I can speak A, B and C, my wife B and C. We live in a B speaking country.

We want our daughter to learn all 3 languages, so we've decided that :

  • I speak to her in A
  • my wife speaks to her in C
  • My wife and I communicate in B

My daughter also goes to daycare every other day, where they speak B.

Does this strategy have any big flaw ? Will that be enough for her to learn B ?

Also, what should I do if she doesn't answer in the language she is supposed to (ie I speak to her in A, and she answers me in C) ? Should I correct her ?

  • In my experience, the kids will speak the language they see adults speaking to each other, although they will learn to understand languages used to speak to them. In my opinion, you would be better off communicating with your wife in C and having her speak to the daughter in B. That way, the daughter will eventually have exposure to adults speaking to each other in both B - outside the home - and C - inside the home. – Warren Dew Sep 17 '16 at 1:12
  • Your daughter will learn B in daycare even if you do not speak it at home. – hkBst Sep 17 '16 at 16:59

That's a good strategy to for small kids. The language of the environment (friends, school, TV, games, movies, sports) will win in the long run, so you really don't need to do anything to support this unless you see some unusual problem.

Having each parent talk a different language will be good in learning the basics of the spoken language and developing accent free pronunciation. At some point, when you start talking in "A" the kid will start replying in "B", since it's easier. You need to think carefully on how to react to this and be consistent about it. "Sorry, I only speak A with you. It's important so both of us can have our special language". Pretending that you don't understand is silly, so don't. If there is a grandparent or other relatives that are important and don't speak "B", you can use them as an argument.

When the kids get older, reading and writing becomes an issue. Reading is pretty straight forward and can be supported by getting lots of books in the non-B languages, doing story time, etc. Writing, on the other hand, is hard. Learning to write will require some formal instructions and, if it's important, you need to budget time and classes for it.

Schools can be a mixed blessing: if the school teaches one of your non-local languages, check the quality of the instruction. In our case, the American high school offered German, but the teacher had a truly awful accent and his grammar was mostly wrong. This did more harm than good, so we pulled the kids out of this class and enrolled them in a accredited on-line course. Spanish, on the other hand, was excellent with native speakers and very good immersive instructions.

Another potential pit-fall: use it or you lose it. As the kids grow up, they spend a lot of time with a single language. Contrary to common believe, the unused languages do regress substantially. That happened to my oldest in college. I recently saw friends whose kids used to be fully fluent but after moving and 10+ year of little use, they lost at least 90% of their English.

We ended up with one bi-lingual, one tri-lingual and one almost 4-lingual child. The difference was really due to exposure to situations and environments where they could use the languages in a "natural" way. The more that happens the more they learn and retain.

I can't speak for a tri-lingual case, but I have seen a couple of bilingual parents, English speaking mother, German speaking father, in an English speaking environment, where the parents faced a similar problem.

The father only spoke to his kids in German to his kids. They understood everything their father said, but always replied in English. However, usually around 5-7, after a visit to their only-German speaking grand-parents, they would start replying to their father in fluent German. It happened successively to their first 3 kids, not yet to the 4th one, but he's only 3.

I don't know if they had a good strategy, but it seemed to be working - in the long run.

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