Google+ Raising a Trilingual Child: January 2016


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Raising a Trilingual Child. Going with the Trilingual Flow.

by Kerry

"Mummy, go down!" my 17 month old said to me as I tried to persuade him to eat a meal that he didn’t really want (it was his favourite yesterday!)

"No, you haven’t finished eating yet" I tried to say in a lovely, calm, patient Mummy voice. I watched his little face, full of confusion, suddenly spring to life.

"Mummy, go down pleeeeeeeeeeeeeese!" he said as he began victoriously trying to climb out of his high chair. The little rascal thought he’d got it there.

"No, Ollie, you haven’t finished yet."

He slumped down again and thought for a moment. I wondered what was going on in his little brain. Then he shouted:

"Turun Mummy!" Turun is the Indonesian word for "go down". He translated for me because he thought I hadn’t understood him.

While laughing, I explained again that he had to eat some more first. He still sat there as if he was trying to work out a little puzzle and the answer was just on the tip of his tongue, just out of reach.

Then he yelled "Mudun Mummy!" with a little exasperated look on his face. This is the Javanese word for go down.

I plopped one last spoonful in his mouth and let him down. If the smarty pants can ask me in three languages then I can't help but let him down!

This was my first experience that made me feel absolutely certain that I was doing the right thing by exposing him to three languages from birth.

Let me give you a little background about our situation. I am Scottish and my husband is from Indonesia. We live in Indonesia together. We married here and in July 2013 I gave birth to my son, Oliver. The local language spoken in Surabaya is Javanese and the formal language is Indonesian. These 2 languages, although similar, are far from being the same. They follow the same grammatical structure but the words are on the whole, different.

When Oliver was first born I was confused. Should we speak only English to him and let him learn Indonesian later? This wasn’t really an option as none of my husband’s family can speak English. I wanted him to have a close relationship with everyone. Should we just speak to him in Indonesian and I can teach him English later? Well, that wasn’t going to work either. I speak Indonesian well but the idea of speaking to my baby in a foreign language all the time just felt too strange and my family can’t understand Indonesian either. And then there's Javanese, which is mostly just a spoken language. It is actually the first language of most people in this area and is what my husband’s family mainly uses at home. So acquiring three languages was unavoidable. Some people told me he was going to get confused or have some sort of speech delay. Others thought it was a great idea.

After thinking it through I realised that being bilingual or trilingual is not a strange thing at all in Indonesia. All children grow up speaking at least 2 languages: Indonesian and their local language. Many whom I have spoken to can speak at least one other local language. As well, all the Muslim children learn how to read and write in Arabic and I have seen people study it throughout their lives. The people of Chinese decent that live in Indonesia often learn Mandarin and many whom I have encountered use it as their first language.

So, I had to decide how was I was going to introduce three languages to my new son? I see a lot of information about the "one person one language rule" and while I respect that it works for many people I could see from early on that it wasn’t really going to work with my family. We pretty much decided to go with the flow and what felt most natural. I do that with most things in my life and it works. When I over think things then I am filled with uncertainty.

The outcome? Well, I definitely speak to my son mostly in English but when we are with his cousins or other family, none of whom speak English, I generally speak to him in Indonesian with some Javanese thrown in there. My husband flows between all three languages constantly and I’ve seen my son copy him. He can do it so easily and seems to enjoy it, treating it like a game. I know he can differentiate between the languages because when he meets someone who can only speak one of the languages he only uses one but when he is with people he knows understand more, then he seems to like to mix things up. Sometimes I play games with him. I say a sentence in one language and he answers in the same language. Then I reply using a different language, which he follows and then we go back and forth between them. It’s fun and he doesn’t seem to get confused. He giggles and seems to understand that it is funny.

So now, little Ollie is two and half years old. He speaks in full sentences in all three languages. He has recently started translating for other people that he knows don’t understand one of the said languages. The other day my English friend arrived at my house as my Indonesian sister-in-law was leaving. She said in Indonesian how she had to go to pick up her daughter at school. I was about to translate but the words were taken out of my mouth by my little 2 year old and he explained the situation before I had the chance to talk.

Reading a book with Mummy
I think the key to developing any child's vocabulary and language skill is to read stories to them. I have lots of books for my son and he loves sitting on my knee or snuggling under the covers to listen to stories and point out absolutely everything in the pictures. For example, Bob the Builder, page 1, I ask him "Where is the cat?" every time and he points it out with the same overjoyed enthusiasm every time. The other day we were in the car on a long drive and I had some of my nephews sitting beside my son. My son had brought some books for the journey. My nephew can’t really speak any English so I thought that the two of them reading the books together wouldn’t go well. So, while driving I was going to start asking him to point out different things in the picture. I have all the books memorised (I’ve read them so many times!). I glanced around to see what book he had chosen. I saw Bob the Builder (as usual!) so of course I opened my mouth to ask him "Where is the cat?" when he stepped in and said to his cousin "Bima, di mana kucingnya?" (Bima, where is the cat?). I just laughed and felt proud as my little two and a half year old began to lead his older cousin through the book in a different language. I only hope that he can continue this easy flow as he grows older.
Ollie with his cousins including Bima (the boy with the hat)

Later when he goes to school he will learn to read, write and speak in Mandarin also. Sometimes I worry it will be too much but I see all my students managing it every day (I am a teacher in the school he will go to) and I hope that my son can do that too. My husband’s family are all Muslim and so later, outside school, he will probably also learn to read and write in Arabic.

If you hope to raise your child as bilingual or trilingual but worry he or she will be confused, know that learning multiple languages in childhood in Indonesia is common (and I’m sure in many, many other countries but I have no first-hand experience).  

Do whatever suits your family. 

Do what feels right. 

Follow your instincts. 

Trust in your child's little growing brain that he or she will be able to sort through the languages.

Ollie being a cheeky monkey in the sand

I feel so proud that my little boy can cope with it all but really, when I step aside from my mummy role and see him as just another kid then I believe that he is just normal. Most children in the right environment would be able to do what he does without a problem; they just have to be given the chance.

Kerry is from Scotland and has lived in Indonesia for 5 years. She is married to her Indonesian husband, Mulianto, and has a little cheeky son called Oliver. Kerry is a playgroup and kindergarten English teacher in a trilingual International school in Surabaya. In her spare time she enjoys going on camping road trips with her huge extended family and exploring Indonesia.

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.

You might also like:

Kids Radio Sations from around the world!
In so many different languages !

Pros and Cons of Raising a Trilingual Child

One parent speaks two languages. Raising trilingual child.

Non-native Speaker Raising Bilingual Children. Interview with Christine Jernigan, the author of "Family Language Learning"

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

Can babies distinguish foreign languages?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Life Story: A Story of a Bilingual Child. Where the passion for language learning can lead you to.

by Filipa
From Europe and South America to Australia: Our multicultural journey.

I was raised bilingually in Portuguese and French. I was born in Portugal and, when I was 18-months old, my parents permanently moved to France. We used to speak Portuguese at home only unless we had French guests with us.

Preserving the minority language.

With my sister we used to spend all our summer holidays in Portugal with our family. Our parents would join us for the second month. We were lucky to benefit from a full immersion and no-one to talk to in French besides each other

The fact that we spoke Portuguese at home in France allowed us to communicate with our cousins and friends without any issues. I met so many children who could understand Portuguese but could not speak a word of it and were therefore unable to converse with their grandparents.

Unfortunately, we did not attend a Portuguese school but my parents made sure that our babysitters were Portuguese and most of our friends spoke Portuguese too.

Our grandparents stayed with me and my sister for a couple of years as I started first grade. We used to sing Portuguese songs all the time and watch movies. When my grandparents went back to Lisbon, we would call them every week.

When I became a teenager I felt that something was missing and I could not appreciate my culture to the full extent. So I taught myself how to read in Portuguese. I remember I asked my mother to buy me a good but easy book for me to start my reading. She got me a romance novel! Well at least the story was easy to follow but I was not learning much about the culture and grammatical rules. After that, I went myself to the nearest bookstore and bought a collection of classic authors. I still have those books and I love them.

I think the only way to fully appreciate a culture is when you can read books in the original language. I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read his books in French, Spanish and English. I did not feel the same for each language. The Spanish version for me is the best. I wish I could read them in more languages!


Funny misunderstandings.

We had funny moments! The best memories of my childhood were these holidays spent in Portugal. When I did not know a word, my brain would switch to the French mode and I would translate it literally. Like the time I was speaking with my aunties of star signs. I was saying that my dad’s star sign was Cancer. In Portuguese the correct word for the Cancer star sign is ‘crab’. Cancer is for the illness! I can still see the puzzled look on their faces trying to figure out what I meant. Then they realized my mistake and we had a good laugh!

Nowadays I do not get to speak Portuguese very often. I speak Spanish with my husband and South American friends, French with my children and English when I work or when I interact with people from other cultures.

So when I skype my family in Portugal or go for a visit, I need a few hours to switch to a 100% Portuguese mode because I tend to speak ‘Portunhol’ (Portugues-Espanhol).

What languages and cultures mean to me.

I am passionate about multiculturalism. By the time I finished high school , I had studied 7 years of English, 5 years of German and 3 years of Spanish. I guess it is easier when you live in Europe with nearly all the countries speaking a different language.

When I started Law School I gave up German but I carried on reading in English and Spanish. Funnily I was determined to study International Law but we only had to study any foreign language for 1 semester only, very ironic for an international career!

I interrupted my Law School studies for a couple of years to look after my father who was ill and work full time. I still had 4 years to go to become a lawyer and in the meantime I changed my mind and switched to International Trade. This gave me the opportunity to practise my languages: English in the morning with Australia and Asia, Spanish and Portuguese in the afternoon with South America.

I have backpacked a fair bit in Europe and Australia. I love meeting new people and learn about their customs, stories, legends, the way they live. I try not to judge with my Westerner’s eyes and instead learn as much as I can by talking to people.

Moving to Australia, starting a family and raising trilingual children.

I moved to Australia ten and half years ago, when I came over to study a Master of International Trade. I was determined to immigrate as I fell in love with the country back when I was ten years old while watching a documentary about Ayers Rock and the Aboriginal culture. In 2000, I spent a couple of months in Sydney to gain work experience, it was just before the Olympics and the whole country was in a happy and excited mood! Before going back home I decided to visit the East Coast and the Centre part of the country. I really wanted to see Ayers Rock and as I expected I loved it. So peaceful and rich in stories.

When I came back for the university I chose to study in Perth. During the uni breaks, I took my backpack and travelled up and down the West Coast and in Tasmania.

I did get my degree and something that I did not expect: Love. I met my husband-to-be in a methodology class for international students. The irony is that he is Peruvian and has one of the most common French surnames ‘Durand’ this is like ‘Smith’ in UK! Now I am a mother of two beautiful trilingual toddlers (French, Spanish, English). I work from home, I own and manage an online bookstore specialised in International books for children, it is called Le Toboggan. It has always been a struggle to find good children’s books in French and Spanish here in Perth. For example, when my sister came over to visit us last year with her family, she brought over 11kgs of books from France that I had purchased online. I thought I could not be the only one in the same situation and my children being my inspiration, I decided to go ahead with the bookshop. I am lucky both my children love books and when my son misbehaves I tell him that he will go to bed without any stories. This is the end of the world for him. I can take anything away but the books. He is three and already knows what he likes or not. He is my toughest critic when it comes to assess the ‘books from mommy’s work’. So far so good, he likes them all and I have a hard time to keep him away from reading the books without my supervision.

I also run French and Spanish workshops for children and I am a consultant in International Trade. As you can see I am very busy but my priority is to emphasize my children’s French and Spanish skills as best as possible before they start schooling. There will be my next story about.

A bientôt.

My husband Albis and I live in Perth, Western Australia. Everyday brings more fun when we hear our children Tiago and Elisa speaking in French, Spanish and English. I love listening to my son literally translating jokes from one language to another. I cannot wait until Elisa is a bit older to hear them sharing a secret code/language in French or Spanish.


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.

You might also like:

One parent speaks two languages.Raising trilingual child.

Non-native Speaker Raising Bilingual Children. Interview with Christine Jernigan, the author of "Family Language Learning" 

Kids radio from around the world!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Bilingual English Korean Folktales. Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop - January 2016

Have you read Korean folktales to your child?   Here is my pick from December blog Hop - great Korean English bilingual kids' book to start exploring Korean culture with. One folktale is talking about a tiger that is afraid of dried persimmons! Curious? Me too!  Thanks Jackie from Our MultiAsian family life for sharing these stories with us! And do not worry if you do not have Korean book store near by. Gmarket online store ships books internationally and if you are in Korea you can find books on Kyobo and Bandi N Lunis.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

One Parent Speaking Two Languages. Raising a Trilingual Child.

by Semiha Sözeri

We are a family of three living in the Netherlands.
I am originally from Bulgaria and I belong to the Turkish minority there. I grew up bilingual: speaking Bulgarian and Turkish equally well. When I was born, my parents spoke primarily Turkish to me. I started learning Bulgarian at the kindergarten when I was 2 years old. Both of my parents were teachers in primary schools located in areas with high percentage of Turkish minority population. They were experienced in supporting majority language acquisition without attrition of the minority language. In this respect, they spoke both in Turkish and in Bulgarian with me and my brother in order to maintain both languages simultaneously. Their only rule was never to mix the languages within the same sentence. I think I have adopted a great deal of their approach to me in the linguistic education of my own son, whom I raise trilingually in Turkish, Dutch and English and expose to the fourth language - Bulgarian.

As many expat parents, I was wondering which language teaching approach we should adopt. I have read extensively on the topic and I have benefited from observing other expat families with kids. I have seen that for many families where the father and the mother have different mother tongues, it is rather easier to follow the One Parent – One Language method and to obtain good results.

However, in our case we had more than two languages which we needed to teach our son. My husband is Turkish from Turkey. Significant part of our education was in English: we started learning English in secondary school, then our bachelor and master’s degrees were completely taught in English. Right now, we have many international friends. Thus, even before our son was born we knew that he will be exposed to multiple languages.

We knew it was possible for a child to learn up to four languages simultaneously and the literature on the subject was indicating that as long as the parents are consistent in their approach, the exposure to more languages would only be beneficial.

When my son was born, my husband was working full-time and I was lucky enough to be working part-time from home. The first language I started speaking with him was Turkish, but from the very beginning I exposed him to English and Dutch nursery rhymes, books and videos as well. Our child started going to Dutch daycare two days a week when he was 18 months old. In the meantime, we were attending English speaking playgroups in The Hague. This way we made sure he gets sufficient exposure to Turkish, Dutch and English.

When we read a book, I always ask him in which language he would like to hear it and I translate accordingly. When we learn the name of a new object, we try to name it in all of the languages we use making clear that things have different names in the different languages. Same goes for counting as well.

Now that my son is 2 years and 11 months, he has the same level of proficiency in Turkish and English with Dutch lagging somewhat behind these two. Nevertheless, he speaks in whole sentences in all three of them and I hope that going to a Dutch school will help him a lot. Neither I, nor my husband is a native speaker of Dutch and we started learning the language only after we settled in the Netherlands 5 years ago.

Also, I must admit that although Bulgarian is one of my native languages, I was a bit reluctant to introduce it. There are a number of reasons behind this decision. First of all, during my early childhood the Bulgarian state has banned speaking Turkish in public as a part of the assimilationist policy of the communist state. Because of this I had developed an idea of the Bulgarian state as an oppressor of its minorities and my ethnic identity as Turkish had a major place in my development. Therefore, it did not come natural to me to start speaking Bulgarian to my child after he was born.

Nevertheless, I do want to teach him Bulgarian as well, but I would prefer to wait until the other languages are established. Besides, we have no one else who speaks Bulgarian around us: I would be the only person who speaks Bulgarian to him. So, I opted for my mother tongue Turkish together with Dutch (the majority language) and English (the language of the playgroup) and decided to postpone Bulgarian for a later stage.

Luckily, I see that he shows interest in learning different languages (when we speak Turkish, for example, he is asking me “What do we call this in Dutch (or English)?”). This encouraged me to expose him to Bulgarian nursery rhymes as well. For now, Bulgarian is lagging very much behind the others but I am happy that he recognizes it and I believe that spending time in Bulgaria during the summer holidays, for example, will be beneficial for his learning.

I notice that many parents are worried when they encounter situations which do not allow them to strictly follow One Language – One Parent or Minority Language at Home – Majority in Public methods. So far, in our experience few languages can be successfully absorbed by a child even when the same care-taker is exposing the child to more than one language. I just would like to underline that this should not be interpreted as mixing the languages. We are very careful not to mix words from different languages within the same sentence and we always try to make it clear for the child when we switch from one language to another.

I am glad that the multilingual approach we have adopted has worked well for us so far. I do realize that it will become more challenging to sustain the minority languages once our son starts Dutch school. However, since I went to a majority school myself and managed to sustain my minority mother tongue skills at a native level, I am not very worried about it. I know that language maintenance through time requires the conscious effort of the family and the child himself.

According to me every family can have different linguistic needs based on their cultural heritage and current circumstances. I know of single mothers successfully raising bilingual kids and homeschooling families who are the sole teachers of their children for all languages and subjects taught in a regular school. In this respect, I don’t think that there is one-fit-all formula when it comes to language teaching. Instead, I believe in adapting the existing methods to the unique needs of each family.


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!

You might also like reading:

Pros and Cons of Raising a Trilingual Child 

Best Kids Radio Stations from around the world

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

Would like to teach your child English phonics? Check this interview for the resources: When your home languages are different from community language. 

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

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

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