Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Trilingual?

I am constantly amazed at the ease in which Diego can switch back and forth between English and Spanish. Spanish is definitely still his dominant language but his English is improving. He waits to find out what some speaks and adjust accordingly. I have spent the last 15+ years learning Spanish and at almost four years old my son is fluent in two languages. It is truly amazing how their little brains absorb languages like a sponge. Now that I am confident that he will be successful with Spanish and English, we are considering adding a third language. There is a critical window of opportunity in which learning languages is the easiest and most natural. That is not to say that you can not learn and even become fluent in another language later in life. It is just MUCH more difficult and time consuming. (Take it from me.) So here is our challenge. Neither my husband nor myself speak a third language. We would all be starting from scratch and learning together. We are lucky to live in an area with many choices for language classes and resources. What we have to decide first is what will be our third language. I suggested French since it is similar to Spanish and less taxing on my poor tired brain. My husband likes the idea of Chinese or Arabic since they are more difficult and Diego will have the easiest time learning them while he is young. The debate continues. Any thoughts or suggestions?

11 comments:

  1. I would suggest you pick one that YOU are interested in too (and are likely to enjoy learning). If you aren't interested then the whole thing will become a chore, and be less likely to work.
    Whilst I see where your DH is coming from with Chinese, I also think something like French will be more useful in later life.
    From what I have read, once the language learning pathways are established in the brain, then learning languages (at any age) is easier than for those of us who were raised monolingual.
    Although I do think it is also easier if introduced sooner rather than later. Here all the children are expected to be fluent in 4 languages by the age of 12!!
    Good luck choosing!

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  2. Actually, Chinese may be more useful than France. (though which dialect may be the problem) There is a much larger Chinese-speaking population in the US (and in the world) than French-speaking.

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  3. I agree that Chinese is more prevalent, but you do need to be interested in the one you pick. Also, Chinese is REALLY HARD, so while it may be easy for the boys to learn, it will not be for you and your husband. Also keep in mind that one can not become fluent unless exposed to that language a lot, and that being exposed to native speakers is very helpful. In your community, is there a French Alliance near you? If so, they usually have activities you can go to where the majority would be French speakers. Or maybe there is more Chinese in your community and you can gain extra language practice through that. French and Spanish and English work well together and their alphabets are similar. All three of you will find it much easier to be thoroughly trilingual with the French. Does that make sense?

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  4. To offer something completely different: Latin. My reason for suggesting it is it's the base for the different romance languages, including french and italian. So that could be fun to try. I have a friend who is teaching it to her elementary age kids.
    Or for another off the wall suggestions: sign language.

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  5. I have to say Arabic but I might be partial ;) Chinese requires a lot of memorization of symbols whereas Arabic follows the same pattern as English/Spanish/French etc with root words/conjugations etc just with a different script.

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  6. I agree with the comments that say - choose the language that you are interested in, not the one that would potentially be most useful. If Diego already learns so easily, he can pick up yet another language later in life.

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  7. i agree, something like arabic or chinese would be the most "useful" in terms of future employment; but if you're having to learn as well, i'd go with french or italian or portuguese. speaking three languages fluently in the us is definitely a plus! people are always amazed when you say you speak spanish--esp. if you are not a "native" speaker!

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  8. I meant to add that I would also ask Diego what language he is interested in. Sounds obvious, but he will pick it up faster if he is motivated and sees the point/benefit.
    Sofie is desperate to learn French because one of her friends speaks it with his mother, as does her ballet teacher. So she sees that it is a 'real language', and can see how it would be useful on a day to day basis. If that makes sense... (sorry typing with a child on my lap and singing nursery rhymes whilst typing!).

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  9. wow that would be very interesting if you chose arabic :).. a language I would like to learn as well as teach my daughter.

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  10. I think Arabic is going to be more and more useful. A friend of my's husband (whose wife is Egyptian) has spent the last couple of years learning Arabic, preparatory to entering the military. He wants to be a translator.

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  11. I'm jealous of how easy children pick up languages that took me years and years to learn. I wish I had been raised bilingual like my boys are being raised. It's such a gift.

    As for becoming trilingual --- Like you, I absolutely love language and because of that, I've dabbled in so many. I spent over a year immersed in Korean and learned to read, write and speak it at a basic level. (After 12 years of being away from it though, I've lost almost all of it.) ... I had also learned basic Italian and some Portuguese, (both easy to learn for Spanish speakers), and still have a little of it.

    As for Arabic and Chinese - those are very ambitious, but the harder the challenge, the sweeter the success - not to mention that these two languages will be very useful, (and profitable), to know in the new world economy.

    In the end though, I think you should follow your heart and pick whichever you love the most if you want to make sure you'll stick with it.

    ¡Buena suerte!

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