Pin It
Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

When Trilingual is Not Necessarily Better than Bilingual

By

Dear Dr. Gupta:

My partner and I are expecting and we are trying to determine a language plan now. I am a native English speaker, my partner is a native Italian speaker who also speaks Spanish and English fluently; he speaks Spanish better than English. We live in an English-speaking country but in an area where Spanish is widely spoken. There are limited opportunities to speak Italian, but he does have some friends who speak Italian, we Skype often with his family and we will visit Italy often. We’d like our child to speak all three languages, but aren’t sure the best way to go about it. My partner will be the primary caregiver, and we were thinking that he could spend half the day speaking Italian only, and the other half of the day speaking Spanish only. I would then speak to the child in English in the early mornings, evenings and on weekends. We figured that the limited exposure to English early in life would be okay since it’s the predominant language in our area and almost all my family and friends speak English only. Does this plan seem like it would work? Italian is very important to him culturally, so we definitely want the child to share that with him. However Spanish is very useful where we live so we’d like to give our child the opportunity to speak it as well.

Thank you,
Michele

Dear Michele,

I’m not really a big fan of the deliberate planning of the linguistic day like this, but if you can do it, and it works for you, then go ahead. To me it seems a bit artificial, and I don’t understand why you want to bring Spanish in.

When you socialise a child you are doing more than just teaching languages. It seems to me that speaking Italian will come naturally to your partner. and speaking English will come naturally to you.  I agree that there is no need to be anxious about English, but the basic parental division into Italian/English should give a strong basis for acquiring both languages together. You will need to make sure there is a strong foundation in Italian. This is because, as your child gets older, there will not be much support for Italian, as you realise.

What do you speak when you are together? Is it a mixture of Italian and English? Or English? Do you ever naturally bring Spanish into the mix?  Unless there is a natural place in your home for Spanish already, then I would suggest just going with the two languages. I am not sure why you want to have a third, and introducing it could threaten the continued development of Italian.

If Spanish is used in your community, and if it is useful, then you should have plenty of opportunities to introduce Spanish later, maybe when it comes to daycare or pre-school.  Many children learn additional languages outside the home.  I think this would be better, and more natural, than the split day idea.

Good luck!

Dr. Gupta

© 2012, Anthea Fraser Gupta. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


Circumcision Wars

She fought her Turkish in-laws on it--did she succeed?

Are Germans Really Rude?

This German dad shares his thoughts

Is all the Hard Work of Bilingualism Really Paying Off?

I just found out the surprising answer.

Almost African: My Childhood as a Serbo-Croatian in Sudan

The freedom of growing up as the only Serbo-Croatian in Sudan

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Anthea Fraser Gupta is a sociolinguist with an interest in how children learn to talk. She was born into a monolingual environment in Middlesbrough, England, but enjoyed learning about languages from an early age. She gained a B.A. in English Linguistic Studies and Archaeology at the University of Newcastle, then went on to do an M.A. in Linguistics. She left Newcastle in 1975 to work in Singapore, where she encountered a society in which multilingualism is usual and expected. In Singapore nearly all children come to nursery school already able to speak 2 or 3 languages. While lecturing in the linguistics of English at the National University of Singapore, she did a doctoral degree at the University of York, looking at the language acquisition over two years of four Singaporean children who were growing up with four languages. In Singapore, she also married a man from a multilingual family from India. She returned to England in 1996 to the School of English at the University of Leeds, where she taught courses on both English language and bilingualism until her retirement in 2010. Anthea has had experience in a range of multilingual and multicultural societies and families. She has published books and articles on English, especially the language use of children in Singapore, and has also produced a novel for children set in Singapore. She is deeply interested in child development and believes that the most important thing in raising a child is to provide love and stimulation, regardless of what language or languages are learned.

Leave us a comment!









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!



A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
Unfortunately, the school and community are no longer there. The farm is being sold and there are tentative plans for a new iteration to be set up in Costa Ric...
From How I Moved to Thailand with my Family on Less than $1000
HI! I love your website! Just read your review of books that teach about culture and food! I can't wait to try some of the recipes you've share...
From Armenian Recipe: Apricot Tart
Please, refrain from using "western /western society" for anglosaxon countries. Western can be Mexico and Spain as well, anything on the west side of the world is western ...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
We've tried to make use of, but It doesn't works by any mean...
From African Parenting: The Sane Way to Raise Children
I'm back. Sorry, I stopped caring for this magazine for a while and forgot to discuss the meat of the matter. This article, as well as the linked article from 2011, fails to discuss cultural norms ...
From What Confused Me Most about Brits
Fascinating. I have been to Germany and met this guy who was soo rude! This article explains everything!! Since all Germans are so terribly rude it should come as no surprise that I should have met ...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
@ Josep. How could you possibly comment on how Germans treat people if you have never even been there? A three-day stay in Berlin and a one day stop-over in Frankfurt was enough for me to see the ut...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
I am trying to find a Sikh triangular Nishan Sahib flag and haven't found one. Do you know where I can find on...
From Vaisakhi Craft: Make a Flag
I have tried to buy a Sikh triagular Nishan Sahib flag and had no luck. Do you know where I can find on...
From Vaisakhi Craft: Make a Flag

More I Need Help! Ask A Linguist