Rémy's days now consist of sucking on his fists, smiling, cooing, laughing, blowing raspberries (aren't raspberries delightful?), splashing in his bath and learning three languages! He's a busy boy, wouldn't you say?
For starters, did you know that babies can already make the difference between languages at birth? Astounding! But how exactly do I go about raising my trilingual babes?
Scientists recently found that newborns can hear and differentiate the sounds their mother makes 10 weeks before birth!
The second the doctor placed newborn Rémy on my chest, even before the umbilicial cord was cut or his little body cleaned up, I started to speak to him in English. This felt very awkward in the beginning, but as Rémy and I get to know each other, it has become more and more natural.
In our family, the children speak two weeks in English with me and two weeks in Spanish. (They speak French with each other and with their Papa.) So when Rémy was 14 days old, I switched from speaking English with him to speaking Spanish. This also felt strange in the beginning, but now we are mostly used to it! What's odd is that this is the very first time, I've had not only a desire, but a very strong desire, to speak to my baby in French!
The sounds of speaking French to a baby are like music to my ears and yet I refrain from giving in to this impulse because I know the day I begin to speak French to him, the English and Spanish will slowly but surely be lost. Either they will gradually be phased out until all I'm speaking to him is French or there will be too much mixing of the languages and it will become confusing for little Rémy. That said, my children get plenty of French from their Papa and everywhere else here in France, so teaching them to speak French should be the least of my worries!
Long and happy conversations with his Grand-mère.
I must admit I do speak French to my other children a lot more know than I ever used to. For example, when we are around other French speakers and I deem it necessary for them to understand what I'm saying, I speak in French: with their friends, sometimes with their French grandparents and almost always with their teachers. Otherwise, we are still strict about staying in the chosen language, whether it be English or Spanish. And this is imposed as much by my children as by me! They love being trilingual!
So, what to do once they start learning English in school?
It depends on the child.
Elena is 9, in CM1 (the equivalent of 3rd grade) and has started having English twice a week for an hour at a time. She finds herself bored in English class so the teacher has authorized extra work. Imagine that! Her first self-assigned project was a presentation about Christmas in the United States. Her second also self-assigned project will be to prepare a written and oral book report after reading Ramona Quimby, Age 8. (I recommended the book knowing how much I loved Ramona Quimby when I was Elena's age and wanting her to be immersed in fun American culture. We just received the book today.)
Alex, on the other hand, is 11 and in his first year of middle school (6ème en collège) and is quite content to be the star of his class and earn easy good grades. I think it's a good idea for him to learn grammar, spelling, conjugation, etc. in order to be not only fluent, but have a solid understanding of the language and be able to read and write. He's content to do the work that is assigned and even happier to bring home excellent grades!
Gabriela has not started English in school yet. She is 6 and in CP (the equivalent of kindergarten) and learned to read at the beginning of the school year. She is an excellent reader. And, she recently surprised herself when she picked up a picture book in Spanish and discovered she can read not only in French, but in Spanish too! She hasn't yet tried in English, but we're in no hurry. In our multilingual reading, a snail's pace suits me just fine. What counts most to me is that the desire to do read in both English and Spanish comes from the child. There is no greater motivator.
Alex's guitar instructor just discovered last night that Alex is trilingual and was duly impressed. Alex came home elated. I asked him if he realized how lucky he was and he quickly responded yes! It's moments like these that make it all worth it!
How about you? Are you raising multilingual children?
What seems to work the best in your family?
I'd love to know!
-The Paris Busy Bee