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I know Russian, Ukrainian and English, my husband knows only English. We are going to teach our son Russian besides English (English is a dominant language where we live). But I wonder would it be worth the effort to try to teach him Ukrainian as well? I have read articles on multilingual kids, but all the languages that they are learning are not similar. Where Russian and Ukrainian are different languages, but are closely related to each other. I am afraid that my son (9 months old now) will confuse these two languages. I understand that there may be some confusion with either languages. But I would not like him to eventually be speaking neither proper Russian or Ukrainian but Russian-Ukrainian dialect. Theoretically it should not be difficult for him to pick up Ukrainian when he knows Russian. Are there any parents that are raising trilingual kids with two similar languages? And if there are, what are you doing to teach them both languages. I was thinking of using one parent - one language method (or in my case mom - two languages and dad - one language). But I was going to switch languages (Russian and Ukrainian) every other day. It will also be more effort from my side to create Ukrainian environment around him. As there are no Ukrainian speaking playgroups where we live and I do not know anyone who speaks Ukrainian.

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5 Answers 5

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I was thinking of using one parent - one language method (or in my case mom - two languages and dad - one language). But I was going to switch languages (Russian and Ukrainian) every other day.

My gut feeling is that this would just confuse him. IMHO it is better to stick with one language per person, for at least the first few years.

It will also be more effort from my side to create Ukrainian environment around him. As there are no Ukrainian speaking playgroups where we live and I do not know anyone who speaks Ukrainian.

That is the bigger problem. If you are the only one to speak Ukrainian with, it will require an extra effort from you to keep up the Ukrainian language environment on top of the Russian one. And as soon as you stop doing that, his Ukrainian knowledge will fade away. (Of course it may be refreshed sometime later in his life, if he gets into a proper Ukrainian environment... but then again, as you note, he will be able to learn Ukrainian solely based on his Russian as well).

Assuming there are enough Russian speaking families around to maintain a steady Russian language environment, I would focus on teaching Russian to him, and - depending on how things go - introduce Ukrainian a few years later.

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There are entire countries where language switching is the norm, i.e. from sentence to sentence you switch among two or more languages. They do not get confused. People who are monolingual think speaking anything but one language is confusing because high school French was confusing for them.

Children have been reported to prefer to speak one particular language to a particular person, but I think that happens after that persons for a long time speaks only, say German and then switches to English, which some children don't like the abrupt change in habits (even though they may be fluent in both)

I speak Russian as a 2nd language, I can assure you that Russian and Ukrainian are only similar in the same way that Dutch and English are similar. There is no way that one would mistake one for the other, neither as a learner, nor as fluent speaker.

One parent two languages systems do happen, the recommended advice is to keep the domains where you use one or the other separate (eg. one language for outside the house, one language inside the house), or digloss (switch back and forth between the two-- but this option isn't available for all pairs of languages because some language communities don't tolerate dilogsia, some language communities demand it!)

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I live in Indonesia and I have a son who is 15 months old. My native language is English but I can speak Indonesian and Javanese too (the local language here which is pretty close to Indonesian). His dad is Indonesian and speaks all three languages also but the grammar in English is not perfect. The majority of the other people around him speak Indonesian and Javanese except a few of my expat friends but he doesn't meet them that often. He uttered his first words at 12 months and now at 15 months is speaking in all three languages. He can't make sentences as such but can get his message across. For example the other day he heard the ice cream man outside the house and shouted to me 'Ice, ice, ice, shoes ON! OUT OUT!' He can say a lot in Indonesian and Javanese too. He understands all three also. He will easily follow instructions in any language that you use.

What I worry about your case is that there are no other sources of Ukrainian which is what I think will make your case more difficult but not impossible.

What I think is use your intuition with your own child. If you feel using all the languages is working out as a lot of effort and taking time away from just enjoying the time with your child and teaching him English and Russian then just leave it for now. If it feels easy and natural for you then go for it. Good Luck!

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I had the same question for my pediatrician. He stated that children typically take 18 to months to tie together 2 or more words. When learning two languages children usually take a few more months but can tie together 2 words in both languages. I told them that we plan to teach the baby 4+ languages and he said they wouldn't become confused and now is the best time to do it.

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For parents who are multilingual, speaking multiple languages does not confuse young children. They may use multiple languages to speak a sentence. Often their parents do as well. Generally, when they have words in one language but not the other they use the word they have. What may appear to be confusion is likely the same struggle with language acquisition children have in one language. Bilingualism tends to delay mastery of some components of each language; again likely due to the amount of language acquisition being accomplished rather than confusion between languages. Speak all the languages that you feel are important for your family to use; are important to your child's future. You will find it very difficult and possibly heartbreaking trying to teach a teenager a language that does not seem relevant to their lives.

To hedge my recommendations; most of the evidence is from bilingual homes but should apply to multilingual. Also, it should be pointed out that I am assuming that the parents are fluent in the languages they use.

Some articles:

Parental Language Mixing

Early Bilingual Development

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