How my 4-year-old daughter became trilingual
Do you want your child to be trilingual? Get some tips here on how I taught my four-year-old daughter learned to speak three languages
Around 5 years ago in Boracay Island, I met a young German boy playing with the local kids his age and exchanging straight Aklanon words with them.
I was taken aback by the unusual picture of the blonde Caucasian boy speaking a Philippine dialect, and so I asked him what other languages he spoke.
The boy, who was five years old then, cheerfully replied that he spoke German, English, a little Boracaynon, and a little Tagalog.
His mother then added that her son learned German from them, English from school and from expats living around the touristic island, while the Philippine dialects he learned at school and from his playmates.
At that moment, I had thought that it would be fantastic for my future child to speak several languages as well.
Years later, I gave birth to my daughter. I had already planned on guiding my child to speak three languages –Filipino, Italian (from her father’s side) and English- but I did not have a clue on how to start yet.
When my daughter was a few months old, an American, who was living in Boracay, the same as us, came up to me and admired my fair-skinned daughter.
The American, who has a bilingual daughter from his Filipina wife, said that if I wanted my child to speak at least three languages, then my husband and I should strictly speak one language each only.
Get some more tips on how to raise a trilingual child?
Children, as research suggests, easily gathers languages or mannerisms from the people they often see.
Since then, every word that I spoke directly to my daughter was in Tagalog, and every word that my husband spoke to her was in Italian.
At two years old, her dominant language became Tagalog due to our constant and interminable connection, and through the Tagalog books I read and songs I sang to her.
As she spoke more Tagalog words, she also began to speak Italian through her father, and English through conversations she has heard her father and I have spoken with each other and with other people.
I had also read that words easily go to the brain when delivered melodiously.
In fact, every time my husband speaks his sing-songy language to our daughter, I notice that she copies and speaks it with interest.
Through more storytelling, singing and social exposure, my four-year old daughter’s trilingual vocabulary has grown and continue to grow more than ever.
She also translates Tagalog words into English or Italian to her father.
The science behind this child-rearing phenomena has been thoroughly explained in the Expat Since Birth blog by Ute Limacher-Riebold, a mother of three multilingual children, PhD in French medieval literature & linguistics and Master in Bilingualism.
Find out what this expat mom had to say on teaching several languages
Here are excerpts from Miss Ute’s blog post, “How Many Languages Can A Child Learn?”,
Early exposure to languages is ideal
Ute quoted Laura-Ann Petitto, a Language Professor at the University of Toronto, that “if children are exposed to languages later in life, different parts of the brain are involved because ‘the part of the brain that is responsible for processing language is on a maturational timetable."
She further quoted Petitto that “early exposure is necessary for good syntactic competence, (and) for really good phonological competence.”
Speak in terms of quality, not quantity
She quoted Petitto that “systematical exposure is more important than the amount of time of the exposure.”
Apparently, the human brain doesn’t work on quantity but on quality.
Petitto further explained that "regular systematic exposure ‘with stable users across different contexts which are rich and varied’ will help a child to reach fluency.”
“Exposure at school only is not enough to become utterly fluent. It has to be enriched by ‘cultural material, linguistic material, movies., etc’ also outside the schooldays.” Petitto added.
Therefore, when parents understand all the languages that their children are honed to speak then the children will prefer one of the dominant languages in their social context.
But what if only two languages are spoken in your home? English from both parents and Filipino from the helper,
Then it will be a fantastic opportunity for one of the parents to learn a new language to impart to the child.
Give this approach a try and enjoy your journey through your child’s trilingual, even multilingual progress.
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Also read: 5 myths about raising a multilingual child