Google+ Raising a Trilingual Child: Question from full-time working parents of Indonesian heritage, who live in Japan and would like their child to speak both Indonesian and English with full literacy in the second.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Question from full-time working parents of Indonesian heritage, who live in Japan and would like their child to speak both Indonesian and English with full literacy in the second.

Q&A full-time working parents passing on heritage language and English


Question from full-time working parents of Indonesian heritage, who live in Japan and would like their 2 years old child to speak both Indonesian and English with full literacy in the second. Languages in question: Japanese, Indonesian and English.

Hello Galina,

Me and my husband are Indonesians, we got married 2 years ago and now blessed with a 7-month old baby girl. We live in Tokyo and both full-time working parents. Having been stayed in Japan for more than 17 years, husband speaks, reads, and writes Japanese just like a native. While for me, Japanese is still truly a FOREIGN language, and I'm happy enough when I can get my errands done using my limited Japanese.

Our baby now starts to form words (although 1 syllable) and this is the time when me and hubby need to decide on what language we will use at home. She will be going to Japanese childcare in 2 months and until now we are talking in Indonesian to her. Although at times, we say things in English like "good morning" or simple instruction.

Our desire is to have our child be able to understand Indonesian (at least verbally) and have good literacy in English. Japanese is "banned" from home and request my husband to speak only Indonesian when baby is around. We believe 11 hours of Japanese exposure a day will be more than enough for her to easily pick up the language without even trying.
At home, we agreed to use Indonesian at home verbally but yet all the books, CDs, TVs, games will only be in English.

My concern given our limited time with her as she will spend most of her time being exposed to Japanese, how do we help her acquire Indonesian and English. Moreover, I am particularly would like her to be an English-literate child for future educational benefit. I have read many articles and it is mainly said that we need to create the "need" and "exposure" for the child to the foreign languages.

I would like to get your opinions and others' too. Given limited time we can spend on daily basis with her, what would be the best tip to help her acquire Indonesian and English.
Any tips to make this journey smoother? and what we need to watch for?
And if there is any other working parents who have successfully raising a trilingual/bilingual child, we would really much like to hear.

Best Regards


Hi Cikki,

It is wonderful that your daughter is trying to say her first words! I believe that even if you are a busy parent you can pass on your heritage language and teach her a third language - English.

I think your language strategy should work; however, I would make some adjustments. Especially if your and your spouse's parents (your child's grandparents) do not speak other languages (English or Japanese ) besides Indonesian.

I would concentrate on Indonesian until your daughter starts speaking it well at around age of 2-3 and then start increasing the English language input. At age of 3 she will be progressing in learning English very fast, if she has a strong language base built in another language. This base you have been building already by speaking Indonesian to your little girl from birth.

Start reading books in Indonesian to her (When to start reading to a baby? ) Later, after your child celebrates her 1st birthday, add one English book reading per week. Your goal is to increase the quantity of English books read after her 3d birthday.

As of media, I would play it in both languages. Just tell your child what language it will be in. ( Read Naming languages with their proper name.  )

I know you say that you do not want your child to be literate in Indonesian, but I think you could teach her Indonesian letters, if you start with this activity early enough, and later you could teach her English. Just to give you an example, my 3 and 5 years old children are able to read in the minority language, Russian. The older child learnt how to read in the community language ( Italian) on his own and now is asking me how to read English words.

Think about it. And read the following articles on the topic:

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

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

Also I would start already looking for other sources of English language input, in order to have an idea how much English language input you as parents would need to provide to meet your multilingual parenting goal. Is there bilingual kindergarten in the area? What about bilingual schools? When will English be taught at schools? Are there English classes for children?

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have more questions and good luck on your trilingual family journey!

Regards, Galina

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. 

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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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