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My husband and I speak 3 languages fluently, our native, swahili and English. My biggest concern is we speak both of the languages in the house and as a parent I'm now concerned that we might confuse our young boy on what to use first hence delaying his speech.

I speak to him our native language and English but sometimes his dad speaks all the languages to him. I can tell that sometimes he fathoms few things due to his response and sometimes doesn't fathom others when his dad uses all the three.

I admit it's a little bit difficult especially if you're used to speaking all the languages. I would like to hear from parents of trilingual; how did you help your child through this scenario and will this delay his speech?

Currently he can only count one to five and that's it because in every feeding we count numbers together.

He will be 17months on the 29th.

Update: at Age 3 my son spoke English fluently and started even reading his story books, and he is good in dictation.

  • How old is he? I have bilingual children (one language at home, different in school/day care). They both started speaking late, around 2 (first words were not delayed), or a little later. Furthermore, while I can't find the link, I read a study where it says vocabulary depends on the difficulty of the language. Difficulty is determined by number of different consonant sounds. I don't know Swahili or your native language, but English is considered 'medium' (my native language is 'hard'). I can imagine learning different languages adds to the amount of sounds they need to master. – Ida Jun 3 '16 at 20:59
  • He will be 17months on the 29th. I feel like we're confusing him. He doesn't go to day care since I took time off to raise him till he is 2yrs of age then I can go back to work. So he stays home with me. – Madona Syombua Jun 3 '16 at 21:22
  • If you are concerned, speak with a pediatrician. However, small children have so much capacity for languages. By 17 months I would not expect most children to say much non-caretakers understand. – Ida Jun 6 '16 at 16:15
  • @SkippyleGrandGourou thanks. His pediatrician frustrated me on his 18 months checkup when she suggested that he might have hearing problems, yet he passed his test. I also know for sure that so far he fathoms everything I tell him. Simple example I ask to get water, he goes and brings water and so forth. I just concluded maybe she's never attended to a multilingual child before. – Madona Syombua Jul 19 '16 at 16:48
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From the literature I've read, I believe sometimes after 2 or maybe closer to 3 years old.

But don't worry, if the child understands when you talk to him, in any of the languages, that's a good sign he won't have major problems.

There are some studies that say the speech can be delayed, but others do not agree. Here's one link that explains a few things about bilingualism (or multilingualism).

Now, having said that, my wife is a professional language teacher, and I am a graduated elementary school teacher - and we have learned a few things along the way about the topic. Our children are two-year-old twins. We're Croatians, but we live in Germany.

Most of the kids in the daycare are bilingual, and we've noticed that some of them are a bit slower than expected in language acquisition - not native Germans though. But I don't know of any of them that has actual speech problems requiring specialists.

That's why I still think that multilingual kids learn the language a bit later then usual, but they do have to learn two languages and are better off for it in the long run.


As an aside, our twins don't speak as many words as the kids who only speak German (or Croatian, from what we see/hear in our friends and family back home). They pronounce more words on German, but I think they understand both languages equally well. They're starting to combine words more and more, and in the last weeks I think I've even noticed switching to the "appropriate" language - they ask for "još" (Croatian for more) water when speaking to me, but with their German friend around, they ask for "mehr" (German for more) water.

That's why I think that while they might have some delays, they'll learn two languages and be quite ok in the coming years.

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