Raising Trilingual Kids In A Multicultural Family

February 13, 2019
multicultural

Hi! It’s us – Jolanta and Eric. I am a Latvian girl with Russian bloods, Eric is French. Very often I receive messages from very confused people who want to know more about the languages that we speak in our multicultural family, and how we communicate with our children. Though, our girls are not big talkers yet, there are some rules that we follow to teach them as many languages as we know.

I never understood why a parent who’s fluent in another language doesn’t teach his/her children that language. Not only is it part of their heritage. It’s invaluable to learn another language on so many levels. The advantages of being multilingual go beyond the obvious ones of being able to communicate and access different cultures. 

It’s fun to be a multicultural family. I speak Latvian, Russian, English and French. Eric speaks French and English. We have decided to teach our girls French, Russian and English for them to learn our cultures and have more opportunities in the future. How do we do? I read somewhere that it’s VERY important that each parent teaches children her/his native language. This way children learn good speech and correct grammar. So I speak with the girls in Russian, Eric – French, and as many multicultural couples, we use English between us.

Don’t kids get confused when they hear two languages spoken around them? No! I am amazed by my kids’ ability to absorb the languages they hear around them. 

Children are incredibly sensitive to the different ways people speak. Even when they only hear one language, they learn very quickly about differences between the way men and women talk, the difference between polite and impolite ways of talking, and so on. For children, the bilingual, or even the trilingual situation is just a matter of another difference between people!

For example, Anya perfectly understands both languages already, and she starts to speak them well (with strong French accent, though). Also, she often uses words from one language when speaking the other. (This is called code-switching, I do it all the time). But it doesn’t mean she is confused about which language she’s speaking. Really. Some words are just easier to pronounce in one language than in other. So she often uses one that is easier, or one that she had learned first.

I almost never talk with my girls in French because I don’t want them to learn incorrect grammar, speech, or catch my terrible accent. I actually wait for them to help ME sharpen my French skills. Also, I let them watch Masha & Mishka only in Russian, and, for example, Peppa Pig, only in English. Cartoons are actually very good teachers, especially the ones with catchy songs. One day, I caught Anya counting in English when watching cartoons on Youtube. Just like that.

I don’t worry that they don’t talk yet as good as other kids their age. Children are learning the language in a very individual speed, and it is normal that kids from multicultural families start talking a little bit later. Don’t forget that children that are bilingual utilise their brains differently as opposed to those that speak only one language. So it is important to stay patient and stubborn enough, because if you’re too inpatient and give up on pushing a language, your kids will just stop using that language, eventually. I mean, it would be a shocking waste not to pass on the languages we have available to us, right?

In our case, I’ll never give up on Russian, I won’t even try to speak French with them. They’ll always be better in French, anyway. That’s why it’s so important for me to stay strict with myself and use Russian at home. It’s very challenging but I keep reminding myself that they’ll thank me when they’re older. Besides, language courses are very expensive nowadays.

11 Comments

  • Reply elise February 13, 2019 at 6:09 pm

    Are you thinking about teaching them Latvian at some point?

    • Reply Jolanta February 13, 2019 at 6:38 pm

      Yes, but a little bit later. Otherwise, they’ll never start to talk haha

  • Reply Carlotta February 13, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    Completely agree with you. They are so lucky to have parents able to teach them more then one language. I have a 18 months old son, I talk to him in italian and my partner in Spanish and when we are together in English. Tv is only allow is Spanish in my home he does understand very well but only says a few words but I know he will take him some time to digest all 3 languages. At the nursery the other day the teacher told me he should start saying sentenses?! I mean he is only 18 months and tringual what do they aspect him to say?

    • Reply Jolanta February 13, 2019 at 6:51 pm

      18 months?? Sorry but even kids that speak only one language can’t make even the simplest sentences. But probably she’s just jealous or something but what she said is totally not normal. Lol, lol and lol

  • Reply Carlotta February 14, 2019 at 10:04 am

    I know and I was very upset, I was even considering to change nursery but my son absolutely adore that place. I think she is just ignorant on the subject. All the best to your beautiful family

  • Reply Rachel Lee April 19, 2019 at 11:04 am

    Wow, your children are so clever.
    So, will you teach them other languages, say, Spanish in the future?

    • Reply Jolanta April 19, 2019 at 11:15 am

      They will learn other languages in school 🙂 I don’t know Spanish, unfortunately

  • Reply Elina Petmanson May 5, 2019 at 6:41 pm

    I never understood why our parents made us speak Russian after we moved to, Finland. Now I’m more than grateful they didn’t let us speak Finnish at home as now I speak Russian to my son, whereas husband speaks Finnish to him. Once he will be 3, we will put him into English kindergarten so he would learn the language as he has grandfather, uncle and aunt in Greece.

    • Reply Jolanta May 5, 2019 at 6:48 pm

      Thank you for the comment, Elīna! I’m very happy for your family.

  • Reply Madara June 21, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    We have the same situation at home. I speak Latvian to my kid, father in French and together in English and from September he will start to learn Czech in local kindergarden. It took some time for him to absorb all those languages but now he is almoust 3 years old and he understand all languages very well, he speak in all of them but the same as in your case mixing up all 3 in one sentence. And as you mentioned cartoons helps a lot. My son he knows how to count till 20 in 3 languages, he recognise numbers and letters in all the languages (except Latvian č, š, ž etc). But yes this is something amazing what we can give to our children and it will make their life more easier.

  • Reply Kennedy June 25, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    I love this! My husband and I are both born and raised here in America and know very little Spanish. We both took Spanish in grade school but it was never something that stuck. I was HORRIBLE at all. It didn’t help that my teachers didn’t even know it either! Lol so we are teaching the kids what we know. Some words, numbers, etc. I wish I knew more though):

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