Embracing & Nurturing Three Languages

As I research the Internet for useful sites or literature about how to raise a trilingual child I am stunned with the simple fact that there is very little information available. I have found several parents blogging about their attempts to raise trilingual children all hoping to receive tips from others trying to do the same. I have to stop and ask myself, “What does this mean to me as a future parent? What does this mean to me as a doctoral student in bilingual and bicultural education? What can I do with this lack of information and how can I contribute to the missing pieces as a parent and researcher?” So many questions!

Luckily, I have a tentative plan. My husband and I will speak in Spanish to our baby. S/he will learn English because we live in the US, learning English should be inevitable, and s/he will attend French immersion schools. Done deal. Problem solved, right?

I wish it were that easy. As a bilingual teacher, I know it will take more than my tiny, tentative, and well-intentioned plan. I decided to start with what I know works best when learning two languages based on my experiences of growing up in a bilingual home.

As I prepare to register for my baby shower I plan on adding French and Spanish books for my guests to purchase to develop a multilingual book collection for my baby. My husband has promised to practice his conversational French by attending “French meet-ups.” I will continue to learn French the best way my schedule will allow me to: via videos and CD’s. My goal is to eventually attend beginning “French meet-ups.” These are some of our short-term goals.

Our long-term goals are much more adventurous and unpredictable at this point in our journey. We plan on taking advantage of my summer breaks by traveling to Spanish and French speaking countries for an extended period of time. This will allow the whole family to use and practice the targeted languages in authentic settings. In addition, we will also be exposed to French and Spanish-speaking cultures, which I believe is crucial in order to fully become multilingual.  It’s not enough that we just learn how to speak the language(s). Luckily, we have the best of both worlds living in North America. Mexico is a five-hour drive and Quebec, Canada is a lengthier “road-trip” away. One-day and six hours to be exact! In addition, I plan on gathering literature that will guide us in this trilingual venture as a family and meet other families in our local community who are trying to do the same.

My most recent search has led my to a book called, Growing up with Three Languages: Birth to Eleven (Parents’ and Teachers’ Guides) by Xiao-lei Wang. Dr. Wang is a professor at Pace University in New York City in their School of Education. What I love about this book, as simple as it may be, is that it was published in 2008, which means the ideas are current and that there is bound to be more literature in the making for parents and educators interested in raising trilingual children.

So, as I prepare to head off to the overly anticipated sonogram appointment that will determine whether our baby will be named Sebastian or Siena, both names we consider to be “multilingual,” my mind continues to stir as to how we will create lives that will embrace and nurture three languages.