"El que habla dos lenguas vale por dos." ( The person who speaks two languages is worth two). Spanish proverb
"In the real world, convesations with sympathetic native speakers who are willing to help the acquirer understand are very helpful." Steven Krashen
The lead photo is our daughter around two in our Santa Cruz home, with Margarita our native Spanish speaking teacher who was the head of bilingualism at her school in Columbia. I happened to just meet her at a playground because I heard her speaking Spanish, so I approached her and asked for her help. Always keeping one's eyes out for resources is key, as most in our small town in California didn't take advantage of many things that we did.
HOW WILL MULTI-LANGUAGES FROM BIRTH AFFECT WHEN THEY TALK?
We were surprised that Mozart actually spoke more Spanish at first than English and was an early talker. Bilinguals and trilinguals are usually late talkers because they have more to process, but there are exceptions. I am very verbal ( you might guess by my long posts) so she heard MUCH more English than Spanish, but we learned that Spanish is an easier language than English, so it's not uncommon to have Spanish more dominant at first.
Mozart spoke her first words at 6 months including a 5 sylable word in each language ( cockle-doodle-doo in English and Bbiliotecha in Spanish). That was a big surprise to us as well since we expected her to talk later because of the trilingualism and also because she started walking at 6 months ( crawling all over at 4 months). Often early walkers and multi-lingual kids are a little later on language, but there are always exceptions as babies have their own timing and there is a wide range of normal.
She did speak quite a bit of Mandarin as a baby, toddler and preschooler and was exposed to many other languages. As is typical for young polyglots, she would sometimes mix languages when very young, but soon that phase passes and it's normal. It was clear even inutero that she already understood some of the languages by hearing them daily.
WHAT IF YOU DO NOT SPEAK A WORD OF THE 2ND LANGUAGE?
Since neither of us parents speak a word of Mandarin Chinese, that was a much more complicated language for us to give to her, thus it is still her weaker language, but she is catching up very quickly, I think in part to the work we put into it in the womb and early babyhood and childhood.
Luckily, we had a friend who was a native Mandarin speaker and we also taped her and played that regularly. We also used Mandarin music and lots of Mandarin learning videos and various things online lke Youtube. Later we used online teachers, Johns Hopkins University CTY virtual classes, Mango and tutors that come to our home.
Now that she is immersing deeply at a Mandarin Chinese high school in Asia and reading/writing/speaking/hearing Mandarin every day even when we are away traveling, she is becoming very fluent again and mastering the reading and writing like a native speaker. She reads, speaks and writes in all three langages daily. We are thrilled that her Dean of Studies at her Chinese school in Asia is working with her online three times a week while we are away so she can keep up with her class until we return.
HOW TO KEEP A BALANCE WHILE EXPANDING LANGUAGES
We had planned to send her to a Mandarin International preschool but it was an hour's drive away over a difficult highway, so we decided to let that goal go as we were juggling many things by that time ( violin at 2 and piano at 3) so didn't want to over schedule her. It's a great idea, but we lived deep in the countryside, so just driving to things became more time consuming than expected.
I hadn't realized how much work the practice in all these things would take when I first came up with these ideas. Sometimes reality, dictates what can stay and what must be left behind. Because I approach life with a totally "can-do" spirit, I am notorious for underestimating how much work something takes from first good idea to completion.
The reason why many fluent bilinguals do not raise fluent bilingual children despite wanting to be able to do this, is because it is hard work and a very long commitment. Nobody can give everything to their child, so it's important to find ways to keep a balance that you can keep for many years. What is easy as a baby, can become more challenging with a toddler, preschooler or tween.
There is a myth that says a child who is proficient in speaking a language is fluent, but this is just not so as there are different levels to being "fluent" in a language. Proficiency in face-to-face communication doesn't imply proficiency in more complex academic language needed in a classroom or in life.
Very few if any people are fully and equally fluent in each one of their languages. Even expats that spend many years away from their native tongue lose proficiency in it. Languages must be kept up.
Our goal has always been to have her as proficient and as close to a native speaker in all three as we can get. That would allow her to go to a University or work in any one of these primary langauges and that high level of fluency also makes it easier for her to add more languages later if she wants. Your goals may be different.
ENCOURAGING MULTI- CULTURALISM EARLY
We also went to all the cultural fairs in our area as we wanted to encourage multi- culturalism and languages even before we did any travel. We read many, many books from birth that demonstrated positive multi-culturism, played world music and have friends from around the world.
We started traveling with her at two weeks old, but chose not to do international travel until she was five, reading well and could remember it. We went to things like the Japanese Fair, Greek Festival, Cinco de Mayo, Renaissance Faire etc every year .
She also knew bits of several other languages ( including Japanese and Greek) to share the beauty and wonder of languages, but we focused primarily on her three languages. We took her regularly to operas in other languages starting at 2 1/2 as she loved them for some reason as well as watching operas from the Met on DVD's. We didn't really do the operas for language but they're just another possible source for some language immersion. I think the early music training also happpened to help give her a very good "ear", and complimentary code-breaking abilities but wasn't meant for that purpose.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT TEACHING LANGUAGES TO CHILDREN?
Please leave them in the comments and I will address more in upcoming posts!
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