Google+ Raising a Trilingual Child: February 2015


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.

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.


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