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Monday, February 23, 2015

Trilingual Siblings Minority Language Progress Update. The Younger Sibling Is About to Enter Preschool.

My not yet fully trilingual daughter is 3 now. A big change is coming to our multilingual family life this fall. (This post was left in the draft state for some time. It should be dated as September 2014.) She will join her brother at a preschool. I closed the eyes on my worries on how it can affect siblings' minority language development and asked to assigned her to a class that is located in the same wing of my son's school building. The preschool, my children go to, has two wings with separate internal playgrounds and one big shared external playground. During bad weather months my children will meet each other everyday for a joined play with peers. I could separate them for the sake of preserving their Russian-only speech relationship, but I did not do it. The time they will spend together playing, developing their brother-sister relationship stands above my ambitious wishes for their trilingualism.

From now on I’m going to keep a closer look at how the community affects their minority language development.

I would like to sum up their progress so far. I look at their language development from a bilingual child perspective, as their third language - English - is still behind their Italian (community language) and Russian (minority language), both of which they speak equally fluently.

Bilingual siblings speak minority language only.

No matter who is around and how far I am from my children, they speak only minority language to each other. They even speak Russian among themselves, when staying with Italian grandparents. If you are raising a bilingual child and expecting a second one, check this  7 facts that can determine the language spoken between multilingual siblings.

Bilingual siblings read in the minority language.

Yes! Both of them, 3 years old and 5 years old, are reading now! Literacy is the biggest milestone in child’s development that will help him at school and in life. No stress at all. I just started early and followed these 7 simple principles to teach a child to read before school.

Planning ahead and adjusting our family language strategy
You would say: “Your children speak your heritage language to each other. It is a success.” And I would agree, that it is, so far. It proofs the importance of good planning ahead and not missing on any opportunity to expose your child to your heritage language.

When your child is born ( and even before), it is a good idea to think what your child’s language environment would be for at least next 5 years. So you can concentrate on the “right” language in the right time.

There are many things that you can not predict. In my case I found it extremely hard to stick to my plan after the birth of our second child. There was a pretty long period when both kids remained babies, because the jealousy kept the older one from growing up and acting as a toddler he was. I had to deal with issues that mothers of monolingual, bilingual or trilingual siblings deal, when their kids are very close in age. Those of you who had to go through it, know what I am talking about.
Constant plan adjustments are necessary throughout the multilingual family journey.

Do you have multilingual siblings? How was it for you when they were little?

If you would like to share your family experience, whatever it is good or bad, feel free to contact me.

Are you successfully raising bilingual or multilingual children? or do you have regrets about something you have not done on time? Please do not keep it for yourself, share it with other parents, by writing a comment or by contacting me for an Interview or by joining great contributors in the Life Story series. You will help thousands of readers!

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Question from parents, whose heritage languages are different from community language. How to support the trilingual child's minority languages and keep them in balance.

Question from parents, who have two different heritage languages (Greek and Italian) and live in the country, where a third language is spoken (English). Only one parent speaks the spouse's language. How to support the minority languages and keep trilingual child's languages in balance.

Note: This question was originally posted in a comment field on Multilingual Family Language Strategies page. My answer to it was too long to fit as a single comment, so I decided to publish it as a separate post.

Hi Galina

Love the website and have been reading about people's experiences with great interest.

I am a mother to a five month girl and would like to hear your thoughts on how we are raising her with 3 languages.

I am Greek native speaker and my partner is Italian native speaker. We live in the UK for over 10 years now. Our common language has always been English since the beginning but I have studied Italian to a beginner/pre intermediate level so that I can communicate with his family in Italy. He has never felt the need to learn Greek I guess as my family speak English very well.

Now that we have our daughter we have been doing the OPOL strategy. I spend a lot of time with her as I am not working so we speak in Greek, read and sing to her in Greek too. My partner does the same with Italian and I join in with Italian too.

As a family when we are all together I try to use Italian but I feel bad as maybe I should stick to Greek with her so she associates me just with Greek? Of course she hears us speaking to English at home too when we speak to one another, so she gets a lot of exposure in the community language already even at home.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this if there is something more we can do to support the minority languages. I worry more about Greek as I feel as soon as we are home as a family we have to switch to Italian/English so that my partner is not excluded. Should I continue to use Greek with her even with dad around? Any strategies to include him? Maybe explain to him what I say to our girl every time? I must say I have been doing this a little and he seems to be learning a lot listening to just us talking. But he is still very reluctant to use what he learns or he quickly forgets! I am bit worried about Greek being fazed out as Italian seem to be more dominant among us as a family.

Thank you! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.



This is wonderful that you are bringing your child up trilingual in English, Italian and Greek!

I understand your concerns and hopefully my answer will help you.

By following multilingual families experience I feel that English is the most dominating language environment for a multilingual child to grow up in. I would advise you to look at things a little differently and do not think about each minority language influence individually (Greek and Italian), but for minority language influence you can provide in general. You and your husband would need to work together to keep your daughter's minority languages proficiency level grow. You have to accept that likely your daughter's proficiency in one of your home languages will be less than in another. All will depend on quantity and QUALITY of language input you both provide.

Together with your husband you need to develop short run and long run language strategies for your trilingual child. For example, I would use only Italian and Greek at home.

If I were you I would use Greek to speak to your daughter all the time! No matter where you are and what you do. You can always provide a translation or a brief outline of what you just said to your husband and to others. Read  What language should I speak to my child in public? - Multilingual parent dilemma.  and  What language multilingual family speaks at the table? to get the idea. Read also Multilingual Family Interview: When your home languages are different from community language.

Also I feel that your husband needs to start studying Greek in order to help the family keep the heritage languages in balance. Right now, while your child is still learning how to speak, is the best time to start. If he starts later, it will be more difficult to catch up with the level of complexity of your conversation with the daughter. Read this article, there are some great tips that can help your husband start learning: 8 Quick & Effective Ways to Learn Your Spouse’s Language, For the Busy Parent . Plan a vacation in Greece on the sea side, where you can find a language school, such that your husband can study Greek in the morning and join you at the beach in the afternoon. Since your trilingual child will have less exposure in Greek, I would start reading to her in that language now. Yes, you hear me right. This is the time when I started reading to my son. ( Bilingual child: when to start reading to your baby?) You do not have to read in other languages, Greek will be enough for now.

Do you have your relatives near by or only your husband's?
If yours are far away, I would ask your husband's relatives to support you. They do not need to do much, just speak well about toys and other things you and your daughter have that came from Greece, speak well about your language (Greek) with the granddaughter, express the happiness that she is learning to speak it. Even if this feels like nothing to us, adults, it means a lot to our children. I would ask the Italian grandparents to praise your daughter for knowing words in Greek. When your daughter starts saying something, they could ask, how she would say it in Greek. They could look at Greek books together and tell a story in Italian from pictures. This type of support and acceptance can go long way!

If your parents are far away, get them into your life through Skype. Our grandparents did some baby sitting for me as well (Virtual babysitters or Preserving grandchild - grandparent bond and keeping up the minority language with video calling. ;) Get your family over to you or visit them every year. Even if it feels hard to fit them all in a small apartment for a month, go for it as your child needs it and she will benefit from having them close. Remember, children need grandparents the most while they are small and their friends as they grow older.

Thinking long term, what preschool, school will your child go to? Is there a possibility to send your little girl to a bilingual kindergarten with Greek or Italian as a second language? When you answer these questions, you will understand what country you should choose for long stay vacations. You are lucky to live in Europe and have Greece and Italy just hours away :)

Good luck with your family's multilingual journey! and let me know if you have more questions.

Are you bringing up a bilingual or multilingual child or are you a parent to be and have a question? 

Feel free to contact me.

For privacy protection I can change your name and omit some personal details, if you wish. 

Are you a multilingual family and looking for a playdate in your language? Click here to find it now!

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Bilingualism and speech delay. How can you help?

Monday, February 9, 2015

How Minority Language Speaking Parent Helps Bilingual Children With Homework.

by Emilia Pallado

Emilia Pallado has already shared with you the list of children's books in Polish. Today she tells us about her experience as a minority language speaking parent with supporting her trilingual children with their homework. 

Our bilingual family language arrangement

I have two children. My son is 5 and my daughter is 8. They are both bilingual Spanish-Polish, with native-speaker levels in both languages. We live in Spain and they attend a local bilingual school (Spanish-English). On Saturdays they attend a Polish school.

Their English level is basic in case of my son and intermediate in case of my daughter. They both pronounce very well in English and understand a lot. Only recently my daughter has started to make longer sentences and she is now able to hold a simple conversation in English.

I communicate in Spanish with my Spanish husband but my language of communication with the children is Polish. I am a strong OPOL proponent, especially since I have seen it works great for families in our situation. The kids sometimes respond in Spanish, to which I respond in Polish, sometimes rephrasing what they said. Especially in situations when I know that the reason for their answering in Spanish was lacking vocabulary.

School and homework

My daughter Emma is in third grade in both Polish and Spanish-English bilingual school. Since first grade she brings a lot of homework, most of it is in Spanish.

At first we thought that my husband was going to be responsible for the Spanish part of the homework and that I would help with English and Polish (to keep a bit of balance). But things have turned out differently and even though sometimes this division works, most of the time I am the one helping with all the tasks.

There’s obviously no problem when the task is in Polish.

While doing English homework (which includes Natural Science and Arts & Crafts homework) we use Polish to communicate as my daughter doesn’t speak English fluently enough to switch completely. Although there are some parts of the conversation that we have in English, like for example reading the instructions aloud and translating only if necessary, saying “which page was that?” and the number in English. I also always praise her in English: “Great!”, “Well done!”, etc.

The challenge comes with the homework in Spanish. We usually use Polish but sometimes it is necessary to switch to Spanish, although I try to limit it to strictly indispensable part of conversation and would rather code-switch than switch completely. I would say that it is 90% of Polish on my part and about 30% on Emma’s part. It is definitely easier for her to talk in Spanish about the subjects related with school. Doing homework using our minority language is an opportunity to learn new vocabulary, too.

While doing maths I noticed that when we talk about a new concept, for example addition or multiplication, it is necessary for Emma to use Spanish. Once she has learned the new type of operation, she can use Polish to speak about it and make the operations.

When the task involves writing a short text (a summary or a composition), I usually ask my husband to take over. Translating back and forth seems a waste of time and is also confusing. If the only thing to do is to correct what Emma has already written, I do it and I point out the mistakes in Polish as she is familiar with concepts like (written) accent, coma, etc. If there’s a letter missing (common mistake), I will pronounce it in Spanish: “Tutaj wpisz jota”, “Hacer pisze się z hache”, etc. (“Write jota here”, We spell hacer with an hache”)

So far I have little experience with my son as he doesn’t bring homework yet. One thing we did this summer for the Spanish school was a sort of diary. We had to collect tickets, leaflets, etc. from the places we visited and glue them in a notebook, also make a drawing and write something. Naturally most of the conversation was in Polish, I would ask him to tell me what word he wanted to write and then he would answer either in Polish or in Spanish and I would write down the word in Spanish for him to copy. We would then read it aloud together to practice reading as well.

Bilingual child learns to read

Another thing I have already done with my son is help him learn to read. We practice in Polish with some simple words (up to 3 syllables), no diacritic signs, no digraphs. We also sometimes read a page or two from a syllabic reading book. In this case all conversation would be in Polish, I would only correct his reading in Spanish (“Co tu jest napisane? Ca…sa.). (“What does it say here? Ca… sa).

Share your family experience. How are you helping your bilingual child with homework?


I wonder how other multilingual families deal with homework and whether it is an issue at all. (Please leave your comment below). In our case the time we need to spend doing homework six days a week is an important part of the time we spend with our children. It will also certainly evolve with time and perhaps the pattern of communication is different when our second child starts to bring homework, too.


You might also like:

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List of children's books in Polish language - Lista książek po Polsku dla dzieci

Multilingual Family Interview: When your home languages are different from community language. Plus resources for teaching phonics and reading to children in English.

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

Are you a multilingual family and looking for a playdate in your language? Click here to find it now!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Multilingual Families: 8 Quick & Effective Ways to Learn Your Spouse’s Language, For the Busy Parent

by Paul Martin

A great thing about multilingual families is that the children have the invaluable opportunity to learn any of the languages that the parents speak. However, this comes with a tradeoff: if mom and dad speak different languages, one parent might struggle to understand the communication between the other parent and the child. This can inhibit family bonding time, and can be frustrating for everyone involved.

But don’t worry! There are plenty of easy-to-implement tips and tricks that can help you sneak in some extra practice in your spouse’s language. Even for parents who are pressed for time, this list will help you improve your language skills each day -- and more importantly, will make it easier for the whole family to communicate.

1. Make labels around the house

A great way to internalize names for useful, everyday objects is to make labels for various items around your house. For example, if you’re trying to learn French, ask your spouse to put labels with the French names on your appliances around the kitchen. This way, you’ll be constantly exposed to basic words in your target language, and you’ll memorize them without even realizing it.

2. Read comic books in the target language

Comic books are an especially great language-learning tool for two reasons. First, they’re fun, engaging, and quick -- they make for a perfect read when you have a few spare minutes at home, or on the subway on the way to work. Second, they are highly visual, so even if you don’t know some of the words, the pictures can help you figure out what they mean.

3. Watch movies and TV series with subtitles -- and pay attention

DVDs for most recent movies and series come with subtitles in several languages. If you’re just starting to learn a language, try watching your favorite series with subtitles in the target language. But be careful! It’s easy to get wrapped up in the action, and ignore the subtitles. Make sure that you’re really engaging with the subtitles to see how common words and phrases are pronounced in your target language. Pause frequently to make sure you understand what you’re reading, and when there’s something you don’t understand, make a note to ask your spouse for clarification.

If you don’t have subtitles for a particular movie or series, try searching for them online: there are several free websites that have subtitles available to download in many different languages. And once you’re comfortable enough to watch movies in the target language, check out some film suggestions for language learners , specifically selected to help you learn a plethora of new slang and colloquialisms.

4. Listen -- and sing along -- to music in the foreign language

Music is a great way to understand both the cultural and linguistic features of a given language. And with the internet, it’s available everywhere -- for almost any language, there are plenty of great resources with song suggestions from past to present. Songs are excellent for language learners, as you can follow along with the lyrics to learn new words and grammatical constructions -- all while enjoying some catchy tunes.

Load up your iPod with target-language songs to squeeze in some practice when you’re on the go -- and don’t forget to sing along! This way, you’ll be practicing both your listening and your speaking skills.

5. Release your inner child

Reading books can be challenging for language learners, as they’re often filled with complex language and advanced grammar. There’s an exception, however -- children’s books! Reading children’s books is a fantastic way to learn the basics of a foreign language, while at the same time revisiting some of your favorite reads from your childhood. Once you’re familiar with a book, show off your newfound knowledge -- and get in some speaking practice -- by reading it aloud to the whole family.

6. Find a pen pal

If you don’t have enough time to meet regularly with a language teacher and your spouse is not willing to take a role as such either, consider finding a pen pal on the internet with whom you can practice writing in the target language. Websites like Conversation Exchange allow you to create a free profile with speakers of any language, and communicate via email or Skype. It’s a great way to talk with native speakers, as well as practice your writing.

7. Set a regular time to speak the language at home

Once you feel comfortable enough to hold a conversation, set a fixed time each week to speak the language with your family. For example, if you’re trying to learn Chinese, you could make a household tradition of speaking only in Chinese at dinnertime on Friday. Or if you’d rather test the waters first, try spending a few minutes each day before bedtime speaking in the target language with just your spouse.

8. Track your progress

Learning a language is a slow process, and it’s easy to feel discouraged or get bogged down by details. Every few months, take an online level test to see how your language skills have progressed. You’ll be surprised by how much you’ve improved! And in addition, you’ll be able to see which areas you still struggle with, so you can focus your efforts on what needs the most work.

When learning a foreign language, practice makes perfect. But even if you don’t have hours to devote to studying a language, these tips and tricks will help you engage with your spouse’s language in your everyday life. With a little bit of effort each day, you’ll be well on your way to communicating more openly and freely with your family -- in whichever language you please.

Paul writes for Language Trainers, which provides individually-tailored language training on a one-on-one or small group basis worldwide. Language Trainers offers several free educational resources, such as audio-recorded listening tests. Don’t hesitate to email or visit Language Trainers' Facebook page for more information. 

Note: The photos are provided by the author. The cover photo is a cut from the original one taken by  Lucia Sanchez and is licensed under CC by 2.0.

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Are you a multilingual family and looking for a playdate in your language? Click here to find it now!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Q&A: Question from a bilingual parent-to-be about language choice.

Question from a bilingual parent-to-be with a monolingual spouse about language choice. They would like to raise a trilingual child, who would speak Korean, Indonesian & English.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Get Your Hero to clean your home - Sweepstake.

Do you live in Milan, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid or Paris? Are you tired of cleaning your apartment and putting toys in place? - Then this is for you!

Imagine that you can forget about cleaning your apartment for just one day. Leave your house, enjoy quality time together with your family, just to return to a place that shines and full of order!

Or you can use that extra 3 hours of free time to visit a beauty salon, have your hair done or just run some errands before St. Valentines?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Life Story: Languages are just a huge part of who I am.

Parents play an important role in child's life. Sometimes one little thing we do can change child's life completely.  Those who immigrated to a different country will find Marianna Du Bosq's story deeply touching.  She became bilingual ( English and Spanish ) as a teenager and  now raises a trilingual child, who speaks  English, Spanish and German. 

First Day of Middle School
Marianna and her sister at public middle school
My multilingual journey starts approximately twenty years ago when my family and I left everything behind and moved from Caracas, Venezuela to the United States in search of the American dream. We left everyone we loved and everything we owned in search of new opportunities with education at the top of our list.

Prior to this point I had learned some English but it was all very basic. I had taken some after school classes in Venezuela and had some instruction here and there at my school but my knowledge was fairly limited. I could maybe name all the colors, list some fruits, identify the names of family members, count to a hundred and make some very very basic sentences. A far cry from what I needed to know to communicate in the eighth grade. The idea of the moving to a whole new country, culture and language was quite intimidating! Yet to be honest, I was also just so excited that I really had no idea what a challenge learning a whole new language would be and just what was waiting for me on the other side.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Find a Playdate in YOUR Language

I know how it is sometimes hard to find a platedate for your child. It is even harder, if you are a multilingual family and looking for a playdate in your language.

With a thought of you and with a wish to help many multilingual parents around the word, I offer you an opportunity to find each other just simply filling out the form below and waiting for a match to occur.

Try it!

There might be a great family living next to you down the block, with whom you will be able to share the joy and worries of raising multilingual children!

It is simple!

In the form below put

The city and the country you live in.

Language you would like to speak during a playdate.
There is also a field to add another language , if you are interested in more than one.

The child's year of birth, in order to match the families with children of the same age whenever is possible.

And your email address to send the matched family contact info. Your email will be kept confidential and will be used strictly to make a contact with other families. If you are interested to subscribe to the Raising a Trilingual Child newsletter, you would need to follow this link or use a form on the webside's side bar.

Feel free to share the information about this opportunity with others!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Why You Should Visit Italy During Winter Holiday Season and Why You Should Not.

I am keeping the promise I made last year to tell you more about Christmas in Italy.

Winter in Italy is cold and not sunny if you listen to Italians living there.  Visitors from northern parts of this world would not agree with that statement.  Take Milan, one of the biggest cities up north; it has on average 11 sunny days in December.  Yes, there is thick morning fog some mornings.  But it is beautiful!  You feel like the famous Russian hedgehog in the fog!  I love this cartoon, BTW!  Watch it, if you have not seen it.  It also has English subtitles!