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.

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8 thoughts on “Embracing & Nurturing Three Languages

  1. Ana Lilian says:

    So?!! Is it Sebastián or Siena?? Love them both 😉

    After reading this I´ve been motivated to re-learn French. Yes, I was already at a conversational level many years ago, but now have lost it. All my own fault. I´m sure it´s still dormant in my brain and I just need to immerse myself in it.

  2. suzanne says:

    It is either Siena or Sabrina, but definitely a female name!!!

    I encourage you to go re-learn your French. That way we can gather other trilingual parents in order to learn how to actually pass 3 languages on to our children. I have to admit your website has been so motivating to me.

  3. Brooks says:

    Hola Señora Mateus,

    I’m a student in your Spanish II class. I stumbled onto your blog from the domain of your given email address, and I really had to investigate.

    It’s interesting that you are discussing teaching your child Spanish and French in addition to English, given that I’m an English major with minors in Spanish and French. I’ve often informally researched the possibilities of teaching children multiple languages from birth (I’m interested in pedagogy and linguistics) and I shall read the Xiao-lei Wang book.

    I hope you continue to write about your experiences in a trilingual household!

    -Brooks Eakin

  4. suzanne says:

    Thanks Brooks! I actually just received the book in the mail today. I’m excited to read it especially since it was written for parents AND educators. You know UT has a Masters degree in Hispanic Linguistics. You should check it out.

    I have a BA in English Literature from UT as well and have always been intrigued about how individuals acquire multiple languages.

    -See you in class & thanks for the comment.

  5. Anke says:

    Suzanne,

    thought I had left a comment a few days ago, maybe I didn’t. I found you on Spanglishbaby, and now have been reading your last blogs…

    We are trying to raise our little daughter Natalie (now 11 months) trilingually, as my husband is Spanish, I am German, and we live in the UK. I speak German to my baby, my hubby speaks Spanish, and Nati goes to nursery 3 days a week, where they speak English to her. We will see how it goes.

    Best of luck with your baby, you must be so excited to meet her soon (or is she there yet?). Muchisima suerte para tu pequenya familia!

  6. suzanne says:

    Thanks Anke. We are still trying to figure out the logistics as to how we will expose her to 3 languages since my husband and I are bilingual in the same languages (English/Spanish). I am due June 7th, so she isn’t here, yet 🙂

    Please let me know how the trilingual journey is going for you as time passes.

    Susana

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Hi! I just found your blog for the first time though SpanglishBaby (which I also just found for the first time) and was wondering how your quest was going? My son is now 3 years old and I swore I was going to try to raise him trilingual. Right now, as far as we’ve gotten is that he is bilingual (Spanish and English) and he’ll sit still for me to read to him in French and he recognizes some of the songs from Les Miserables that I sing to him as lullabies.

    That said, my sisters also have him watch YouTube videos in Korean, German and Italian (usually of stuff he already watches in Spanish and English, like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, etc.) and what seems to be happening is that, while he’s not trilingual, he is really open to new sounds and cultures. And also, he speaks really clearly and doesn’t seem to have difficulty learning new words or making new sounds.

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is, even if your baby doesn’t seem to be trilingual at the beginning, don’t give up! He/she is still getting something out of it. I mean, I didn’t learn French until high school, but that doesn’t make me any less trilingual now, right? 😉 Good luck on your journey!

  8. suzanne says:

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Thanks for the comment 😉 Our journey has been a little rocky. I find myself switching between English and Spanish all the time. As far as French goes…well my husband will read a book to her in French every once in a while.

    Its good to know that even if our little ones dont become trilingual they will at least have a greater appreciating for other cultures…thanks for sharing!

    Suzanne

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