Many paths to one destination…

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Its so good to see just how much the kids languages skills have improved, even in this short time. I must say, that all of them have different language levels, and different goals. A few of my older boys adore foreign languages like I do..they crave meaningful input daily, and could literally immerse themselves in languages all day long. They love Skype, and they love using the video feature to speak with people in Bahia, Brazil and Cartegena, Colombia (with me in the background). You Tube videos in the chosen language are always a favorite; as well as the apps Duo lingo and Hello Talk.

On the flip side, my younger boys do enjoy languages, but to a lessor extent. And that’s OK too! Language learning is on their periphery. They enjoy football, basketball, rollerskating, and swimming. They love camping and bikes, fishing and fireworks. They love to eat, and they love to play XBox One. With them, its more living, than “teaching”. I find that when we do one of their favorite activities in the target language it really sticks with them. We also have certain things that we only do while speaking Brazilian Portuguese, or while speaking Spanish. For example, my soon to be 4 yr old Aaron absolutely loves to go swimming. So every time we swim, we only use our Portuguese. All of our swimming is done in Portuguese. From putting on our swim gear, until we have left the pool and came back inside. So now he is starting to realize that swimming means speaking Portuguese.

So it seems that these boys are each learning in their own way, and in their own time. And I’m just fine with that!

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When one parent cant speak the minority languages….

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In our family, I’m the parent that immerses the kids with daily doses of Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. My childrens father cant speak either one of those languages. So, sometimes it can feel like the whole trilingual thing falls squarely onto my shoulders alone. However, even though my childrens father cant speak the minority languages, he still contributes to their over all multilingualism.

Even when one parent only speaks the majority language, they can still be involved in their childs multilingual education. Here’s how!

1. Showing excitement and pride in your children’s language skills no matter what their level. 

Be sure that your kids know how proud of them you are for using all of their languages. Take it one step further and let them know how excited you are for them that they are able to do something that many people can not…communicate in more than one language.

2. Tell your children about the benefits of being able to speak in more than one language.

Being able to speak in more than one language opens up the world to you. Show your children all of the opportunities that they will be able to take advantage of. Bring your children to the country where the language is spoken and let your child lead the way! Also find toys, books and movies in that culture and foreign language. Later on down the line be sure to mention the better job prospects for bi/ multililnguals as well.

3. Start learning some of the childs minority language(s).

It does take time and consitency as an adult to master a foreign language to near fluency, however its never too late to start learning the basics. This is especially good if your child is just beginning to learn their other language(s)…whether your child is 1 or 13. If they are just beginning to learn their minority language, you can just learn enough of it to stay a step ahead of them. You can choose to just learn enough to show your child that you have a true interest in their languages.

4. If at all possible, READ to your child in their minority language!

In my opinion, this is one of the best ways that a monolingual parent can help their child become bilingual or multilingual. I understand that this wont work for every language. For example, as a native English speaker that only knows one alphabet and writing system, there is no way that my partner could (immediately) read to our children in say, Cyrillic, the Russian alphabet. However, since Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese and English have basically the same alphabet, he has the ability to read Spanish and Portuguese childrens’ books aloud to our kids. Now yes…at times his accent may be a little off; but that is such a small detail. It just makes so much sense for the monolingual parent to read childrens’ books in the minority languages because these are easy to read, and they give you a starting point with the language. One other aspect is they are getting grammatically correct sentences when they hear the stories read aloud.

Hopefully these suggestions will help when one family member is feeling left out due to not speaking the minority languages.

Is it ever too late for my child to learn another language?

ws_Sands_of_time_1600x1200I often reflect back on some of our first thoughts about our children’s languages. I mean, just the thought that our kids could possibly one day become multilingual just blew our minds. It seemed so possible and tangible, yet at the same time, awkward and far fetched. It was a such a grande goal to have…especially since neither one of use are native speakers of Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese.  When we finally did start introducing these other languages to them, I couldn’t help but wonder…Did we wait too long to start? Did we miss that invisible language learning threshold; and if we did, were our kids now doomed to be monolingual forever?!  Alright, I know. That was kind of dramatic. However, these were some of the real concerns that I had.

We knew that speaking the languages to our children from birth was the easiest and best way. However, that ship sailed many moons ago. After looking into this some more, we came across information that stated there were times in a child’s life when they could easily ‘acquire’ an additional language.  We learned about the language learning windows of opportunity; ages birth-3, 5-7 and ages 9 until the beginning of puberty. Well, if only we had acquired this info a long time ago!

It’s true that we may have missed some of the key “windows of opportunity” with our children. However, we are still happy and encouraged by the progress our little men have made thus far. So do I think that there are times when kids can pick up languages easier? Of course. Do I think that its ever too late for any child at any age to learn another language to fluency? Absolutely not. It may be a little bit harder, and require more effort than if they would have learned the languages from birth. The notion that I come away with is just because it may take more time, that doesn’t make it any less of a worthy goal. Starting a new language after the majority language has taken grasp can be a huge challenge. It can take a lot of time and dedication. However, its still so worth it.

How can you raise a bilingual or multilingual child?

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When I first had the idea that our boys could possibly become multilingual, I started looking for any information on how to make that happen. There was so much different information out there, it was actually kind of overwhelming just digging through it all! Since we had waited to start on our family language journey longer than we had wanted to, we knew it was time to get things started. We also needed to figure our which of these methods we would be doing.

One Person, One Language

The OPOL method is a very common method used. In this method, mom speaks language A, and dad speaks different  language B. Mom always uses language A with the child, and Dad always uses language B when speaking with the child. The language that the parents speak to each other in could be a third language. This method usually needs some language supplements, as the child may need to see more than just one person speaking it. So play groups, or even a babysitter that also speaks one of the languages would be good.

Minority Language at Home

With this method, everyone speaks the minority language(s) at home, even if it is not the parents native language. This basically ensures that every day, the children are getting maximum minority language. So for example, in the United States English is the Majority language. So parents that are choosing this MLaH method will leave it to society to teach their children English. After all, they will learn it in school and through friends. The parents would only ever speak the minority language(s)  within the home.

Different Place and time 

With this method different languages are spoken in different places or at different times. Here are a few examples using the different place methods. One family may choose to speak French every time they are in the car going somewhere. However, when they come back home, they are all speaking English again.  A different family may choose to speak Italian every time they are in the family room and the kitchen,  but then may speak English when they are everywhere else within the house. There are also many ways to use the different time method. One family likes to speak the community language through the school week, and speak only the minority language on weekends. Still others speak their different languages every other day.  As you can see, there are many different ways to do this one.

**For multilingual families, all of these methods can be altered to include more than 2 languages.

Regardless of the approach that you take, as long as you are consistent, your family will see great progress! Try to keep activities fun and mixed up, especially for little kids.

Our tri-lingual journey begins

Having a fun day at the beach while only using our Spanish.

Having a fun day at the beach while only using our Spanish.

I remember the love affair I had with the Spanish language while growing up in NJ. Although I had cousins, Uncles, and distant relatives that spoke Spanish, as monolingual native English speakers, neither of my parents did.  Any time a Spanish song would come on the radio in my dads car, I would try my best to convince him not to change the station; to no avail. At home, one of my favorite television stations was Univision. At that time, I was around the age of eight. I truly had no idea what they were saying. However, for some reason i didn’t care that  I couldn’t understand them. I was mesmorized. I just couldn’t pull away from this beautiful language. I remember seeking out more TV shows and books in Spanish, and I also made attempts to spend more time around my few family members that did speak Spanish fluently.

Eventually, my years of reading, and watching television shows in my target language started to pay off.  By the age of twelve, I was finally able to understand, and also speak Spanish to an upper intermediate level. By the age of 20 my love for the language stayed constant, however, due to moving around and placing more importance on other things, at that point I just stopped progressing in the language.

My adult life brought with it many changes. College, a very long term relationship, home ownership, and children! I am mom to five boys- four of whom live at home full time, and my eldest is here every other week. Their ages are 13, 11, 9, 7 and 3. I knew that as a mother, I wanted  to share my love of languages with them. I wanted to give them something special. Something that once they had, nothing or no one could ever take it away from them. Should I have started much earlier when they were younger? yes.  Will I let the could of’s, would of’s and should of’s derail us now? No way!

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In addition to Spanish, we decided as a family that we also wanted to add another language. Now how could I start another language when I had failed to properly maintain and improve my Spanish? The answer was that I couldn’t. So while l’m not speaking Spanish at the level of a native speaker yet, my skills are once again at a B2 level (Common European Framework of Reference), or in normal speak, my level is now at Advanced intermediate. And finally, after much talk and anticipation we decided upon a third language. This time the object of our affection was Brazilian Portuguese. So now our languages are English, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, all to varying degrees of fluency.

This blog will delve into our non native tri-lingual journey. It will also give out practical advise based on our personal experiences, and some common issues that parents raising bilingual & multilingual children may face from time to time. Thanks for stopping by!