Your interactive guide to living abroad as recommended by local mums | Last updated 5 months ago

Multilingualism

Carrie - Raising Trilingual Children in Spain

"From the moment they were born they have been exposed to 3 languages and have assimilated them with ease. I am still in awe when I watch them flit between languages depending on which situation they find themselves in. They have not had to think about ‘learning’ as such but via a kin of linguistic osmosis they have absorbed them beautifully. It has to be said, I am jealous."

  • Trilingual in Spain

    Centro Yoga Om, Vilanova i la Geltru Image

    What languages is your child exposed to? 

    English, Spanish and Catalan plus a bit of Russian and Chinese from the playground!

    Was your child exposed to more than one language from birth? If not, how was the adaptation process?

    Yes from the moment they were born they have been exposed to 3 languages and have assimilated them with ease. I am still in awe when I watch them flit between languages depending on which situation they find themselves in. They have not had to think about ‘learning’ as such but via a kin of linguistic osmosis they have absorbed them beautifully. It has to be said, I am jealous.

    What is your children’s “attitude” towards their languages? Which language do they prefer and why do you think that is?

    They associate English with their mum and dad, most of their friends outside school and with holidays to see grandparents and cousins. Their school is trilingual and if they are not playing with a native British or American friend they will generally speak Spanish to friends. Outside of school in doctors, hairdressers, shops, restaurants they converse in Catalan. If I speak Spanish with their friends, they think it is hilarious. They only really associate me and my husband with speaking english. I am often corrected (cheeky b***ers)

    What is your “strategy” in terms of bilingual education? (OPOL, Minority language at home… ?)

    We only speak English at home

    Did your child start speaking later as a result of being spoken to in more than one language? This is much discussed - do you think this is a myth?

    I do think that is a myth. I do also believe that the brain develops in a different way when exposed to multiple languages and perhaps initially my children may not have had the breadth of vocabulary for all the 3 languages but they certainly spoke all 3 languages pretty early on, especially english and Catalan ( their nursery school teachers only spoke Catalan). Spanish maybe came a bit later as they did not start to learn that until they were at school. 

    Do you think your child/ren suffer from a vocabulary shortfall? Does he/she mix languages?

    Not noticeably. As they are now at an age when they are reading more, I notice that they are using more and more vocabulary. They manage to get their points across in most situations however. Sometimes a vocabulary ’shortfall’ can have its advantages. If they don’t know how to say a word straight out, they have become very adept at describing what it is –  a useful tool!

    Could you tell us a funny anecdote related to your children’s bilingualism?

    What was or still is difficult?

    Catalan homework!! (But that is my problem rather than theirs)

    Do your children get the differences between the languages and cultures?  What do you do to keep them interested in both cultures?

    With the school being international they tend to mix celebrate UK and US cultural events with Catalan ones. This is more confusing for me than them! Their world is generally jam-packed with fiestas and they don`t really distinguish between a Catalan and a non-Catalan event. The merging of cultures is becoming more apparent as the years go on. I can’t imagine they will be traipsing into the woods to find the old lady with the chestnuts  at Hallowe’en for much longer!

    Can you think of any resources that helped you or recommend any support groups, websites or social media groups that you have found useful??

    The best resource are your friends or colleagues who are in the same situation as you. As my children are still quite young, I have not had to face any major issues (such as exams etc) but I am aware as they get older that will change and we will deal with it as and when. There is generally a lot of help around if you look for it.

    How do you perceive the key benefits of bringing up a child bilingually/multilingually?

    Exposure to more than language from an early age only has advantages in my view. Statistically, it has been shown that children’s cognitive development is better when exposed to multiple languages. It also will help them (I hope) in a practical sense when they start forging careers. To be able to be fluent, to write and read in 3 languages is a distinct advantage when seeking any job.

    Are there any disadvantages? Are their challenging aspects with schoolwork for example?

    Yes as I mentioned before, for me the schoolwork is a challenge when it is in Catalan, which I understand but not fully. 

    What advice would you give parents about to embark on bringing up a child bilingually?

    Don’t stress too much about it. If your children are of average intelligence, they will assimilate the language, but at their own pace. I have known friends whose children were teenagers when they came to Catalunya and within a year they were more or less up to speed in their classes. It is because we are seeing their situation from our own perspective and imagine things to be much more challenging than I think they really are. 

    February 2015