Google+ Raising a Trilingual Child


Monday, August 18, 2014

How to develop early phonemic awareness and reading readiness by using language play with kids from birth to preschool.

As I already mentioned in the 7 principles to keep in mind while teaching your child to read, before child learns to read he needs to learn how to separate  phonemes (speech sounds). It is better for parents and kids to start working on it as early as possible, since in reality it does not require anything special.  So what can you do to help your child develop phonemic awareness? - It’s quite simple: just sing, read and play. Play using the language and play with the language!

When your child is born, start singing to her/him. 

The first recorded lullaby is dating around 2000 BC. According to the researchers, lullabies prepare child's ear and brain for language. Your child needs to hear YOU, not a recording. If your child is soon to be bilingual, both language speakers should sing to the child. If you are short on lullabies, do not worry, sing your favorite songs in your language. I could not recall any lullabies right away,  but after a while they came back to me from my childhood memories. It takes time for your memory to spit it out and if you can not recall anything, look it up on the Internet.

Site nursery rhymes and children's poetry.

Nursery rhymes are a fun way of learning the language. Children like repetition. By listening and repeating rhymes, they learn about the language patterns and rhythms. Do not think that children prefer prose like some of us, adults, you will be surprise to learn that children like poetry. Just start introducing it to them early. My kids love Russian classics: A.Pushkin, S. Yesenin, A. Blok

Get into action with Fingerplay.

Need to bring child attention to what you are saying? Use fingerplay, which combine words with movements to keep your child engage and interested.  Check this wonderful resource Fingerplay videos, lullabies, nursery rhymes, with audio and words provided in English and Spanish.

Play with tongue twister.

Older kids have so much fun with tongue twisters and you probably know that speech therapist use them too! Tongue twisters can help to work on those difficult to pronounce phonemes.  I was  already able to correct my child's pronunciation of some sounds. We are also using the Russian tongue twisters with alliteration of so difficult to pronounce "Sh" and "S" (Russian "Ш" and "С"): In Russian: "Шла Саша по шоссе и сосала сушку". English translation: "Sasha walked along the road and chewed on a round cracker".

Would you like to try some tongue twisters in your language? Check  the world's largest collection of tongue twisters in 118 languages!
Italian tongue-twisters - scioglilingua italiani.
If you teach your child to speak English and it is not your mother tongue, try this collection of tongue twisters with audio, so you can play it to your child.

Write your own poetry.

If you think you can not write a poem, just let your children do it! Children are very creative. All you need is to give them a little guidelines and help to make more sense out of words. They love create good nonsense rhymes. I laugh a lot when my kids try to come up with rhymes for their poems.

Play with words.

Your child asks you something. For instance, " Could you give me a marker?" and instead of just giving it to him. Ask him, what is the first sound of word " marker"?  Repeat the word slowly several times : "M-marker, marker, marker".
At first your child probably will not answer you right away and you would have to help him and say: "M",  " M-m-m-marker". When your child understands this game rule, he will impress you with a fast answer. Make it fun! No need to tell them "you are right or you are wrong".

Read to your child

I want to stress once more the importance of early reading and share with you my tips on how to read to a toddler. Children listen and memorize the words inflections, the way sound changes by following your voice.

Some more resources in different languages:

Italian, Japanese, German nursery rhymes books and CD

Italian Nursery Rhymes
Japanese Nursery Rhymes
German Nursery Rhymes
Russian Nursery Rhymes
Russian Nursery Rhymes

You might also like reading:

What language should I speak to my child in public? - Multilingual parent dilemma.  
Life Story: Trilingual mama - trilingual kid. Why would it be any other way?  

Touch of nature on a rainy day. Best nurture documentaries in English to watch with children.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

Life Story: Sometimes knowing a language is worth it for its literature alone.

It is easy to learn languages as a baby and be bilingual from birth. But many of us, including the parents raising those lucky bilingual children, have a different story. Some were born and raised monolingual until leaving the country as teenagers, some - as adults. Andrey left his home country when he was 10 years old and moved to US with his parents. There he started a new life and learned a second language. He has also learned how to preserve his mother tongue and this gave his life a different spin - he started translating the poetry and putting his own thoughts into rhyme. He is also raising a bilingual daughter.

My name is Andrey. I was born and raised in Moscow, Russia. I remember my childhood, as most kids remember theirs, carefree and easy-going. I spend most of my summers with my grandparents, either from my mother’s side, in Pishchulino, a small village some five hours drive south of Moscow or from my father’s side, in Pyatigorsk, a city in southwestern part of Russia, known for its mountains and mineral springs. In Pishchulino, I learned how to collect mushrooms, pick berries, and play card games. In Pyatigorsk, my cousin and I would make water guns from old shampoo bottles, and run around with local kids, spraying one another. During the long winter months in Moscow, I would spend a lot of time outdoors, playing in the snow. My brother, who is six years older than I am, always had many friends and he would reluctantly drag me with him from one party to the next.

As a child, I did not ever think about the economy, politics, the army draft that was looming over my brother’s head, or future in general - that was my parents’ job, and so it was somewhat of a surprise when they had decided to follow my aunt and uncle and immigrate to New York.  I was ten at the time. I remember feeling anxious and excited at the same time, elated and depressed. I did not know what awaited me on the other side of the ocean. I knew that the chances of me coming back to Russia in the near future were slim. The evening before we left, I remember distinctly walking down the street and silently saying my goodbyes to all of the inanimate objects that happened to catch my eye.

What was I losing? Even before leaving, I would ask myself this question repeatedly. Was Russia my childhood? Was Russia the language, the books that lined a huge bookshelf in my room, the music that my brother would listen to non-stop, the culture that I had only barely began to discover? Was Russia all of my friends, and one girl in particular? I felt stress and tension descend on my family and I knew that the next few years would be difficult, and that I could no longer be a child. I had to grow up and mature quickly. I also promised myself that I would do what I could to preserve the Russian culture by reading more, listening to more music, and retaining what I could. As far as the girl, (our mothers knew each other since their adolescence and she was always like a big sister to me) for some reason, I was convinced that we would reunite soon.

The first couple of years in New York were a blur. I remember a lot of compulsive cigarette smoking and many tears (usually, but not always, it was my mother). I remember my father being away for weeks, working somewhere in Connecticut, (was it loading and unloading trucks?) just to earn us a living. I remember sitting with a Russian-English dictionary and translating my homework word by word. The assignments that I could have done in ten minutes usually took me ten times as long. I remember my brother, who had never had any problems finding friends, alone and depressed. This was the metamorphosis stage and soon enough life normalized – my brother found the one friend that he needed at the time to make things easier, my parents found better jobs, and I learned English. Oh, and the girl, she moved to Canada and was now within driving distance. Although not very often, we still visit each other to this day.

Learning English came easy. I watched TV, I hung out with my cousin (who moved to New York two years before me and was already forgetting his Russian), and before I knew it, I began to speak without an accent. My grandma once asked me how I managed to do this and my responses was that I had no other choice; other kids did not understand me otherwise. Once I felt relatively comfortable with my English, my focus changed to preserving my Russian. At 13-14, I started reading all of the Russian books I could get my hands on, from Dostoevsky to Tolstoy to Nabokov. I would take the six train and transfer to the Q to get to Brighton Beach (a two-hour trip one-way), where I would buy Russian CDs and movies. I fell in love with Russian poetry, and devoured Pushkin, Mayakovsky, Tsvetaeva, and Brodsky, and soon realized that my love for poetry, extended beyond my desire to preserve the Russian language.

The idea of picking a particular form and morphing your thoughts to fit into it, while maintaining a rhythm and including rhyme to drive it forward, really appealed to me. I started writing. And to learn to do it better, I started translating my favorite poets into English, a language that despite my best efforts to preserve Russian, already felt more natural to me. Fast-forward to the present. I have self-published a dozen of books (11 books of poetry translations and one of myown writing). 

Andrey, his wife Lena and daughter Sasha
Currently, I live with my Ukrainian-born wife, Lena, and our three-year-old daughter, Alexandra, or Sasha as we call her. Like me, my wife moved to America when she was ten. We can both read and speak fluently in Russian (writing would take some practice), but feel more comfortable talking to each in English.  We also agreed that it was important for Sasha to grow up knowing both languages and so we made it a point to speak to her exclusively in Russian (a strange family dynamic, I know). At three, (I am happy to report) she is speaking much better in Russian and speaking is something that she does non-stop. We are also looking into moving one town over into a school district that teaches in French-immersion. The more languages the better. Our hope is that, when she’s a bit older, Sasha takes interest in Russian culture and we’d like to give her enough of tools to start that exploration. If nothing else, knowing Russian is worth it for Russian literature alone.
Please contact me, if you are interested to participate in the Life Story series and write about your experience as a bilingual or multilingual child and/or a parent.

You might also like:

List of children's books in Russian grouped by age.

What should we do when reading becomes a book eating?  

Virtual babysitters or Preserving grandchild - grandparent bond and keeping up the minority language with video calling  

Life Story: Trilingual mama - trilingual kid. Why would it be any other way?  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What language multilingual family speaks at the table?

Every evening the whole family is gathered at the table. We speak to each other. Kids laugh at their misbehaves.  I am getting stressed that they do not eat and that my son, who is learning to cut food with a knife, periodically waves with it and his sister follows him with a fork.  All things are like in a common family with two or more little children on board. The only difference, we add more turmoil -- we speak three languages at the table.  My children and I speak Russian to each other, my husband speaks Italian with them and English with me. Sometimes we become as laud as Italians in a restaurant, when one table tries to outshout  the others, with the only difference -- we are all seating at the same table -- in our home!

Soon our children, who are 2 and 4 years old, will grow up. The chaotic dinners should get more civilized tone. (I started writing this post some time ago, now the kids are almost 3 and 5 years old and have made significant behavioral progress :) ) Every month we are slowly getting  a chance to discuss topics that are interesting to all four of us. We use our "language scheme" (Father + Child = Italian, Child + Child and Child+Mother = Russian, Father+Mother= English) and it works for us so far. We do not get bothered by not speaking the same language. The questions I have:

Would things stay the same way after a couple of years?
Would we all feel comfortable having a conversation in all three languages at once?

It won't be a problem for me as I speak well our trilingual family languages Italian, English and Russian. It might be a slight problem for my husband. Hopefully his level of Russian will improve together as children master the language.  Everyday he tries more and more to join our conversation in Russian. The children are slowly learning English and, who knows, one day they might actually join our, for now parents only, conversations in English.

I wonder how other multilingual families "language at the table" situation evolved over time. Did you come to the common denominator and stop on one language? Or you still use all the multilingual family languages? Does it bother you not to have one single language at the table? Please leave a comment for me and readers to know what you think.

You might also like reading:

What language should I speak to my child in public? - Multilingual parent dilemma.

A family vacation, multilingual style. Are you in?

Naming languages with their proper name.

7 facts that can determine the language spoken between multilingual siblings.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

What should we do when reading becomes a book eating?

Does your child sit still and listen to the book you read or stays with you for a second and then starts running around picking up toys to play?  Or perhaps, even worse, he is chewing on the books checking how they taste?
In Bilingual children: How to read to a baby?  I gave some  tips on how to keep your child's attention while reading;  and I am very excite to introduce Alicja Pyszka-Franceschini, who is raising a trilingual child in Polish, English and Italian. Today she’s sharing  some great ideas on how to help you to deal with little lions at home :) 

"I really would like to read to my toddler but it’s really difficult. She moves so much or when I start reading to her she grabs the book and tears it apart,” a friend of mine said to me. I really knew what she was talking about as my little toddler was doing exactly the same thing. Pulling, biting and tearing the pages ferociously as if turning into that young and wild lion that I’ve just attempted to read to him about.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

More delight, less doubt.
Bringing up a trilingual child – the beginning

by Alicja Pyszka-Franceschini

I just came back from the hospital with my small and beautiful little boy. He was an easy-going newborn who settled himself into a nice routine very quickly. I loved holding him in my arms late at night and absorbing his peace. Blissful, wonderful peace. I felt enormously happy. I felt rewarded, blessed and enriched; but my fortune was not made of money, but of affection and attachment that strengthened and deepened with every day, unconditionally, unremittingly, and peacefully.

It was in this peace of a quietly breathing newborn baby, in a room that smelled of baby shampoo, just after midnight, that I realised that I want to bring up my son as a trilingual child, that the biggest gift my husband and I can give to him is the gift of languages, an opportunity to enter and explore his parents and grandparents' cultures and to draw strength from them.

But there are other reasons too.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Good Reads: books about Prostokvashino by Uspensky. Read or watch cartoons with English subtitles.

If you ask any child in Russia, who is Uncle Fedor, there is a big chance you will receive an answer that’s full of excitement!
Uncle Fedor is a little but very independent boy, who left the house together with his new friend - the cat. This cat not only speaks people's language and cross-stitches, but also knows the proper way to eat an open-face sandwich so it tastes better!
This wonderful story was written by Eduard Uspensky in 1973. Almost 30 years ago! And it is still loved by children.

You can also find it translated in many other languages:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Life Story:
Trilingual mama - trilingual kid.
Why would it be any other way?

(Please contact me, if you are interested to participate in the Life story series and write about your experience as a bilingual or multilingual child and/or a parent).

Trilingual "apple" does not fall far from a trilingual "tree".

Nathalie’s parents raised their kids trilingual long before nowadays multilingual parenting book plethora and well before anyone can google everything.  They did think there was a choice!  And now the story repeats  -  Nathalie is raising her son trilingual and can’t see any other way. 

 Nathalie with Daniël (then 4 months old)
My name is Nathalie (39) and I’m  of a German and a Dutch nationality. After being born in Germany, I traveled around the world with my parents and two siblings. I currently live in Madrid, Spain. I work in a bilingual (Dutch-Spanish) primary school where I teach the toddlers and first grade. 
I am a mother of a nearly two year old boy, Daniël, who is half Dutch half English.  I am a self-proclaimed expert in both multilingualism and moving houses thanks to my upbringing.

I was raised as a trilingual child, and I'm now myself raising a second generation trilingual child, be it with other languages. Many people around us seem to think it is harsh on our child to expose him to not only two, but three languages. Others seem to think we are over challenging the little boy, just for bragging purposes. Neither could be further from the truth. As in my own upbringing, I feel there is no choice than to raise Daniël trilingual, simply because we cannot just ignore one of the three languages.

I was born in Aachen, Germany to a German father and a Dutch mother who spoke English to each other because they didn’t speak the others' language. I suppose neither of them were willing to give up their mother tongue when it came to raising us.
Camping in Kenya

Once my father had finished university he was offered a job that would imply moving all over the world for the next 20 years. The first stop was Nairobi, Kenya where my sister and I were sent to a local (English) school. At home we spoke German to my dad, Dutch to my mother and English at school.

Nathalie with her sister
As my grandparents were mortified not seeing their grandchildren growing up, my parents often recorded cassette tapes of us speaking and singing for them to listen to, which they sent to them. These tapes have become the most valuable and interesting testimonies of our language development. By the age of 3 and 5 my sister and I had formed the most complicated sentence structures applying the various grammatical rules of English, Dutch and German, using all three languages in any given sentence-depending on which parent we were talking to, the language the last song had been sung in or in whatever language a word came to mind first.
To outsiders this must have been a perfect verification against raising children in more than one language. Mind you, at the time you couldn’t google if what you were doing was right. My parents raised us trilingual with no clue as to what they were doing.

The second country (after a break in Holland) was Venezuela. We went to an American school and I think by that time my dad had learned Dutch which became the language spoken at home. I don’t actually know based on what my parents decided to leave out German-possibly it was us, the children who decided we wouldn’t speak German anymore. (I just asked my dad why we started speaking Dutch at home, and even he has no clue). As we were in a Spanish speaking country we also got Spanish lessons at school, and I suppose we learned the basics, but in leaving Venezuela, we left behind our fourth language-Spanish.

The next country was India (again after a little break in Holland) The American school had not really been what my parents had hoped for so we went to a local German school. By now (8 and 10 years old) we were obviously perfectly capable of separating the three languages we spoke and were fluent (but not native) in all three languages. The family continued to speak Dutch at home and we spoke German at school and English when out in Bombay.

Bombay, India
After India we moved back to Holland where my parents were confronted with various options as to where and in what language we would continue our schooling.  At the time our school language and home language were both good but not perfect, and the choice had to be made not knowing what country the future would bring. The choice (for which I am to this day still grateful) was the European school in Mol, Belgium. The European school gave us the possibility of being educated in all three of our languages. Be it that we had to chose which language would be our first, second and third. In the end, we went to the German section.

When it came to going to university I myself chose to go to a Dutch one, as we were living in Holland. It was at university where I became aware that I was pretty non-native in all three the languages which was quite a shocking realization to me. There I was thinking I was a right genius while getting back papers with more red than you could possibly imagine (and comments like: "This is a primary school mistake". Bit by bit my German and English disappeared to the background as I was living and studying in Holland.

I stayed in Holland till my 30th and then started to get itchy-feet and so I decided to make a plunge to Madrid-Spain. It was here that I realised how much I had missed speaking different languages - all of a sudden I would hardly ever speak Dutch. To be honest, I felt negatively towards the Dutch language, wanted nothing to do with it. I very much enjoyed speaking English most of the time and realised that my identity was actually directly linked to the Dutch language.  English became my first language again as I became an English teacher while I was struggling to learn my fourth language-Spanish.

Now (8 years later) I am still in Madrid, working at a bilingual school (Dutch-Spanish) watching “my” little bilingual toddlers learning to speak their second - and sometimes third language.

My partner is English, and I'm half Dutch-half German. We have a 1.5 year old son Daniël (imagine the struggle to find a name that sounds ok in four languages!) who is being raised trilingual as well. His dad speaks to him in English, I speak Dutch and at a day-care he learns Spanish.

When Daniël was born, we knew we had no choice but to raise him trilingual. The fact of living in Spain, being born to an Englishman and going to do his primary school in Dutch and Spanish, there was no way to chose for a monolingual or bilingual education. Therefore,  just like myself,  Daniël will grow up being non-native in all languages, but sounding like a genius to monolingual people.

I have no regrets about him growing up trilingual, and must admit that it fills me with pride that he understands basic concepts of all three languages. I have no doubt that he will, just like me, be endlessly grateful for the present of multiple languages.

You might also like reading:

Can babies distinguish foreign languages?  

Life story: A Journey to Multilingualism.  

Bilingual child: when to start reading?

Does passive language learning work?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What language should I speak to my child in public? - Multilingual parent dilemma.


Long time before my first child spoke his first word, I asked myself: What language should I speak to him in public, when I am surrounded by other people who do not speak my language? Should I switch the languages and speak to my child the community language so everyone understands? There should not be any harm if I do it (right?), since I am bringing up my child trilingual anyway.

However, after giving this matter a thought, I decided to always speak the minority language to my child and this is why:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bilingualism and speech delay.
How can you help?

Are bilinguals or multilinguals any different from monolinguals when it comes to speaking? Well, yes and no. Bilinguals might start speaking somewhat later; however, the latest research totally rejects a clinical language delays in bilingual or multilingual children as a result of exposure to two or more languages simultaneously.

In "Language development in bilingual babies: no delays, just a few adjustments" François Rochon talks about research of Professor Christopher Fennell of the University of Ottawa's School of Psychology:

Research has shown [...], that monolingual toddlers learn to distinguish similar-sounding words at around 17 months old. Professor Fennell has found that bilingual infants start to do this at 20 months. 
Prof. Fennell doesn't at all believe the "delay" in sound distinction is a hindrance. Bilingual babies are simply learning an adaptive strategy because they're facing a more challenging language environment. That strategy sees them unconsciously ignore some of the sound cues they receive so that they can concentrate on matching the word with the object it represents.

What does it mean for you as a parent? It means that you should not worry that two or more languages are too much for a child, and that you should focus on how to help your child and ease that task of connecting words with objects. Do not think about it as something not natural and extra work for you. Look at this the same way you look at helping your child keep his balance while he is making his first steps. Come down to your child's level of understanding when you read or talk to him; proving extra explanations. According to the researchers, a 4 month old baby is already learning to connect words with objects. So start early!

Point on the objects while talking about them, and do the same on the pictures in the books, following a story as you read it to your child. You need to catch new words and follow on them explaining their meanings. I often use Google to find pictures of words  that are not pictured in books we read, or when I'd like to provide some extra explanation and show something in details. Pointing is a powerful tool for creating word-object connection. So make a point to point :)  Read also  How to read to a baby?
Researchers also found that children have difficulties to distinguish one languages from another, if the languages you expose your child to belong to the same rhythm category  (such as English and German (stress-timed), French and Spanish (syllable timed), Japanese and Tamil (mora-timed)) . Deborah D.K. Ruuskanen, Professor of English Linguistics at the University of Vaasa, Finland, and mother of three bilingual children says:
if there is more than one language in the baby's home environment, then the baby will be learning first to process and separate the different languages, before talking begins.  

As you probably already experienced yourself, there are natural obstacles in the language learning process. So be ready to face this challenge and simplify the language learning task for your child by being consistent. Speak only the language you choose to speak with your child.

If you decided to speak only one language to your child - then do it all the time, without mixing with other languages in direct interactions.

If you, as one person, decided to speak to your child two or more languages, think of the best strategy to separate the languages one from another. You could alternate days or even weeks when languages are spoken to your child, for instance, one day / week Italian only and another day / week -  Hungarian. You could also assign a language to a certain activity: bathing, family meals, playgroups ...  Think of some possible, appropriate to the child's age sign that you can give to your baby, to help him to understand what languages you speak and when. It could be a different color bow in your hair,  a scarf, different picture on the wall. Just use your imagination!

You also need to be consistent with the language you speak to others at front of your child. If you decided to speak to your spouse other language then to your child, please make an effort and speak only that language. This brings structure to the language recognition and, hopefully, helps the child to sort out the languages fast.

Nothing dramatic will happen if you mix the languages. There is a number of parents that does it and they have a bilingual or multilingual child afterwards. However, my position on it: if you dedicate your time to your child, why not just take care of the language consistency part as well to speed up and simplify language learning. I found that naming the languages with their proper name helps in the language separation process.

As you see, there are many variables that can affect when your child starts speaking. My children started speaking within the same time frame as monolinguals do. Since my concentration was on speaking Russian language, their first words and sentences were mostly in Russian.  Interestingly, both children started speaking full sentences in Italian without usual long practice of words. They simply transferred the knowledge about building the sentences from one language into another by modeling the Italian speakers.

If you are pregnant, you might like to know that it is also beneficial to speak the languages you are going to use with your child during the last trimester. Research shows that infants are able to show preferences to and thus, recognition of the languages they were spoken to during the pregnancy after they were born.

When did your bilingual, trilingual or multilingual child start speaking? What do you think helped or delayed the child's speaking in your particular case? Share your thoughts to help other parents who read this page.

Useful Resources:
Language development milestones by ASHA - American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

You might also like:
A family vacation, multilingual style. Are you in? 
Can babies distinguish foreign languages?  
Walking with your baby and showing him the world  

Monday, April 7, 2014

7 principles to keep in mind while teaching your child to read.

Parents these days face many difficult decisions, no matter if their kids speak one language, two languages or three languages. One of them is whether or not teach children to read in an early childhood, before the school's formal education starts. Some parents decide to wait,  thinking that kids will otherwise get bored at school, some step in and provide the reading instructions before elementary school  thinking that being "prepared" will help children along the way.

I can understand both parents' positions; nevertheless, experts on this topic see a great benefit in engaging children in pre-reading activities early in life and at preschool. Doing some rhythm and phonic related activities that help children slowly establish letters-sounds connection and  prepare them for more formal instructions.