Raising twins in a trilingual environment, possible?!?
Thread poster: Amandine (X)

Amandine (X)
Local time: 04:52
English to French
+ ...
Jun 26, 2004

hi there,

Let's start by the presentations. I am a French native speaker and my husband a Finnish native speaker. But my Finnish being very limited (ok let's admit non-existent) and dh's French pretty poor (that's because he is next to me and refuses to admit he is crap!icon_wink.gif) we speak English together.

We have 15 months old twin girls. We've lived in Scotland for the past 3 years but are moving to Finland next week.

So here is our dilemma:
i only speak French to elea and Kiara even if sometimes English comes naturally. Dh only speaks Finnish to them. But they were oing to a Scottish nursery and they hear English at home when I spoke to my dh and vice versa. So far they are able to say a few words like mama, papa, papy (French) but also aiti, isi, tytto (Finnish) and hi ya (English). Not much but they clearly show that they understand the three languages.

So are we adopting the right attitude here? Is it truly possible to raise trilingual kids? We both don't want to give up speaking English together because we know each other in English. It would not be natural for us. I am probably going to learn Finnish at the same rate than my girls but should I also start speaking Finnish? Or stick with the French?

They are going to be surrounded by Finnish mostly. There is a French kindergarden but quite far away from us. As for hiring an aupair our finances won't allow us to do so (you all know that freelance translation is not the best way to make good and easy money) and my girls still are too small I reckon.

The main thing that we're thinking about is how our everyday language usage effects our girls' lingual development. We believe the one parent - one language approach to be successful, but we really just wanted to know if our English makes it harder for our kids to pick up the two main languages?


Laura Gentili  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
My experience Jun 27, 2004

I have BGG triplets and I think being multiples adds an extra difficulty to being bilingual. Due to the fact that they hear all the time their twin or triplet making mistakes and speaking not properly (rather than hearing adults and older siblings), multiples tend to have more difficulties in developing language skills in general and multilingual skills in particular. At least this was my experience and the experience of many other parents I have been in contact with.
When you move to Finland your family will probably switch to the typical situation of bilingual families, with the kids speaking only Finnish and answering to you in Finnish when you speak French to them.


Nicole Maina  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
Member (2005)
German to Italian
+ ...
laura is right Jun 27, 2004

I grew up in germany with italian parents, and as laura says could understand italian very well but used to answer in german, which made my father very angry because he knew we would move back to italy. when I was 10 we did. It was a bit hard at the beginning, also due to a completely different school system, but I started speaking italian immediately (after the first year I became the best essay-writer in my class! my father was so proud...)

I never forgot german thanks to books, tv, german friends and relatives and started studying languages properly only at 20, at university. I consider myself bilingual, even if italian is certainly my first language, but german comes as easily and fluent as italian. (unluckily my english is rusty and edgy... sorry for that!)

anyway when I will have children I will certainly try to speak german to them all the time, because I know how hard it is to learn a language when you are an adult, even a young one, and it doesn't matter how hard you try, it will never be the same like someone who learnt it when he/she was a child.

anyway I would teach my children my mother tongue, if possible, which in your case is the best thing anyway because the twins will grow up in a finnish environment, which at the same time means learning english quite well, as far as I kwow.

so their mother should teach them very good french as "second mother tongue", and help them acquiring english as first foreign language, which they will absorb anyway by hearing their parents speak english together. sounds difficult, but I believe small children can coordinate a lot of things and new information without getting confused!

I don't believe the fact that they are twins makes a big difference. they might develop their own artificial 4th language!

good luck
and greetings from italy



Vicky Shelton  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
Italian to English
+ ...
no problem Jun 27, 2004

I am an American (single mother) and brought six year old twins to Italy who spoke no Italian and enrolled them in the Italian public school system. Their first three months was tough but I think the fact that they had each other was a geat help and I am not so sure I would have tried it with only one child, or even children of different ages. They are now 21, one works - using English as the primary means of communication- and the other is justing finishing her undergraduate degree in math.
Although I speak Italian (my folks sent me to boarding school in Florence when I was 13 and spoke no Italian, our family likes the "sink or swim" method).
I have always insisted on English being spoken in the house unless friends were over who could not understand. We watch dvd's in English and books and magazines are in both languages. My children were young enough when we came over that they have no accent when they speak Italian and have maintained our regional US accent. They seem to feel equally comfortable expressing themselves in either language...except for culturally related issues and then it depends on the issue...tough to discuss baseball in Italian, and Italian politics in English can be tricky.
I think that being twins actually makes it easier, rather than harder, they can use their other languages to communicate so that others cannot understand - something often useful for kids.
Best of luck to you.


Laura Gentili  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
More Jun 27, 2004

The situation Vicky describes is completely different: her twins were raised in a monolingual environment until age 6, then moved to a different county and picked up a second language from school/street/friends.
Here we are talking about very young twins who have to develop their language skills in a trilingual environment.


AnkeSR  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
English to German
+ ...
German English Spanish Jun 27, 2004

Hi, I do not have twins, but a daughter (3 in Sept) who grows up trilingual (Mother,me: German,Dad: English; Living in Spain)
She spent her first 2 years in England going to nursery for a year but only being talked to in German by me and English by my hubby. Moved to Spain when she was two. She went to nursery here straight away and kind of stopped talking for a while.
Then for a long time she spoke her own language made up out of the three. She can now distinguish between all three but still does not speak any properly. I often find it "sad" as I really like to have a proper conversation with her but if I can't understand most of her own language it gets difficult at times.
She seems to pick up more every day but no language is pronounced properly. She also speaks in one word sentences or questions. I am confident she'll get there one day.
If I can speak 3 fluently she will as well.:-))


Martine Etienne  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
Member (2003)
English to French
+ ...
Mother language Jun 27, 2004

According to psychological studies, children must have a mother language even if it is not the language of their mother!!! But it is important for them to have a language to identify themselves. I suppose for you it will be finnish because their environment will be mostly finnish when your family will live there. Your mother language is french, keep on talking them into french, because all these little words a mother says to his children are very important and generally comes in the mother language. But leave the children choose their language, and start learning finnish because you will have to understand them, to understand their little friends, the mothers of their friends and that is really important. And they will still understand you french.


Sven Petersson  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
English to Swedish
+ ...
Quatrolingual! Jun 28, 2004

I saw the result of a similar situation some 40 years ago in Mexico.
It was a pair of "mirror twins" with a Danish father, a Mexican mother and a Scottish nanny. The twins spoke four languages fluently: Danish, Spanish, English (with a Scottish accent) and, between themselves, a Fanagalore type language with elements from the other three languages.

There were no problems.


Local time: 03:52
English to Hungarian
trilingual in LA Oct 11, 2004

HI All,

Very similar to Amandine's situation, my husband is Bulgarian, I am Hungarian and we live in LA. I am 6 months pregnant, and I only hear horror stories about bilingual children in school etc. Of course I don't speak Bulgarian, and even if I might learn it (have some Russian past) - there is NO WAY my husband will take the painful effort of learning Hungarian in like 5 months. (Really who can blame him)?

But can someone comfort me and say that our child CAN, WILL and SURVIVE learning all these languages??? Also, HOW should we do this? All those trilingual people out there, did your parents only speak one language to you at home? Is there a good guidebook out there? So far I could only find studies on bilingual children.

It's is a very difficult task to become a parenticon_smile.gif


Amandine (X)
Local time: 04:52
English to French
+ ...
One year later... Jul 20, 2005

Well one year on... Elea and Kiara are now 29 months, speaking Finnish very well for their age as well as French. They hardly mix the languages and have better control of the languages than my friends'monolingual children have.

As far as English is concerned they do repeat it very well but I don't think they understand it anymore. At least they'll be familiar with the pronunciation I guess.

They respect very well the one parent - one language rule at home. My husband is making the effort to learn French, same applies for my Finnish.

So all in all everything is running soothly so far. We just spent a month and a half in France and the girls' French has improved greatly in 2 weeks time they were chatting in French togethericon_wink.gif


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