physician, therapist) sgould have experience in this area. When we went the first time in the US to a physician, our son had never heard any English. When the physician asked him something in English and he didn't answer, he suggested we talk to a therapist (even though the doctor knew we just came from abroad).

GL
Sabine


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xxxblomguib  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:46
English to Flemish
+ ...
agree with Berni Dec 3, 2009

Berni Armstrong wrote:

Only take your child to a therapist if you know for certain that said therapist has experience of this situation. I've heard of too many of them who just have the prejudices of monolinguals that your situation MUST be damaging the child. Their consequent actions will then certainly do just that.


Not my experience with therapists, but with Dutch teachers who didn´t like France, the French, and anything that only vaguely remembered them of France....they did EVERYTHING in their power to stop my children (not 1 but the three of them passed through the hands of these 2 teachers I am referring to) speaking French....they didn´t really mind the English, although that was also "frowned upon"....bi- or trilingual kids have an advantage and are (in a way) different....but oh, is that an advantage later in life!!!!!!

So, don´t be hyper-sensitive but stay alert....there are weird people out there!


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Derek Gill Franßen  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:46
German to English
+ ...
You are the parent. Dec 3, 2009

Berni Armstrong wrote:
Only take your child to a therapist if you know for certain that said therapist has experience of this situation. I've heard of too many of them who just have the prejudices of monolinguals that your situation MUST be damaging the child. Their consequent actions will then certainly do just that.


You make it sound like a therapist can somehow do something to a child without a parent's consent. That is certainly not the way it is. A speech-therapist will simply make suggestions; no person has to do what a therapist recommends.

I think it is irresponsible to create an artificial fear of therapists and doctors... they can only give advice--it is up to you to decide if you should follow the advice (and yes, a therapist who has experience with multilingual situations is obviously going to be the best choice).

If a child's speech development is severely delayed, it is usually because of bad hearing (not from learning foreign languages, as we pretty much all agree). And if a child is having trouble hearing, then avoiding doctors is the wrong thing to do.




[Edited at 2009-12-03 18:48 GMT]


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Berni Armstrong  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:46
Member
English
+ ...
Overestimating the experience of therapists. Dec 3, 2009

Derek Gill Franßen wrote:

I think it is irresponsible to create an artificial fear of therapists and doctors... they can only give advice--it is up to you to decide if you should follow the advice


Most of us already have an artificially inflated respect for such people. Generally, we automatically assume that they must know their job. Therefore, their advice is given more weight than say advice from a friend or relative on the issue. I was not warning against speech therapists in general. If your child has a real problem (auditory or labia-dental, etc,) then such people are obvious life savers. But from the experience of many people on the list that I mentioned I would warn people that they should check a therapist's experience of multi-lingual kids before accepting his or her advice on the issue.

On the List we had folks who deeply regretted listening to monolingual therapists advising them to drop their language and "just use the dominant language of the area until the child is old enough to learn another language". By following that advice, a vital window in which the child would simply absorb another language rather than have to study it, was lost forever.

Hey I just noticed that "therapists" is spelt the same as "the rapists"


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Viachaslau B.  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 20:46
English to Russian
+ ...
Everything's gonna be fine soon, I belive Dec 3, 2009

My little bro has been raised trilingual. He is now 11 and he speaks 3 totally different languages fluently: Swedish, Kurdish and Russian. Though i can remember that we used to be somehow worried about him in this respect too, just because one of the parents was more persistent teaching the kid on a daily basis, mainly thorugh talking to him, whereas the other parent was kinda lukewarm. Being exposed to the language environement of the country where he was raised he naturally developed his skills in the third language. I am really proud of him and much envious, to tell you the trouth

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