Most families in the US and Europe speak only one language and consequently children are monolinguals. Lots of countries have a first and a second language and children are consequently bilingual at birth. It is a fact that half of the world population is made of bilinguals, so it is not unusual. Trilingualism is less common and there is little information on how to raise trilingual children.
I am a French expatriate living in Thailand and my wife is Thai. I can speak, read and write three languages, which are French, English and Thai at different levels of proficiency. My wife speaks only the Thai language. Before our daughter was born we decided that we would do everything we can to make her a trilingual child. If you are reading this post, you are probably trying to raise trilingual children, and you know this is not easy.
My wife and I decided to adopt the one parent one language method from birth as I learned through reading specialized books that it is the best way of raising bilingual or trilingual children. I speak French to my daughter and my wife speaks Thai to her. My wife and I communicate in Thai and we needed some input in English in order to introduce this language at birth. I did not want to use English with my daughter as this would break the pattern.
Languages Pattern for Trilingual Children
This is how we have set our family communication with Christina, our daughter, at home:
– Dad and Mom speak Thai together and other family members. – Dad speaks French to Christina. – Mom, Grandma and Grandpa speak Thai to Christina.
You will notice that the Thai language is the environment language and that it has a huge advantage over French and English, which is not used in the family. I am not present a lot and the French input is very minimal unfortunately. This is why we introduced from birth multimedia resources to complement the other two languages.
This is what we used from birth for each period:
From birth to 1 year old – Baby songs in French and English played often. Thai songs played occasionally.
From 1 year to 2 years old – French and English songs played often. Introduction of cartoons in French played on the computer. Introduction of baby applications on the iPad in English.
From 2 years to 3 years old – French and English songs played (less) often. More cartoons in French are played, while cartoons in English are introduced. More applications on the iPad are used to learn the alphabet, numbers, shapes and vocabulary.
There is no Thai TV programs we allow her to watch so we can control all languages input.
Now Christina is 3 years old and I believe she understands a lot in the three languages. Unfortunately, she speaks very little in direct communication with us her parents, but she is capable of articulating all sounds and say a few words mainly in English. She can sing the Alphabet song completely pretty well and it is what she is doing all day! She can name a few shapes, numbers and some words in English, thanks to the iPad…
Some bilingual or trilingual children have speech or language delay and some have not. There are other cases where the children already speak at 2 years old, it depends.
Last week Christina went to school for the first time and we chose an English International school in Bangkok to make sure that she will get a good grasp of the English language before she reaches 6 years old. Thai will follow as this is the environment language and is everywhere.
French is the loser at the moment and I will continue the input myself and with the help of multimedia resources. I will see later in elementary if it is worth to move her to the French International school in Bangkok to catch up on the language.
If you have trilingual children, I would appreciate your comment below.
Trilingual children resources for parents: CLICK HERE