Dear Dr. Gupta,
I am a very proud Hungarian mum of the greatest three-month old baby, Dominic, whose Dad is Albanian, but we live in Spain. However we communicate in English. As you can see there are four languages in Dominic’s life and I know that a kid’s brain is like a sponge but when is it too much? I speak to him in Hungarian, my husband in Albanian but we do talk with each other in English. Once preschool will start, Dominic will have to face Spanish as well and I started to become worried that it might be just too difficult… Do you think I should be worried? I am really looking forward to your answer!
In places like Singapore it is not unusual for children to grow up with four languages. You won’t damage your baby, so in that sense you shouldn’t feel worried.
You don’t have to worry about Spanish and English at all: Spanish will certainly be developed without any problem as your baby gets out into the wider world and goes to preschool. As English is your family language, that is likely to be a strong language for him, and to stay in the picture, and English will also get reinforced when he learns it at school.
What you do have to realise, though, is that either Hungarian or Albanian, or even both, may not be acquired much by your son. He will certainly start using some words from both these languages, but he may at some point decide that English is all he needs in the home. Depending on which of you spends most time with him, he may learn very little of the language of the parent who he spends little time alone with. Most children spend more time with their mother than with their father, which would mean that Albanian is the language he is least likely to retain.
So I would say (as I always do) — keep on doing what comes naturally, and don’t worry. But be prepared that when he gets to be an opinionated two-year-old he may push you all in the direction of reducing the number of languages in the home. Holidays, visits from relatives (especially if there are cousins near his age) will all help support Hungarian and Albanian. I do not know whether there are communities of either Hungarian or Albanian speakers where you live (or not too far away). If there are, be sociable.