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three languages?
Thread poster: Nagys

Nagys
Local time: 19:05
Jun 18, 2011

Hi! I would like to get some advice regarding trilingual attempt for my son. We live in Finland, and I have a 4 years son who has been so far in a Finnish kindergarten since he was 1 year and 8 months. Our mother tongue is Romanian. The situation is that we are thinking to give our son to an English kindergarten starting from August 2011. One of the reason for putting him in an English kindergarten would be that my husband doesn't speak at all Finnish and he would like as well to participate to ... See more
Hi! I would like to get some advice regarding trilingual attempt for my son. We live in Finland, and I have a 4 years son who has been so far in a Finnish kindergarten since he was 1 year and 8 months. Our mother tongue is Romanian. The situation is that we are thinking to give our son to an English kindergarten starting from August 2011. One of the reason for putting him in an English kindergarten would be that my husband doesn't speak at all Finnish and he would like as well to participate to our son's progress in school.The second reason is that there is a change that we move from Finland. We are aiming for our son to go to a bilingual school En-Fi when he turns 7 and thus to give him an opportunity to an international education abroad in the future. Now I am revealing my biggest worry: having to learn 3 languages at the same time, wouldn't be too much for him? Most of the children that attend a bilingual school are coming from a family that one parent at least speaks English or Finnish as a mother tongue. I have asked for advice to several kindergarten teachers in Finland and the Finnish teachers' opinion is that it would be too much stress for my son to deal with 3 languages. I mention that my son's mother tongue and Finnish are progressing very well. Did anyone has dealt with the same situation or have some advice for us? I am looking forward to getting any kind of opinion on this matter. Thank you!
Last edited by Nagys on Sat Jun 18, 2011 9:39 am, edited 2 times in total. Nagys

Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Jun 16, 2011 8:41 am
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Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 18:05
English to Russian
+ ...
Stagger the languages Jun 18, 2011

In my opinion, it's not really optimal to have the child learn several languages at once - it's much better to stagger them by 3-5 years. It will still give the native mastery, but will help avoid "cross-contamination" - using two languages in one phrase, or even a root of a word from one language and a suffix from another (which was the case with my friend's son who learned Spanish and Russian from birth). My daughter learned Russian from birth, English from the age of 3, and French from 7. She... See more
In my opinion, it's not really optimal to have the child learn several languages at once - it's much better to stagger them by 3-5 years. It will still give the native mastery, but will help avoid "cross-contamination" - using two languages in one phrase, or even a root of a word from one language and a suffix from another (which was the case with my friend's son who learned Spanish and Russian from birth). My daughter learned Russian from birth, English from the age of 3, and French from 7. She never mixed the languages, yet grew a native/nearly-native speaker of all the three.Collapse


 

Berni Armstrong  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:05
Member
English
+ ...
Stagger be daggered ;-) Jun 18, 2011

I'm totally in disagreement with Anton.

My daughter learned English from me as a baby and a young child, Spanish from her Mum and Catalan in kindergarten and school. She is now coming up to 13 and totally trilingual. I think any attempt to stagger language input is bound to give greater weight to the first tongue(s) learned. I found that "cross-contamination" was only noticeable in the early years. Now, her code switching is almost complete and absolute. It's wonderful!

... See more
I'm totally in disagreement with Anton.

My daughter learned English from me as a baby and a young child, Spanish from her Mum and Catalan in kindergarten and school. She is now coming up to 13 and totally trilingual. I think any attempt to stagger language input is bound to give greater weight to the first tongue(s) learned. I found that "cross-contamination" was only noticeable in the early years. Now, her code switching is almost complete and absolute. It's wonderful!

In my experience, young kids don't learn languages they absorb them. So it is vitally important to give them the inputs they are going to need from the word go (or before - I spoke to my child regularly while she was still in the womb! )

I used to be on a support group for Bilingual Families and the most amazing kid there had an Arabic Dad and a Dutch Mum. Neither of them spoke each other's language so they communicated in English... and where did they live?..... Tokyo! By age seven that child spoke fluent Dutch, Arabic and Japanese and had a good command of English.

For me the most important thing is consistency. OPOL (One Parent One Language) seems to be the key to succesful language acquisition.

Though sometimes you might feel you're failing (ie you keep speaking English, your kid replies in the local language) keep at it, because when your child is among children who speak the language you have been plugging (and who only speak that language) lo and behold they suddenly chat away in that language.


[Edited at 2011-06-18 23:35 GMT]
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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 00:05
Chinese to English
Learning when young is best Jun 19, 2011

I'm afraid Anton is completely wrong, and so are the Finnish teachers. Young children have an amazing capacity for absorbing languages, and learning two, three or even four languages is no challenge for them at all.

As an example, we are a trilingual family: I speak English with my son, my wife's family speaks Hokkien with him, and our shared language is Mandarin. It hasn't held him back at all - quite the contrary, his language skills are better than other children his age.
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I'm afraid Anton is completely wrong, and so are the Finnish teachers. Young children have an amazing capacity for absorbing languages, and learning two, three or even four languages is no challenge for them at all.

As an example, we are a trilingual family: I speak English with my son, my wife's family speaks Hokkien with him, and our shared language is Mandarin. It hasn't held him back at all - quite the contrary, his language skills are better than other children his age.

However, if you wait to introduce languages later, it's a completely different story. Remember how hard it was learning languages at school? That's what you get if you wait. It's the difference between "acquiring" a language naturally and "learning" a language in the classroom.

However, in order to acquire a language properly, you do have to have a real language environment. It's very difficult to "fake" a natural language environment if you're not really comfortable in a language. If you don't speak English at home with your husband, your child probably won't absorb English in the home (videos are no substitute), so an English language kindergarten would be a big boost. If you spend time playing with other Finnish children, he'll have a chance to learn Finnish with them, plus he'll get Finnish from the environment - buses, TV, shops, etc.

The other important thing is to read to your child in all the language you want him to acquire. Books give you access to a different register of language and a big new vocabulary, which really helps to develop their language confidence.

So give your son the multilingual environment early, but remember that parental support is the most important thing. If you're confident in a language, he'll be confident. Trying to force it probably won't get you the results you want.
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Edward Vreeburg  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:05
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
With Berni and Phil on this one Jun 19, 2011

Children have an amazing capacity to learn languages and differentiate between them at a young age. Most often the youngest person in a expat family will speak the country's language the best.
For the mothertongue and fathertongue, it's best if both parents speak their own mothertongue and not try to speak the spouse's language. This might be hard for the romanian dad, but he will probably make some pronounication mistakes of the wrong words if he tries - - some support from any other roma
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Children have an amazing capacity to learn languages and differentiate between them at a young age. Most often the youngest person in a expat family will speak the country's language the best.
For the mothertongue and fathertongue, it's best if both parents speak their own mothertongue and not try to speak the spouse's language. This might be hard for the romanian dad, but he will probably make some pronounication mistakes of the wrong words if he tries - - some support from any other romanian speakers would be helpfull (mother in law, nanny, brothers/sisters).

The English can be aquired at school, and perhaps by adding one day in the week where everybody speaks English (at a later age). Most youngsters will refuse to speak anything but the native language (of the parent) back to the parent, because they feel their parents don't speak proper - in your case English -

Bi- tri-lingual childres are a bit slower at the start, about 6 months slower compared to other babies/todlers - so they might speak less, use less complicated phrases etc. At this point many educators will claim multilingual education is not working and your child has problems... DON'T LISTEN TO THEM !
When they reach the age of 5-6 they will be miles ahead of any other native child, and when they will be learning other languages in school they are so far ahead, they will likely take on additional languages like Spanish or Chinese...

As Berni mentioned, your child might not speak any foreign language in public, or when strangers visit, because children have a radar for "not standing out". In kindergarten my son (French, Dutch, English) and a Japanese kid where immediately attracted to each other and could communicate, while the other kids pointed and said - "they cannot talk". My son is now in high-school still switches between languages if needed at the drop of a dime.

Any weekly magazines like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, or other cartoon stuff from your native country can also help with vocabulary when they're older.

===
Ed







===
Ed

[Edited at 2011-06-19 08:14 GMT]
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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:05
Spanish to English
+ ...
Acquisition over learning Jun 19, 2011

Berni Armstrong wrote:

In my experience, young kids don't learn languages they absorb them. So it is vitally important to give them the inputs they are going to need from the word go ...

Though sometimes you might feel you're failing (ie you keep speaking English, your kid replies in the local language) keep at it, because when your child is among children who speak the language you have been plugging (and who only speak that language) lo and behold they suddenly chat away in that language.


[Edited at 2011-06-18 23:35 GMT]


Berni's case is similar to friends of mine in the area, although as an outsider I think Catalan and Castilian are pretty much mutually intelligible if the interlocutors are willing to make an effort. The Japanese/Arab/Dutch example is another good example of the power of language acquisition.


 

Kateryna Raketska
Local time: 18:05
English to Russian
+ ...
the more languages - the better Jun 19, 2011

I think that it is not difficult for children at all to learn 2 or even 3 languages at the same time. For us, adults, it seems like such an undertaking, but children do not concentrate on difficulties and their limitations - they simply don't have them! I think you have a wonderful opportunity to teach your son three languages, so go for it! At this early age children literally absorb everything they get to know, so your son will have no problem learning three languages.
I have a friend w
... See more
I think that it is not difficult for children at all to learn 2 or even 3 languages at the same time. For us, adults, it seems like such an undertaking, but children do not concentrate on difficulties and their limitations - they simply don't have them! I think you have a wonderful opportunity to teach your son three languages, so go for it! At this early age children literally absorb everything they get to know, so your son will have no problem learning three languages.
I have a friend whose mother is a Ukrainian and father is Cuban. He speaks Ukrainian, Spanish and Russian fluently, and he has never complained that it was difficult for him to learn all three as a child. So go for it!
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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:05
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
What are your plans? Jun 19, 2011

How long do you plan to be in Finland? If you expect to be in Finland for a very long time, wouldn't it make sense that your husband learnt Finnish?

Finnish is a rather complex language, whereas English is not that hard at all for Finns or people who speak more complex languages like Romanian or Spanish. I think that if you plan to be in Finland for a long time, it would be a mistake to take your child to an English-speaking kindergarten at this moment and interrupting good progress
... See more
How long do you plan to be in Finland? If you expect to be in Finland for a very long time, wouldn't it make sense that your husband learnt Finnish?

Finnish is a rather complex language, whereas English is not that hard at all for Finns or people who speak more complex languages like Romanian or Spanish. I think that if you plan to be in Finland for a long time, it would be a mistake to take your child to an English-speaking kindergarten at this moment and interrupting good progress in Finnish.

My approach would be to help the child learn Finnish and Romanian correctly (I mean not just speaking it, but reading and writing both languages correctly, possibly with tuition in Romanian at home by an experienced/accredited teacher), and then take care of English when the child is older, i.e. when he/she starts learning it along with other pupils in school.

I know how mesmerizing it can sound to hear about a child that speaks Chinese, Arabic, and Czech at the age of 10, but I would be more worried to A) make sure your child speaks and writes the local language and his/her mother tongue correctly, and b) see that my children are happy, responsible, hard-working people.
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Ulrike H
Local time: 18:05
English to German
+ ...
I used to work in a kindergarden ... Jun 19, 2011

... where we had several multi-lingual kids. Okay, most of them where bi-lingual, but there were one or two three-lingual ones. Now, some of the kids had problems speaking German (and in one case at least, we were told he isn't speaking his parents' language that well either) - and because of that, the kindergarden teachers all thought that the children are confused due to having to speak several languages.

I very much disagreed - after all, just as many of the multi-lingual childre
... See more
... where we had several multi-lingual kids. Okay, most of them where bi-lingual, but there were one or two three-lingual ones. Now, some of the kids had problems speaking German (and in one case at least, we were told he isn't speaking his parents' language that well either) - and because of that, the kindergarden teachers all thought that the children are confused due to having to speak several languages.

I very much disagreed - after all, just as many of the multi-lingual children seemed to have no problem at all, and several of the uni-lingual children didn't speak well either. All children are different, and some learn to speak more easily than others, but I don't think that has much to do with the amount of languages. Okay, multi-lingual children do indeed start speaking a bit later than other children, but they catch up.

So, while I am usually all for listening to what the kindergarden teachers say - this is one case where I think you shouldn't listen too much to them...
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Nagys
Local time: 19:05
TOPIC STARTER
my son would have to learn 2 new languages, none of them is his native language Jun 19, 2011

Hi,
thank you very much for your advices. It is very encouraging.:-) . My main worry is if my son would be able to absorb two foreign languages at the same time? I know that kids are like sponges at this age and they can learn languages easily. Our situation is a bit different since English and Finnish is none of them his mother tongue. I don't want to push him to the limit.

I hope I don't have too high hopes for him when I wish him to go to a bilingual school. For start, h
... See more
Hi,
thank you very much for your advices. It is very encouraging.:-) . My main worry is if my son would be able to absorb two foreign languages at the same time? I know that kids are like sponges at this age and they can learn languages easily. Our situation is a bit different since English and Finnish is none of them his mother tongue. I don't want to push him to the limit.

I hope I don't have too high hopes for him when I wish him to go to a bilingual school. For start, he will have to go to an English kindergarten where most of the kids are Finns and they play to each other using Finnish, but however the teachers speak and teach them English. Then, in order to get into a bilingual Eng-Finnish school, the entrance exam is held in Finnish and they assess the child's ability to communicate, understand Finnish. He will have to compete with natives Finns. Secondly, in order to get into the bilingual school, they require that the child has been at least for one year into an English kindergarten so he will be able to manage the 1st and 2nd grade in English only.

I appreciate a lot your opinions especially for the fact that most foreigners in Finland or Finnish teachers recommned only the education in Finnish and the advantages that will bring along. I wish something more for my child, that he has a larger opening in the future through the English language and culture.
I am looking forward to any other suggestion if you might have.
Thank you!
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Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:05
Dutch to English
+ ...
I am afraid I also disagree with Anton Jun 19, 2011

Never stagger, always do everything at once if you want to reach an adequate result.

But indeed, Tomás is right, why not have your husband learn Finnish? There is nothing worse than being in a country and not understanding anything.

A bilingual school is a good idea. You at least know that the child will learn also about the culture and learn to spell ok.
Mixing languages should indeed only occur in the first years as children try out certain things. The idea
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Never stagger, always do everything at once if you want to reach an adequate result.

But indeed, Tomás is right, why not have your husband learn Finnish? There is nothing worse than being in a country and not understanding anything.

A bilingual school is a good idea. You at least know that the child will learn also about the culture and learn to spell ok.
Mixing languages should indeed only occur in the first years as children try out certain things. The idea of (in English) saying 'I goed to the shop' instead of 'I went', because they are experimenting with regularity and irregularity in verbs and want to see how that works out. That goes away, but I imagine it can be interesting across languages.

I have heard about siblings who speak a weird mish-mash of languages amongst themselves and speak adequately to one parent in one language and to the other in the other language and to children in school and teachers in yet another. It is not a problem. They learn to express their ideas properly in one language only, but they may give that up when in the presence of people they know know all three (in your case).

What may happen though is that when they have not learnt a certain word in one language (because the situation never occurred), they will call the thing in the other, but that's just a small 'problem'.

Good luck with it.
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Anne Koth  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:05
German to English
Native / non-native Jun 19, 2011

Nagys wrote:
my son would have to learn 2 new languages, none of them is his native language ... He will have to compete with natives Finns.


Your son is living in Finland now and has attended a Finnish kindergarten for 2 years, is that right? I'm surprised you don't consider him a native Finnish speaker. Our two (now enormous) children started German kindergarten at a similar age, otherwise speaking German with local friends or in the playground. We speak English at home, and don't have much contact to their German relatives as they live far away, but I've always seen them as native German speakers. They picked up the German grammar and accent just like their monolingual friends. Sometimes there was vocab they didn't know as well as their friends as they didn't hear it at home, as Kirsten describes, but the gaps were quite specific, limited and soon filled. And sometimes when they were small they'd try to apply a bit of English syntax or something - but I was usually the only one even to notice that! Their teachers just saw it as "child language". My son did it more often, but whenever I've asked any teacher if his schooling was suffering at all from his second language, they've looked at me in surprise; they'd never even considered it, or didn't realise we might speak English at home.

Now the kids are 11 and 13 and have far surpassed me; I ask them about German articles and cases. They're native speakers and know it automatically. I just learned the language later.

And if you think your son will probably need English soon, then it would be a great idea to introduce it as soon as possible. If not, you need to think about whether choosing a bilingual school might stop you and your child from making friends locally, feeling truly at home where you live, and having a "normal" Finnish life. That feeling of being integrated into local society can partly balance out the difficulty of supporting your child at school.

Read up about bilingualism and don't forget that doctors, teachers etc. might not know as much about bilingualism as you do. Here's an old article I read when our children were tiny, for example:

Two or More Languages in Early Childhood: Some General Points and Practical Recommendations, by Annick de Houwer

[Edited at 2011-06-19 14:27 GMT]


 

kmtext
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:05
English
+ ...
The sooner the better Jun 20, 2011

As some of the other posters have said, if you want your son to be near native in any language, it's best to introduce him to it as early as possible.

Yes, he will probably get the three languages confused to begin with, and will mix up the words and grammar, but that will sort itself out fairly quickly, and it will be much easier for him to acquire all three at an early age than to acquire two and then learn another later in life.

I'm only bilingual, but one of my frie
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As some of the other posters have said, if you want your son to be near native in any language, it's best to introduce him to it as early as possible.

Yes, he will probably get the three languages confused to begin with, and will mix up the words and grammar, but that will sort itself out fairly quickly, and it will be much easier for him to acquire all three at an early age than to acquire two and then learn another later in life.

I'm only bilingual, but one of my friends was raised speaking Mandarin, Cantonese and Thai (parents and grandmother) at home and English in school, and she's equally fluent in all four languages, so it can be done.
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George Hopkins
Local time: 18:05
Swedish to English
The quicker, the better Jun 20, 2011

Children have an amzing capacity for languages. My two youngest grandchildren (4 and 6) were born and live in France. They speak Swedish in the family, French at school, and frequently when playing together.

They have English-speaking cousins, neighbours and friends, so they are picking up English too, which please me especially.


 

Eileen Cartoon  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:05
Italian to English
I think you are worrying for nothing Jun 20, 2011

From everything I have read, small children don't actually learn langagues separately and their brains process them as one giant language. The separation into different languages comes later. So if your son learns 3 languages now it shouldn't be a problem. Instead it might be a problem for those who are teaching him. And the other kids families.
I a friend here in Italy, her mother tongue was Polish but she was an American citizen. Her husband got a teaching position with an Italian unive
... See more
From everything I have read, small children don't actually learn langagues separately and their brains process them as one giant language. The separation into different languages comes later. So if your son learns 3 languages now it shouldn't be a problem. Instead it might be a problem for those who are teaching him. And the other kids families.
I a friend here in Italy, her mother tongue was Polish but she was an American citizen. Her husband got a teaching position with an Italian university and while here they put their son in a nursery school. Not only did he learn Italian, but also his best friend would end up speaking Polish with her own parents who didn't have a clue.
Don't worry, it's amazing how brains work.
Eileen
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