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I have a 2,5yo who talks English and Hebrew. He is meeting the milestones for his age in both languages as far as I can tell, but I'd guess he is in the bottom quarter as far as language development goes. That is, I saw many children his age who speak much better. He started off talking in English as we lived in the US, but we now moved to Israel for a year. In the last few months we have been trying to get him to learn as much Hebrew as possible for the kindergarten (my husband is a native speaker of both languages and I am fluent in both). Next year he will be back in English speaking environment, so we also try to talk to him in English. For now he often mixes two languages.

I'd really want to start talking to him in my native language(Russian). I haven't done so before because I felt weird talking to him in the language that my husband and surroundings don't understand. The question is if I should start now or let him learn his Hebrew better and start at age 3+ when he is back in English preschool? I would appreciate any experiences you might share.

  • 2.5 you still have massive differences because of older siblings and other similar environmental effects. You also have differences in quantity vs. complexity: my two year old can talk in very complex sentences for his age, but his vocabulary is behind what his brother's was. I wouldn't be concerned about exactly where he falls. That said, learning 3 languages will probably mean he's behind in any one of them comparatively (though he'll be better off later in life, likely). – Joe Apr 7 '15 at 14:20
  • I had 20yo mixing multiple languages in their daily talking with peers (who understood all those languages and answered in a mix as well). They were among the brightest in my class. – Alexander Apr 7 '15 at 14:35
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It might not be easy but definitely go for it.

Having some personal and family/friends experience in multilinguisme with kids my advices would be (sorry for not putting the references for my claims):

  1. As much as you can, find kids that would speak Russian with yours. Making Russian an important social language makes kids to pick it up much faster. That can be difficult though as kids usually speak the language of the country they are in.

  2. Start speaking Russian as soon and as much as possible. It is hugely important (for yours and his affect as it is a mother tongue, for his intellectual abilities as a third and very different language, and even for the mental health of the to be grown up as many studies show that daily practice of as many languages as possible has a huge protective effect against various mental diseases) even if it comes with a cost (it can be tiring specially at the beginning).

  3. Be as explicit as possible when you speak (signs etc.). It has been proved to be determinant for kids to pick up a language.

  4. Make it as fun as possible and at least at the beginning do not try to force the kid to answer you in Russian. That is personal experience: language switching can be tiring even for kids so "no fun"="little progress".

  5. In all of it remember their are Huge differences between kids. My 5 years old enjoys switching between three languages and almost never mixed them (I'm French and almost always speak French but when reading English books, my wife is Mexican and always speaks Spanish with them and we lived 4 years in the US and most of our family friends are English speakers). My 3 years old faces huge difficulties to separate the languages. The best friend of my kids (4), while his parents are doing much the same than we do, speaks English fluently to his mother and father, understands perfectly Tagalog and German Swiss and some French but refuses to speak in anything but English. Be patient and determined

  6. Remember it's possible. My sister exclusively spoke English to my nephew until he was two then she switched within a few months to French and everything went fine.

[update] The language abilities of my 5 years old now 8 are confirmed: having been back in France for 3 years he assists his English teachers in primary school, correcting pronunciation and helping with the vocabulary... The former 3 years old picked up French and Spanish ok and remembers a lot of English but still far from matching his big brother in terms of languages, but he is impressive in terms of visual recognition, drawing and maths... Genetics does matter!

  • Thanks, your answer reinforces my determination to start talking to him in Russian (especially point 6)! Hope it works. – Afalpi Apr 11 '15 at 23:21
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I have no experience with motherlanguage-switching.

Our daughter (3.5) has a native teacher in preschool for her third language and some friends with whom she has to communicate in this language. Currently she understands a lot and can say simple sentences. Sometimes she ask us to talk to her in her third language.

As a start I suggest to have him spent time with russian speakers first to get a feel for the language and what he can do with it. (grandparents, cousins, playdates with other russian speaking kids).

Then later you might start games like "Let's speak like Grandpa" or "What word does Grandma use for this"

Songs are also a great start. Children love songs, even if they don't understand all the words.

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Generally what seems to determine the rate of language development is relative contact time. What this means for your particular case, is that if you wait with introducing Russian until your child's Hebrew (and English) are better or they are going to school, then Russian will start out from a position of relative uselessness, and also have a relatively small fraction of the contact time. This can make your child refuse to try to speak it back to you. The sooner you start with Russian the better chance your child will pick it up and stay with it.

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