Take the 2-minute tour ×
Parenting Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for parents, grandparents, nannies and others with a parenting role. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I have found many of the topics here very interesting, but would like to share my personal situation, as it is quite specific, to see if you guys have any advice or experiences to share. :)

I am German, and my wife is Hungarian. We live in Sweden (I work in Denmark), and are currently expecting our first child. My Hungarian is very rudimentary, my wife's German is quite good. Nevertheless, our language of communication is English (also the language we work in).

We definitely want to bring our child up with our heritage languages, Hungarian and German. Additionally, there will be a third language involved as soon as the child enters day care, which is possible at age one here. I am a bit torn between Swedish and English as the third language. Normally I would go for the local language Swedish, to enable the child to speak the language of the country it lives in. I really like Swedish as well, and am able to communicate in it at a basic level myself. However, my wife is not that fond of living in Scandinavia, therefore it is hard to foresee for how long we will actually stay here.

English on the other side is generally a very useful language, even if we move somewhere else, as other countries generally have international/English kindergardens or schools. I feel that this decision should be made early on, in order not to confuse the child, or rip it out of a language context and leave it ill-equiped in a third country.

Do any of you have experiences with a similar situation? How did you decide? What challenges did you face along the way?

The last question is a more concrete one: It seems that most parents follow the "one parent one language" approach, which to me makes sense. But how do you handle the language spoken between you and your partner in front of the child, if it is a third one? As described, we usually communicate in English. We could however also switch to German, to keep the languages in the house limited to 2.

This question is a bit related to the previous decision: IF we decide to make Swedish the third language (therefore sending the child to Swedish day care etc.), talking English to each other would mean that the child would actually be exposed to 4 languages. :)

Again, I am happy with any advice or experiences you can share.

share|improve this question
    
As an American, I hate you... I feel so cheated that I only know english. +1 (and texan and southern and new yorker which i guess are only dialects) –  monsto Oct 2 '13 at 7:32
add comment

6 Answers

If you live in Sweden you should make sure your child learns Swedish above all other languages, otherwise your child won't be able to interact with other children which will lead to feelings of isolation that would be really bad for your child.

To me 4 languages is far too many. Pick two (English and Swedish. I say English because there will be a load of TV and other media in Sweden that's in English), at least at first, and add more once your child gets a grasp of the two. Maybe your child will be a natural linguist and be able to deal with all those languages, but maybe not in which case too many languages will simply be confusing.

I understand you want your child to speak German and Hungarian, you want your child to understand his/her roots and be able to communicate with grandparents. You just need to be realistic about your child's abilities to learn languages and not overdo it.

share|improve this answer
    
Just to clarify, four languages was never an option we considered, as this is obviously too much. I just mentioned it, because it was a funny constellation. –  Dirk Oct 12 '12 at 12:03
2  
@Dirk: I don't think four is "obviously" too much. It might be, but not necessarily -- several other answers indicate that it can work. Try it out and decide after a while. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Oct 20 '12 at 20:47
1  
If the child lives in Sweden, goes to a Swedish-language daycare and continues in a Swedish-speaking school, they will speak fluent Swedish, period. The hard part will actually be ensuring that they keep speaking the other languages with you! –  jpatokal Oct 23 '12 at 3:49
add comment

My background: I also live in Sweden. I was born in Russia and lived most of my life in US. My husband is Swedish. We speak English at home. I know many many people with bi- and tri- lingual kids, and a couple of a 4-lingual kid.

My advice: go for all of them, and hope that enough of them stick. Above all, don't stress over it too much.

Let me address your particular concerns:

  • You will not confuse the child with extra languages. All research seems to indicate that children can tell the difference between languages from about the age of 2 (which is also often when they start to speak short complete sentences). Our kids didn't seem to care one way or another before that either (i.e. no stress).

  • Studies seem to indicate that your kid will be no smarter or stupider from learning several languages. Also, despite rumours that bi- multi-lingualism might improve working memory, studies don't seem to bear that out. There is an indication that the per-language skills may not be as good for bilingual kids. There is very solid evidence that bilingual kids are better at focusing attention (and ignoring distractions) - "selective attention," which is a useful life skill.

  • Throughout a child's lifetime, the languages and how well he/she knows them will change, according to how often they are used. As you already decided you want the kid to learn Hungarian and German, just make sure to speak both languages to him/her. Even if they fade out, it will be easier to reacquire these languages later in life, given early exposure. Knowing multiple languages is often a good career boost (for later in life).

  • It used to be believed that bilingual (multi-lingual) kids have delayed speech (but catch up by age of 3-4). This is no longer believed to be the case, and it is certainly not my experience or experience of many families I know. There is individual variation, per kid, which is affected by how "verbal" the parents are (i.e. how much talking among themselves and with the kid they do).

  • Four languages is not a problem, but it is very likely that your kid will have a distinct preference for some of these languages (probably whatever is most used in his/her environment). This preference may be different for siblings in the same environment (for example, I've known Russian/Hungarian couple where one kid thought in Hungarian and translated to Russian, and one who thought in both languages separately).

Practically speaking:

  • If your kid goes to dagis (Swedish daycare), they will learn Swedish there. You don't need to make any extra effort for it. Consider it a bonus.

  • The kid will likely pick up English naturally, if you and your wife are "verbal." A lot of TV/movies/etc are in English, and if you stay in Scandinavia, like most Swedes, your kid will learn English too as he grows up.

  • We got advice of one language per parent, with parents speaking their native language to the kids, unless they are talking to each other too. This doesn't seem to matter. Just do whatever is natural as long as all languages you care about are used.

  • Sing in many languages. There are several songs with translations in many languages that our kids enjoyed at age 1-2 (for example, itsy-bitsy spider and twinkle, twinkle, little star have English and Swedish equivalents).

share|improve this answer
    
Hi Aino, thank you very much for this!! Super encouraging to read! :) –  Dirk Oct 12 '12 at 12:19
2  
Excellent. However, you can confuse the child with extra languages if there's no clear differentiation on them. If a parent alternates languages to the child, the child will mix them up so the one-parent-one-language point is important. I speak only English to our kids. My wife speaks only French. We speak English to each other. We lived in Switzerland and the kids went to school there. They turn on a dime and will speak three different languages in 30 seconds if talking to three different people. (I'm very jealous!) –  Brian White Oct 12 '12 at 14:45
4  
Hi Brian. Do you have some studies to back that up? I'd love to see them. My (probably statistically insignificant) sample of multi-lingual families I know doesn't seem to have this issue, even though most of them are not consistent. The stuff I've seen quoted so far indicates that after approximately 2 years, kids can distinguish languages just fine, and, in particular, that mixing languages at that point is not a sign of language confusion - the kids do it in order to be able to say more things and only to people who they know can understand both. –  Aino Oct 12 '12 at 20:26
add comment

We are a Swedish and Australian couple living in the Flemish part of Belgium.

I speak English to our little one. My partner speaks Swedish to her. At creche she will learn Flemish, though we don't teach that to her yet (she's not yet one). This will occur some time after she turns one. Later at school she will learn French, as Belgium is bilingual. She'll be five or older.

We don't see a problem. The only challenge is to remain consistent. This is mainly my partner's problem, as she sometimes speaks English to our little one.

Kids have highly adaptable brains, but if you are not consistent, then the languages can get mixed up. They will understand the difference between Mummy's language, Daddy's language, and the language you speak at school, though will probably not understand what the concepts Swedish, English and Flemish mean.

share|improve this answer
1  
+1, but do you have any evidence to back up that consistency from the speaker is necessary? –  deworde Oct 12 '12 at 14:04
    
@deworde: No evidence as such, but there is a whole approach based on the idea called One parent, one language. On the wikipedia page, books are cited (but this is not evidence, per say). –  Dave Clarke Oct 12 '12 at 14:09
add comment

I think that we shouldn’t underestimate our children’s abilities when it comes to language learning. I personally would recommend that you go for all four – your wife would speak only Hungarian to your child; you would speak only German to your child; amongst yourselves, you and your spouse would speak English; and once your child is old enough, she or he would start Swedish daycare. I would recommend this, because it’s what we are doing with our son.

We live in English-speaking part of Canada. Since our son was born, I have been speaking only Estonian to him and my husband has been speaking only Spanish to him (I speak Spanish, but my husband doesn’t speak Estonian). My husband and I speak English to each other, including in front of our son, but we never speak it directly to him. Additionally, last month, at 2.5 years of age, our son started part-time Mandarin daycare.

So far it is working out just fine. Estonian is my son’s strongest language (my mother, who also only speaks Estonian, is the one who takes care of him while we work), followed shortly by Spanish. He understands both equally well, but just expresses himself better in Estonian. As for English, it is quite impressive to see how much he has picked up just by listening to us (and TV, I suppose). Just earlier this week he surprised us by counting to ten in English all by himself (he already knows how to count to ten in Estonian and Spanish). Also, when our English-speaking friends talk English to him, he seems to understand them pretty good.

As for Mandarin, he has had very little exposure to it as of yet (only one month, two days a week), so he can only say “Ni hao” (which means “Hi”) for the time being, but his teachers say that he tries to repeat other Mandarin words as well and has adjusted well. Also, we noticed a significant boost in all his other languages right after he started his daycare. I guess it makes sense, since what is language learning if not an exercise for the brain?

Sure, his speech has been delayed, but I know monolingual children with speech delay as well, so I think it has to do more with every child’s individuality. Surprisingly our son is not mixing up the languages, but even if he was, would it matter at this age? Not really, it’s not like he is about to give a presidential speech or go for a job interview in the next couple of years…

In your particular case I think that speaking Hungarian and German to your child is a must. You should also take advantage of your Swedish-speaking surroundings – even if you end up moving to another country, your child will have gotten a great foundation in Swedish should she or he ever wish to pursue Swedish language learning! And as for English, speaking it just in front of your child to each other guarantees that your child is exposed to English daily. Plus, there is such a great variety of books, CDs and DVDs available in English if you wanted to provide additional support to her or his English language learning; or you could attend an English speaking playgroup once a week (we did that for our son with Spanish and it really made a difference for him!).

Long story short – if you are in such a perfect situation for engaging your child in four languages at an early age, why not go for it? Your child will thank you for it later, for sure!

share|improve this answer
add comment

According to, "The Bilingual Edge" when you live in an area where you can speak one language (or two in your case) at home that is different from the typically used language by the populace, all it takes to have them ready for play with friends is to use the "going language" about 20% of the time. For example, You both speak Hungarian four days, German four days and then Swedish two and just rotate this way, your kid(s?) will be able to keep up with their peers just fine AND be getting the advantage of additional languages at home.

The Book, Bilingual Edge had many more ideas and suggestions about how to make such a choice fit in lots of different situations and contexts as well as FAQ's that may help alleviate possible concerns. The resources the book (and its resource list that is included) will probably have better ideas that will include how to get some English in there too or how to choose which languages to introduce first and how to add more later. I'd recommend looking it up because you may find it to be a very helpful resources in your parenting adventure. I have linked an Amazon source where you can purchase the book.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I have trilingual kids (spanish from his father and me, english from living in Canada for 2 years, dutch from living in the Netherlands now). My kids are now 6 and 8 and speak the three languages (they need some immersion in english for a couple of days, then they are fine).

The main problem we've had was coming to the Netherlands because none of us speaks dutch. That makes it much harder for the kids to learn the language. They went to daycare in dutch, then school. However, their dutch skills are lower than the rest of the kids, and that has been a problem in self confidence and learning attitudes in the last year. Finally, we decided to bring somebody home to read/play with them in dutch, and everything has improved a lot.

So, careful with immersing with languages you don't speak! If their education happens in that language, you're mainly an analphabet parent, which does not help them.

Best of luck

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.