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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Raising a Bilingual Child : Setting Your Priorities From The Start.

You are a happy parent. You have a precious baby that you decided to raise bilingually or even multilingually.

It is time for your family and, if you are a minority language speaking parent, for you personally to set the priorities. Set them right from the start, as the way you start could affect your success in passing your mother tongue (or the targeted language) onto your child. You should really think through it and act on what I say, if you wish a high level of proficiency in your language for the child. You might have a feeling that your child will have a plenty of time for language learning and that he/she is still just a baby. Yes, the latter is true, but not the former as the time will pass by so fast that you won’t even notice when it’s time for your child to go to school where he/she will inevitably detach from you and your language daily influence.

How do you figure out what’s important? How do you prioritize the language learning?

Direct interaction with your child.

By spending more time directly interacting with your child you at the same time give the priority to the language learning.

A child starts learning language still in the womb and keeps on learning day after day, word by word. He learns even when he is not talking back to you, when he is 1,2,3 month old.

The first months is when YOU need to do all the talking. I know that could feel weird as nobody answers you. Your baby is just a passive listener, BUT he is also a very fast learner.

Children need to hear you to speak to them, interact with them. They need to hear words several times in order to acquire them.

The words are rolling on and on, like a snowball that gets bigger and bigger as you roll it across a snowy lawn.

Use any opportunities to talk to your baby. Play with your baby, read to your baby, just be with him/her and SPEAK SPEAK SPEAK to him/her. Every simple thing you do, such as singing a lullaby helps you to prepare your baby for the future literacy.

Do you know what is the best way to start building your child’s vocabulary? - take him for a stroll and talk and explain to him everything you see.

Here are other changes and decision you may need to make.

I know many of us feel, especially with the birth of a new family, that everything should be perfect. The house, the family.

You try to do your best in being parents, a husband, a wife.

The first three years of your child’s life are the most important for the language development (and not only!) . Your child needs you during these years the most. Especially if you are the parent , who is passing on a second language.

Your child’s need in your support is proportional to the child’s growth rate. The faster he grows the more he needs you. He learns about the new and exciting world around him and becomes more independent. Overtime your child will start to slowly detach from you and grow into an independent human being day by day giving you more time for yourself. But this stage of life comes later. Right now you need to make more time for your baby. But how? Where can you find time? How to make the time for a child in our busy life?


When your baby is up, it’s “his time”. Talk and involve your baby into activities when he is less tired and more alert. And do whatever you need to do around the house or outside, when the baby is tired or asleep. That way you can get the maximum results from those hours of learning.

A quick observation based on my kids: the more they were learning the better they were sleeping; thus, giving me more time to take care of other things around the house.

If you can, try to live near your workplace to cut on the commute time and be home early for your little one.

If you need help - find a babysitter or daycare provider speaking your language.


Three course meal is great, but do you really need it now? There are many dishes that are very healthy, easy to cook and , what is very important here, they are fast to prepare! When your child is older, he/she will help you to prepare those big meals, just wait a little. He will learn new words and practice speaking simply by doing it with you.


Mix and match the responsibilities. Encourage your half to pitch in more. Take turns cooking. Or cook and freeze meals to free up time.

When your child is ready to eat adults like food , make a dish that everyone can eat. This could be a good remedy for picky eaters as well.

Think what you spend a lot of time on and how you can reorganize your life to have this activity during your child’s rest hours.

Delegate! Hire help!

Groceries. How about a home delivery? Check online and local stores for this possibility. Yes, it costs extra money, but think about it as a little investment into your child’s future. It’s better, if you spend time together now than pay language teachers later.

Cleaning. If you feel overwhelmed, hire someone to clean your house. It does not have to be every week. If you are on a tight budget having a cleaning service for 3 hours every other week will do the magic and will help you keep the house under control. Look at it as a very good investment in your child's bilingual education.

If your relatives / friends offered you help to run some errands -- take it.

Talk to your husband / wife / partner , find a solution to optimize your life to be there for your soon to be bilingual baby for these precious three years. Your child grows and changes, he will be more independent soon, but the first three years of his life are when he learns the most and masters the languages.

And when the question comes:

Should I read to my child or clean the house?

I answer: Read!

What would YOU answer?

I am pretty much the only language source for my kids and I know for sure my kids won’t be speaking my language this fluently as they are without myself setting the priorities and putting the kids language learning needs before my own and without support of my lovely husband.

Do you have something to add? Please do so in the comments below! And Thank You!

You might also like reading:

How To Raise a Bilingual / Multilingual child? Where to start?

Choosing the best language strategy for your family.

Pros and Cons of Raising a Trilingual Child.

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

Can babies distinguish foreign languages?

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

Bilingual Multilingual families Find a playdate in your language

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Child's exposure to more than one language helps to build strong communication skills.

I really feel the need to share exciting results of the recent research conducted by psychologists of University of Chicago.

Not only bilingual children, but also children, who are exposed to more than one language, have better social communication skills.

I hope this news will encourage parents to keep on speaking their mother tongue around their children and to their children, even if they feel close to giving it up.

Read more about the research here.

You might also like reading:



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

FREE Audio Books and Stories for children in English. 19 great websites.

Audio books are very entertaining for kids. They are a great resource for teaching and learning a language to any age group from kids to adults.

You can listen to them in a car or at home while enjoying other activities.

My kids like to draw and listen to fairy tales and children's stories when they are broadcasted on children's radio or as audiobooks.

Here are links to 19 great websites that are offering kids' audio books for free :

1. Storynory 

Free audio stories for kids with texts:

Original stories
Fairy tales
Classic Audio books
Educational stories
Myth and World stories
Junior stories
Poems and Music

Listen to audiobooks on iTunes:

2. Meegenius Free Books

Audiobooks are available for children up to 8 years old . You can choose from different titles. You can either read an ebook by yourself or listen to a narrator and follow the words in the text.

3. Loyal Books

Free public domain audiobooks & eBook downloads for children and adults.
Great kids audio books collection!

4. Storyline online

This website is the contribution of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Foundation to the advancement of literacy. It features professional actors and famous people reading children's books aloud. Wonderful book reading videos on Youtube!


Audiobooks are read by volunteers and available for free to anyone to listen to or to download. Browse the catalog of over 15000 free audio books. In order to find the children's books you could browse by Gender / Subject or use their advance search and choose in Category/ Gender  either "Children's Fiction" or "Children's non-Fiction" to show all the children's audio books available.

6. Online Audio Stories

Great short stories for kids with read-along text. Also available on iTunes.

7. AudioBooksForFree.Com

Children's Classics

Animal Adventures ( including books about Dinosaurs !)

Train Tails

Fairy Tails 


Folklore Stories

Grown up books for kids

Cristian Books

Jokes for children

Poetry ( Nursery rhymes and playground counts)

8. Kiz Club

read along books with words highlighting future or books to print in PDF

Level 1 stories

Level 2 Stories

Level 3 Stories 

9. Kiddie Records Weekly

Golden collection of vinyl records ready to be streamed or downloadble as mp3. Wonderful classics from the golden age!

There are also stories and songs for kids on youtube!

10. Lit2Go 

Collection of children's literature sorted by author, book titles, genres, collections and readability level. You can either listen to mp3 format audiobooks and read the text online or download audio and books in PDF.

11. Audio Stories for Kids

More than 200 stories in mp3 format for you to download and listen to. No text is provided.

12. The Children's Story books online

Free children ebooks website. Some books are with audio narration.  

13. A Story Before Bed

This is a particular website. Children's books are narrated by their authors (with video!). You can also record an audio and video of you reading a book, so  your children / grandchildren would watch YOU reading it instead. This is a paid option, but you can try it for free and see, if you like it.

14. Learn English Kids by British Council

Really great website for little English language learners with short kids stories to watch. The website has other great language learning material: nursery rhymes, kids songs, tongue twisters, spelling and grammar videos and games.

Learn English Kids ON YOUTUBE 

15. Story Place


The children's digital library, where children can listen to interactive stories and play.

Choose from  Preschool Library   or   Elementary Library

16. Books written and read by Robert Munsch

Robert Munsch  is the author of many great books. Listen to them or read his poetry and stories. He also shares with readers how his books were written.

17.  International Children's Digital Library (ICDL)

Extensive digital library of children's ebooks from around the world. Many books are available in more than one language.
I found 5 audio books at the moment that are available in two languages - English and Spanish. Use this Keyword search to check if there are more audiobooks and to find ebooks you'd like.
ICDL digital books for children are available on iPhone & iPad:

18. Hoopla

(for USA library card holders only)

Great website where you can instantly borrow free audio books with your USA library card. You can also borrow and stream on your mobile or computer movies, television shows, music albums. It is like taking them for a short period from your local library.

Get it on Google Play

19. Over Drive

( for USA library card holders only)

You can borrow audiobooks, ebooks, videos using your local library card.

Get it on Google Play 



Kid's radio stations from around the world


List of kids' books in Russian language.

List of Russian Children's Cartoons and Movies.


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

You might also like reading:

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

Raising a Bilingual Child. How to Start So You Don't Feel Giving It Up Halfway Through.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Raising a Bilingual Child. How to Start So You Don't Feel Giving It Up Halfway Through.

I already wrote an article in regards of a parent, who stopped speaking the minority language to her son: "No English! Motivation is the key". Recently I read another article published in The New Republic -  "For Three Years, I Spoke Only Hebrew to My Daughter. I Just Gave It Up. Here's Why".

The author, who is a father and a senior editor at The New Republic, stopped speaking the minority language ( Hebrew) to his three years old daughter.

He lists many reasons why he decided to stop speaking his heritage language to his child:

  - Different personality in heritage language vs country language. (He find himself not as funny in Hebrew as in English.)

  - Parental competition for attention.

  - Parent identity issues.

But if you read the article, you can also find OTHER REASONS , the author prefers not to talk about them as much.

   - Bilingual child's resistance to speaking minority language.
As he says,  at age of 3, 5 years his "...daughter understands Hebrew and will even speak it under duress."   Under duress means under pressure or force. 

   - Lack of vocabulary for communication on different topics.
"But the older my daughter got, the less plausible the whole routine felt. Last fall, she started going to pre-school five days a week. Like any parent, I was keen to know what she’d been up to all day."... It also occurred to me that I was getting nowhere—my daughter was clamming up."

She was not saying things just because she did not know the words in Hebrew. Her life at preschool is all in English. Someone needed to tell her how to say in minority language all what she was experiencing.

Would you ever stop speaking your heritage language, if the child is responsive and eager to do so? Probably not.

In most of the cases a child does not want to speak the parents language just because s/he does not know the words. This is the initial stage and later more reasons grow on this one.

Parents, who live outside of their language home country, can not just speak to their child and expect that the child will pick up the language the same way other children, who live in the country and learn their country language, do.

You need to start early with activities related to language development , such as reading aloud and direct interaction with your child, and be persistent in your efforts.

If your goal is to have a child who speaks your heritage language fluently, you or someone else ( nanny, school, tutors) has to work on it.  And work hard.  Sorry, there is no other way, if you are the only parent who tries to pass on your mother tongue and your goal is to have a child who speaks the language and not just understands it.

Here are the steps of successfully raising a bilingual child, the way I see them:


1. Start speaking to your child early and use any opportunity to do so.

The early you start the better. As I already mentioned in the language strategies for parents, your child can hear you speaking even when he is in the womb. Ok. I was not speaking to my child  my heritage language so early, but for some of you it might be a useful piece of information. You can start preparing yourself and your child :)

The best way to start building  your child's vocabulary and maximize the language learning is by taking your bilingual baby on a stroll. 

It is also a good idea to keep speaking your language to your child in public.  

2. Start reading to your child early. Read a lot. Everyday. Several times a day.

For tips read:

Bilingual child: when to start reading to your baby?

Bilingual children: How to read to a baby?

Child rips books apart ?  Alicia found a way to keep books safe and to read to her child.

3. Start  preparing your child for reading  and  teach your child to read in minority language  early

While your child is still small, letter learning will be just like another game for him. Do not miss this unique opportunity!
Read these articles on the topic:

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

Teaching the letter sounds before letter names.

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

4. Be proactive in introducing new vocabulary. 

If you see your child is interested in playing , let's say, with boats, try to provide the needed vocabulary in the language you are exposing your child to.  Play, talk, read books about boats, show cartoons and documentaries on the topic. He will absorb the words faster as he uses them in his games over and over again.  
If you see your child learned something new in the community language, rush to introduce the same in minority language.

5. Draw together with your child. 

This is time when you can talk, learn new words, practice writing letters and words. Experiment: Mixing art, material objects and imagination - a recipe for language development 

6. Sing to your child and with your child.

Small children love music and songs. They are able to learn so many words just from this fun activity.

Looking for nursery songs in Russian?
Русские колыбельные песни. Колыбельная песня для двойняшек.

7. Be creative.

You would need to come up with new activities for extending your child's vocabulary on different variety of subjects. Experiment and look for things that can trigger new words learning and/ or a conversation.

8. Use media.

Differentiating the ways a child receive the language input is always good. However, you should try to avoid using media before your child turns 2 years old. Researchers tell us it is not good for a child to watch television at this age. Plus small children learn best from direct interactions with them. However, after this age, media in minority language (such as games, cartoons and movies ...) can provide a lot of language support. Children learn more about your culture and remember many words and expressions from the new digital world you open to them.  But remember, your child still needs you!  I like the way Maria puts it in her life story: “Life Story of one family. Educational Apps – How they affect multilingual development of small children?
Also do not forget about radio! Your children can listen to it while they play. Here is the list of children's radio stations from around the world. 

I wish you best of luck on your multilingual journey! It is such a joy to see your child speaking your language, especially when you don’t live in your home country!

What does help YOU successfully pass your mother tongue onto your bilingual child?

Contact me to be interviewed or join others in the Life story series by sharing your own or your multilingual family story.

You might also like:

Plan to raise a bilingual or multilingual child, but not sure where to start? - Click to read

Get inspired by reading  bilinguals and multilinguals Life Stories

Can babies distinguish foreign languages?

How to prepare yourself to be a speaking model for your child. 

Should I correct my child speaking?

Inspirational Quotes about Language for Bilinguals and Language Learners 

Bilingualism and speech delay. How can you help? 

Fun way to learn letters and start writing: What should I order? Mortadella alphabet! 

Naming languages with their proper name. 

Other language resources:

Children's radio from around the world. Let me know, if I am missing a radio station in your language.

Kids Books in Russian

Best Russian Children's Cartoons and Movies. - Лучшие Руссие Детские Мультфильмы и Фильмы.

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

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

Monday, April 20, 2015

Inspirational Quotes about Language for Bilinguals and Language Learners

Nelson Mandela said, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." "But what if you do not speak his language??? - Sing!" adds Galina Nikitina from Raising a Trilingual Child

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Pros and Cons of Raising a Trilingual Child.

trilingual child pros and cons


Raising a Trilingual Child Is Not Always a Bed of Roses.

by Nathalie Vieweger

I was raised trilingual from birth. My mother was Dutch, my father - German and the community language was (often) English. I am a TCK - Third Culture Kid.

I am now raising a trilingual child myself (English, Dutch and Spanish) as his father is English and we live in Spain.

I used to go to international schools, and I’m a teacher at a bilingual school, so I have seen my fair amount of bilingual children. Read my full story:  Trilingual mama - trilingual kid. Why would it be any other way?

As much as I am a supporter of raising a child multilingual, I also see many parents struggle with their decision to raise their child in more than one language. Generally information and articles one can find on trilingualism are predominantly pro raising a child with more than one language. They seem to just surpass the struggles involved in a trilingual upbringing.

I have decided to show both sides of a (in this case) trilingual upbringing.

Bearing in mind that what I am writing is based on my experiences and my opinion I invite you to have a look at my perspective on this matter.

Looking back as an adult

I can not express how grateful I am for having been brought up trilingually.

I have learned the languages effortlessly and have had many opportunities other (monolingual) peers did not have. My being “native” in three languages looks fantastic on my CV and it has opened doors that would otherwise have been shut.

My personal identity is based on my three languages. The languages of my thoughts and dreams vary in different situations. The languages I speak are linked to the culture they belong to, having broadened my view of the world. I have become more open-minded (I believe) than my peers.

My nicest memory of being trilingual must be going to a restaurant in the Netherlands with three of my (multilingual) friends. With four of us at the table mixing French, English, German and Dutch effortlessly, and the conversation making sense to all of us, we noticed being stared at by all the other visitors of the restaurant. I think all four of us realized at that moment, how special our conversation was to others, and we couldn’t help but be filled with pride. Being unique in this way certainly is a beautiful thing.

Also, thanks to my upbringing, I have been able to learn a fourth language with less effort than a monolingual person would have. 

Having said that, and again pointing out how grateful I am, must admit that there have been quite a lot of downsides to my trilingual upbringing.

Mainly, the fact that I do not speak any of the three languages completely accent-free or flawlessly. That is to say, I do not have a strong accent, and native speakers of either of the languages say I almost sound like a native… almost… in all three languages !!

Because of that, many times people have asked me where I was from (a difficult question anyway for TCKs, and moreover trilingual ones).
Apparently I am not a native in any language.
Maybe the point of not being completely native has had an effect on the way I see myself as well as the way others see me. At work sometimes I get complimented about the difficult sentence structure I use (any monolingual person would be downright insulted), with friends I often struggle to find the nuances in certain discussions, making me sound tactless or just not very smart.

I struggle to separate the languages fully, so I translate proverbs or sayings literally into the other language, or I use complicated long German sentence structures while writing Dutch. Making it look like I don not grasp the concept of a full stop.

I personally believe something gets lost along the way, the thing native people just grasp. Many of my friends at the European school struggle with the same issues now they are adults.

I would say being a trilingual person has filled me with a sense of pride riddled with a faint feeling of incompetence.

Observing my trilingual son

So now I am on road to raising my own trilingual child.

My son is 2.5 now, and I am proud to say he is in fact becoming pretty trilingual. He is starting to differentiate the languages, speaking to his dad in English, speaking to me in Dutch and to his teachers in Spanish.

Am I proud of it? Very much so!

But the poor kid does struggle at times.

I sometimes wish he would be able to say what he wants to everybody, without having to think what language they understand. He excitedly wants to tell his dad that he has seen something, and then gets a confused look as an answer. He tries to tell his teacher he came to school by bike, she looks at him blankly, asking me to translate. The moment has gone and he goes off to do something else. I feel he is at times missing out on basic social interactions, and with that important connections to the people around him, that monolingual children naturally have. He seems to have to make an extra effort.
Obviously in the future he will be much more capable of separating the languages, but for now it is a bit of a downside.

Something I just recently noticed that is definitely a down-side of raising a trilingual child is the following: Very often my partner and I spend time together with our little boy. Making jokes, playing or reading books. As Daniël was not speaking a lot, we would usually both speak our own language to him. Recently Daniël has started speaking more…and there the conflict within him started. We were talking about pictures in a book when Daniël excitedly wanted to say something. He looked at Rich, then back at me, then back to Rich until he finally decided to talk in Dutch … to me. He most obviously had a bit of an issue deciding what language to speak, in the end leaving his dad out of the conversation. These loyalty-issues will come up more often until he realizes that we both understand English. I felt bad for him for feeling he had to chose between his mama or his dad.

Struggles for us as parents

As my partner doesn’t speak Dutch, we speak English together. When I speak to Daniël I generally speak Dutch. But when we are all together it seems a bit strange to first say something in Dutch to my son, and then translate it into English. Obviously, as he is just 2, we don’t really have any interesting, translation-worthy conversations.
But it won’t be long before either my partner feels left out, I translate a lot of our conversations, or I speak English to both in family situations.

In my opinion following the “trilingual rule-book” is secondary to all members of the family feeling comfortable when we are together.

Something else is speaking to your child in public in a minority language, when it sounds like gobbledygook to everybody. The Dutch language sounds like somebody is having a stroke - and a serious one. We get many looks from people when they hear us speak. Obviously that does not stop me from speaking to Daniël in Dutch. But I would be lying if I said it doesn’t make me feel awkward at times. I worry about Daniëls reaction to this in the future, at some point it will be humiliating for him.

What really gets me crabby however, are people correcting him. His Dutch and English being treated as if he is making a mistake. In a local bar he shows his car to the staff. He enthusiastically claims: “Car!!”. The staff shake their head and say “No Daniel, es un coche!!” as if he made a mistake.


Raising a trilingual child is not the easiest route to take. In the modern world full of mixed couples and expats it is, however, a necessary route for many.

If your main (or even only) goal is to make your child speak more than one language, it is not very complicated. Speak to your child in your language and expose him/her to it as much as possible.

Difficulties arise when

      the minority language is not spoken by both parents,

      the minority parent is uncomfortable speaking their language in public,

      the child finds it difficult to distinguish between the languages, or

      the child, as an adult feels incompetent in all languages.

My advice is ask yourself if you are willing to take the challenges of raising a child with more than one language.
Are you willing to be looked at in a strange manner by the community?
Are you willing to speak to your child in a language your spouse doesn’t understand?

I am, but up to a certain point.
The OPOL (one person one language) approach is something I strongly believe in. But I believe that the well being of all of my family members is far more important. I will, therefore, not always speak the minority language with my son.
I find it hard to accept the funny looks, when I speak gobbledygook with my child, but know it is the price I have to pay. I would have preferred to raise my little boy in one language, or two at the most, but our situation is what it is, and it being so, I am very proud of my little trilingual monkey/aap/mono. And I know he will be, as I am myself, very grateful for the gift of languages.


Are you interested to participate in the Life Story series and write about your experience as a bilingual or multilingual child and/or a parent?  Would you like to take part in the Multilingual Family Interview series ? You can contact me here.

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

Bilingual Multilingual families Find a playdate in your language

You might also like reading

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

Raising a Bilingual Child. How to Start So You Don't Feel Giving It Up Halfway Through.  

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

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.

Listen to  kids radio in your language ! 

Still undecided what language to speak to your child? Read about possible language strategies.

And read my answers to parents questions in Question and Answer series.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Visiting Italy in Spring. Your picture guide.

Have ever you wonder where you should go for vacation this spring? My answer is ITALY!

With not so many tourists around (the country starts getting packed from May on wards) you get to experience the gorgeous Italian spring just like a native!!!

I know what springs are like in Russia, Germany and the States. Spring in Italy is actually a real season that lasts long! The Italian spring colors will leave an imprint in your memories .

What are you waiting for? Just take a break from cold to indulge with some sun and colors!

My picture tour will help you to get some inspiration :)

Do you see plants, flowers that you know? When do they bloom in your country? Leave a comment with the country name and the plant/ flower name in your language.


NOTE: Pictures are taking in the Northern part of Italy. Please contact me, if you'd like to use any of these pictures.

Acacia dealbata or Mimosa (March)

Almond tree blossoms (March)

Bumble bee and blooming tree (March)

Flowering Rosmary (March) 


Reb Robin (March)

Primula flowers  (March)

Dandelion (March)

Calla (March)

White wildflower (March)

Hairy Violet (March)

Cherry tree blossoms (April)

Pear tree blossoms (April)

Globularia punctata (May)


Wild Viola (May)


More photos to come ...

NOTE: Pictures are taking in the Northern part of Italy. Please contact me, if you'd like to use any of these pictures.

You might like reading:

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

Pros and Cons of Raising a Trilingual Child.

Listen to Kids Radio in your language! Great list of radio stations for kids.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Question from a trilingual parent, who already raises children bilingually and would like to add a third language.


This question came from a trilingual parent, who would like to pass on both of the languages he speaks fluently besides the country language. The children have been raised bilingually. When would be the right time to introduce the language? Languages in question are English, Spanish, and Portuguese.


I have a question about raising trilingual kids. I live in America so the common language is English. Grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles (One uncle speaks Spanish) all speak English. So my wife only speaks English. I am fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. My oldest daughter is 2 1/2 and I have only spoken Spanish to her since birth but English to everyone else. She understands everything I say, but still tends to respond in English unless I push her to respond in Spanish.

I now have a 1 year old boy. Same thing, I have only spoken to him in Spanish his whole life. He doesn't talk yet, so not sure how much he gets. I would really like to teach them Portuguese as well, but am not really sure how to do this. My wife is convinced that If I speak to them in Portuguese as well, it will confuse them. I considered speaking to my son only in Portuguese and my daughter in Spanish, but don't really know what to do, so I haven't done much. Suggestions? It's not too late I hope.



Dear Michael,

As a multilingual parent myself I share the same wish with you and would like to pass all the languages I know onto my children; however, this is hard to do alone in predominantly monolingual environment. The community language influence is so strong that some parents, who are the only source of language input, have a hard time bring up bilingual children and pass on their mother tongue, not to mention raising them multilingually.

If you would like your children to be trilingual with a good proficiency in minority languages, you definitely would need someone else support for at least one of the minority languages Spanish or Portuguese. Your plan would be either teach Portuguese yourself and find support for Spanish, or teach Spanish yourself and find support for Portuguese. I am not sure how feasible it is to find a Portuguese native speaker , teacher or caregiver near where you live. More possibilities are open up for older kids, such as language learning via Skype or language summer camps. If you decide to concentrate, for example, on Spanish, I would still support Portuguese through occasional activities, conversations, book readings …

That said, I think you have a greater priority now. Considering children's age and what you write about the language situation I would shift the priorities from adding a third language (Portuguese) into supporting and developing your children's Spanish. I’m not saying that you should not do anything in Portuguese. You could provide a limited input in that language, that would help to built a base for the future language learning.

Here are your short term goals, the way I see them:

Make sure your bilingual children reply to you in Spanish all the time.

Since you speak the community language, it is almost given that the kids will try to speak it to you too. 
Do not take it personally, even my fully bilingual child tried doing it in indirect way. He was addressing his community language speaking dad, when in fact he wanted to speak to me. He knew I listen and understand what he says. What I did : I just forced myself not to listen to him and always asked what did he say to his dad or to others. I still use this technique.

Be proactive in developing your child’s vocabulary.

(Read about it here.) Talk to your little child, explain what you see around and read books. Nothing builds child’s vocabulary better than books. Read How to read to a baby? Advice for parents. if you need some help to get started.

Speak Spanish to your children even in public.

You need to maximize the minority language exposure. Speaking Spanish everywhere is the only way I see you can keep children's language exposure high. Sure, you could also hire someone to speak Spanish to your children when you are not around: at work or busy running errands. Read “What language should I speak to my child in public? - Multilingual parent dilemma.”

Help your children to choose Spanish as sibling’s language.

I am not sure if you realize that you have a unique opportunity for language development. If your daughter chooses Spanish as the siblings’ language, the kids will have endless possibilities for language practice. The older children are, the less they want to stick around you and the more they want to be with their friends. My kids, who are 3 and 5 years old, come home and want to play with each other. Although they like reading books so much, the only thing they want to do is to be together and play. Here is another article that can help you: 7 facts that can determine the language spoken between multilingual siblings.

Bring your bilingual children in direct contact with Spanish speaking people.

I would look for other Spanish-speaking parents near where you live. If you do not know anyone and have difficulties finding other families, try to enter your data in the Playdate finder. Also I would set a goal to travel with your children to a Spanish speaking country at least once before your older child’s 5th birthday. Remember that there are also areas and communities in the US, where Spanish is widely used. It should not be hard to find someone who speaks Spanish locally. 

Can you start speaking Portuguese now?

Yes you can; however, since you did not start speaking Portuguese to your older child from birth I would hold on to it until she/he starts speaking well in one of the languages - English or Spanish. I would slowly introduce Portuguese to both kids through activities, music, cartoons. You could also use time and place language strategy and switch between Spanish and Portuguese every other day or week. Read more about it on the Language strategies page. Just keep the expectations according to the level of your language input.

To finish, I would recommend you also read this article: Bilingualism and speech delay. How can you help? 

I am sure, if you come up with a plan and stick to it, you will be able to pass on both of your languages and your kids will become trilingual.

Good luck! 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? 

Read other parents questions and my answers in Multilingual Family Q&A Series.

Feel free to contact me.

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

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