Google+ Raising a Trilingual Child: 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.


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!

You might also like:

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

How to read to a baby? Advice for parents of monolingual, bilingual or multilingual children. 

Multilingual Family Interview: When your home languages are different from community language. Resources for Teaching Phonics and Reading to Children.

Bilingualism and speech delay. How can you help?

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