Pin It
Sunday, March 29th, 2015

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

Raising trilingual kids with Dad's minority language via © shutterstock

Dear Dr Gupta,

 

I have two kids one is 3.5 and one is 2. My language is Arabic and I only use it to speak to my kids. My wife’s language is English, which is her language with our kids, but also she speaks Urdu to her mum and her mum uses Urdu with the kids. We are living in the UK.

 

To be honest I feel my kids are not picking Arabic as I am out at work and I only talk to them 1 or 2 hours a day, I feel helpless as my language is the number 3 in my kids life, not even number 2 as number 2 is Urdu.

 

Please if you can advise me with a plan or suggestions I would be very grateful.

 

Thank you,
Arabic Dad

 

Dear Arabic Dad,

 

I’m afraid this is a common experience of fathers. In order to acquire a language, small children need to be in a situation where it is being spoken for more time than many working parents have available. English and Urdu are supported by your children’s wider family and by the community, but it looks as if you alone are responsible for their Arabic. If Arabic is No 3, that is good. The danger is that they may have no Arabic at all.

 

If you can find other speakers of Arabic nearby, if they have children, and if you can meet up with them regularly, you may be able to keep Arabic alive for your children. Is there any possibility of a holiday with friends and relatives who speak Arabic?

 

If you are the only speaker of Arabic around, I’m afraid you may have to sigh and accept that these children are going to be bilingual in English and Urdu.

 

However….. don’t let them forget that their father speaks Arabic. Don’t stop speaking to them in Arabic, even if they answer in English, unless they reject it. If they reject Arabic completely, you will probably have to use English with them. But if you have to do that, mix a bit of Arabic in with your English.

 

Encourage them to recognise and use common social phrases in Arabic, and to recognise words. Sing to them. Get books in Arabic. Show them programmes for children in Arabic. But don’t pressure them, and don’t criticise them.  Praise them for any use of Arabic. Don’t worry if the Arabic is mixed with English and/or Urdu. Don’t worry if the pronunciation is poor. The aim of this is for them to know a bit of Arabic and to make them like Arabic, in the hope that they will learn Arabic when they are older. You want to keep Arabic fun.

 

The fact that Arabic is a major language with lots of media resources is helpful. It is a language with a lot of power behind it. Hunt out really good children’s books in Arabic.

 

I hope this is helpful.

 

Dr. Gupta

© 2015, The Editors. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


Overheard on the Beijing Subway When People Don't Think I Speak Mandarin

The awesome stuff I overhear like what these two Chinese women think of foreigners.

Are French Kids Better Behaved Because They are Spanked?

Should spanking be part of your parenting toolkit to have well behaved kids?

How My Chinese Mother-in-Law Replaced my Husband

And why this is the number one fight in our household

Don’t Touch My Child! Lessons from Asia

Has the West taken fear too far?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


InCultureParent is an online magazine for parent's raising little global citizens. Centered on global parenting culture and traditions, we feature articles on parenting around the world and on raising multicultural and multilingual children.

Leave us a comment!

2 Comments
  1. CommentsJani Koskinen   |  Sunday, 20 March 2016 at 3:59 am

    I wonder also that if your wife’s native language (or at least one of the native languages) is Urdu, as she talks Urdu with her own mother, why doesn’t she speak Urdu to your children? If you live in UK, your children will pick up English almost automatically because the environment is so English dominating. If your wife would speak them Urdu, they would have better opportunities to become truly bilingual (or hopefully trilingual, arabic also included). In this case I think they won’t pick up even Urdu as well as it would be possible.

  2. CommentsEllen   |  Friday, 22 April 2016 at 11:41 pm

    Dear Arabic Dad, I disagree with Dr. Gupta’s advice to drop Arabic if your children reject it. If you show your children that you are willing to speak English with them, they will not make the effort for Arabic. I am French, grew up in France but my mother who was British, spoke to me in English. I would respond in French. She “cured” me by sending me to my grandparents in London for two months during the summer break when I was 3.
    Now I am in a similar situation to you. I live in Taiwan so my kids are trilingual – Chinese, English and French a distant three. They get French only from me. I speak English with my husband, he speaks English to them and the environment, school, friends, grandparents, speaks Chinese. I used the summer holidays to go to France, and enroll them in clubs and activities where they can speak French. It is the best way. If you want your children to speak Arabic, the only way is for them to get exposure to the language. So maybe some holidays with their grandparents or aunts and uncles back home are in order. That should get them started. And then once a year if you want to maintain the language. It is expensive. Their Arabic will probably remain their 3rd language. But it is worth it. Whatever you do though, do not switch to English. Not even in social situations.
    Good luck.









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!
For quite sometime, whenever there were articles that surfaced the internet concerning whether it was appropriate to breastfeed in public, I was so baffled. As a Mongolian, I was so shocked that som...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
For quite some whenever there was articles circulated on the internet concerning whether it is appropriate to breastfeed in public. As a Mongolian, I was so shocked that some countries considered i...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
I live with my Czech in laws with my four children and my Czech is crap I try to learn but the baby doesn't sleep well I'm a constant zombie and the brain just doesn't work. Plus being tired makes m...
From How I Reclaimed My House from My Mother-in-Law
I am so glad I found this site. I am happy to see that I am not alone in experiencing 'family issues' after getting married. I am not from the West but I am married to a Canadian. I never truly unde...
From How I Reclaimed My House from My Mother-in-Law
[…] my most favourite article about breastfeeding called Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan by Ruth Kamnitzer. I have no doubt that Mongolians would find our social stigmas around [R...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
[…] sources and reasons for the rules of these countries too, such as China, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, and Hungary (see above re “Titanic”).  Has anyone got s...
From International Baby Naming Laws–Are They a Good Thing?
[…] Source Inculture Parents […...
From Lotus Lanterns for Wesak (Buddha Day)
If your nerves shat down your hormones , can you get pregnant by injecting a sperm in you to develop a baby . Please let me know...
From Baby-Making the Hindu Way
[…] Diwali Lantern from InCultureParent […...
From Diwali Craft: Make a Lantern

More I Need Help! Ask A Linguist