My son speaks and understand five languages and we use all of them at home on a daily basis. I would say French and Norwegian are his mother tongue languages, while Swedish, English and Spanish comes on a shared second place in usage. Most people we meet are fascinated about this situation we have at home, as it may be a bit special. It became like this because we are polyglots all of us in the family, I absolutely love languages and I speak the same amount of languages as Mini (although maybe not as good as him hehe).
Some people wonder why he is fluent in Norwegian and not in Swedish, as Swedish is my mother tongue, well, this is due to the fact that he went to a Norwegian kindergarten since we lived in Oslo when he was born and I didn’t want to confuse him too much as he already spoke french at home. When he finally started to speak to me in Norwegian, I just wanted to encourage him to speak more, and instead of correcting him over to Swedish when he said something, I just answered him back in Norwegian and so the years passed and a mixture of Norwegian and Swedish is now used at home between us two. Since his father is French, and I speak French too, we use French a lot as well, and nowadays as he is older and able to communicate in English and Spanish additionally, we just mix freely. Some sentences may be like this at home: “Mira, j’ai un god idé about what we can manger ikveld.” A complete mixture and just a comfortable usage of whatever first word that pops up into your head while speaking.
I have made zero research about raising a multilingual child, my approach was simply that he will learn all languages fluently eventually, and I did not stress with it. However, I sometimes hear some “advices” or “concerns” regarding my sons situation and I wanted to use my own experience to kill some of those myths and misunderstandings.
- Multilingual children are late in their language development
This is proved wrong. That being said, multilingual children may speak later. Their vocabulary knowledge in any of the languages spoken may often be smaller than that of a monolingual child; but when set together, the lexicon in both languages are about the same size as the monolingual child’s.
Metalinguistic knowledge acquired through one language can also often be transferred to another, which is a great advantage for the child.
A recent research that I read online, found that by four to five years of age, most multilingual children are able to produce most of the sounds in the language and combine them with the appropriate stresses or tones, this was an indication that multilinguals are not delayed in their language development compared to monolinguals.
I personally see that my son has less vocabulary than other children in each language, but he understand perfectly and he is able to communicate well in all languages, what has taken longer time is when it comes to reading and writing, as he confuses all the different sounds and pronouncations of the letters between the languages. I do not see him struggling in communicating with people in the languages, he can express his needs and understands what people are telling him with almost no problem.
- Multilingual children confuse their different languages
This is also wrong. In fact it is proven that right from birth, infants can discriminate between different languages. What is common however, is that multilignual kids may mix the languages in a conversation (combine the words wrong or use them concurrently) but it is not to mistake with a confusion. This is called code-switching and happens because the right word comes first to them in the other language, or they may simply not know the correct word in the first language.
What is interesting is that this will only happen when they are aware that the person they talk to also understand that language. In conversations with monolinguals, multilingual children will stick to one language.
I see this a lot with my son, he switches clearly between the languages and use the one he prefers to addresses me, normally he would choose French if he knows people do not understand French, and Norwegian if he is in France for example and he knows that people there are normally not fluent in Norwegian. He use the language as a secret language with me whenever he feels like going a bit private, like a littel secret thing we have together. He does not switch between the languages or mix them if the person he talks to is monilingual. If that person only speaks French, then my son would stick to the French and speak it clearly.
That was some of the most common discussions and concerns that I often get to have regarding our language situation at home. I know that there are many methods and ideas about how to teach children several languages in a good and pedagoical way, but as I said earlier, I haven’t investigated it further. I am not really worried about how this will end for Mini, I have seen how he learns fast and how is able to communicate in so many languages already, I think the future will continue on the same path for him. Mostly i just feel jealous, imagine being six years old and already speak five languages!!
Hope all you curious got some questions answered in this post. I will share more of my experinces on this topic in later blog posts, so keep an eye open!
Have a lovely day all of you people! Thanks for reading!