Since I have made the deliberate decision to raise a trilingual baby so many realizations have surfaced especially as I near the end of my pregnancy. The first being that “I” made the decision. Sure, my husband is on board, but he’s definitely a wild card on this journey. So, as a result what did I do, aside from creating a tentative plan? I did what researchers do best: research about trilingualism and parenting. I want to know as much as I can about raising a trilingual baby before I invest my life, time, and energy in creating a fun and multilingual home.
There are two influential factors that I was not aware of prior to making this commitment. They include: community demographics and the effect of the role each parent plays in raising bilingual or trilingual children. That being said, my tiny, tentative, and well-intentioned plan has been slightly modified. The goal is still trilingualism, but the route there will certainly be… tumultuous is the only word that comes to mind. It’ll be many things, but I certainly think we will be challenged.
According to, Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert’s article, Issues Surrounding Trilingual Families: Children with simultaneous exposure to three languages, children acquire three languages in three stages. They go through a monolingual, to a bilingual, and to finally a trilingual stage. Usually children learn the caregivers language from 0-2 years of age (being monolinguals), then they “catch-up” to the second parents language which is considered the bilingual stage which is during the preschool years, and finally at the school age children acquire the third language. This descriptions applies to a child who has been exposed to three languages simultaneously, which will probably not be our case as initially planned because I also learned that most individuals are not FULLY trilingual. In other words, one language is usually considered the weaker of the three due to community demographics and the fact that children pick up on on which language is the minority or the majority language, which usually also includes one of them being the more “prestigious” language. You can probably guess which one of these take precedence.
As I have been reading, Growing up with Three Languages, I have also learned that your community’s demographics plays a huge role in helping parents determine which trilingual path is best for you. We live in a nearly bilingual community in central Texas. In addition, the book mentions that most trilinguals don’t fully know how to speak, read, and write all three languages unless they have parents who are both native speakers of different languages and they are living in a country where an additional language is spoken, but then again the parents level of education plays a factor in terms of being fully trilingual. Another scenario includes both parents speaking different languages while living in a country where one of their languages is spoken and the child attending a school where they can learn a third language. All of this information made me feel naive. My husband and I naturally speak English, though we consider ourselves fluent in Spanish. I grew up hearing Spanish and English simultaneously and he had the awesome opportunity of living in Colombia, Switzerland, and having a ton of family in Ecuador. We decided that we would speak Spanish at home and have our baby girl attend a bilingual Spanish-English school. We opted for introducing French from the time she is born, but will probably not enroll her in a French immersion school because we think it is important for her to learn, love, and appreciate the Spanish we our passing on to her. In other words, since one of the three languages will take on a weaker role in terms of proficiency, we would much rather have it be French. That being said, she will be what they call a “late trilingual.” One suggestion we have been given is to immerse her in French schools during the summer breaks in a French-speaking country while exposing her to it the best we can the rest of the year.
Wow…I wrote this a few months ago…before our baby was born…it was an unfinished posting, but feel as if I should leave just as it is to represent how our journey and plan will continue to evolve as our lives with an infant unravel day to day, week by week….wish us luck!