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To start with one of your last questions, trilingualism is as a realistic a goal as monolingualism or any kind of multilingualism. With one condition: children will learn any languages and any number of languages, provided they make sense to them.

It seemed to me that you are weighing your feelings towards your languages against a rationalisation of language usefulness. If you’re worried about an artificial linguistic situation at home, then don’t create it: you will have increasing difficulty maintaining it as your child grows up, and your child will notice this. Children respond best to what comes naturally to their parents. And the truth is that you cannot know now what will be of use to your child in the future. He will decide in due time.

You also seemed to me persuaded that you must use only one language with your child, and I wonder why. If you are multilingual yourself (by multilingual I mean a user of more than one language) and if you’re planning on raising a multilingual child, as you say, I see no reason for enforcing monolingualism from you, in your own home, for the sake of your child. This would be, I’m sure, as contrived as using with your baby a language to which you didn’t relate as a child.

I presume you and your wife will expose your child to your cultures, foods, festivities, songs, nursery rhymes, books, play routines, so why not your languages too, in the plural, which are there to convey those cultures? Just enjoy the wonderful time you’ll have with your baby, in any language. Children sort themselves out just fine.

A couple of other thoughts: you wrote about “a true bilingual level”, “truly bilingual”, “Not being bilingual in English myself”. I wonder what you mean by “bilingual” and “true/truly”. Multilinguals develop and use their languages differently because they need them for different purposes, with different people, in different situations and, as it happened to you, at different times in life. That’s exactly why we’re multilinguals. Your child will become as multilingual as you are, in this sense.

This post of mine at my blog Being Multilingual, ‘Typical multilinguals’, explains what I mean:

Other posts at the blog might also be relevant to you. Just click on the Tags ‘child’, ‘home’ or ‘learning’, which you’ll find by scrolling down the panel on the right-hand side of the blog pages.

Do feel free to contact me privately, if you so wish. I’ve raised three trilingual children myself.

I hope this helps! Muchos saludos / Bien à vous

Madalena Cruz-Ferreira

I agree with both your wife and Prof. Cruz-Ferreira; kids can tell when something is forced. You can supplement the English at home with things like videos.

Susan D Fischer

I'd also like to agree with what Madalena and Susan have said.

You can't predetermine what will be useful to a child and what won't, and it's not useful to rank languages like that. We do not know what the future holds for our children, and we just have to give them the security and the skills to want to learn and to know how to learn what they need.

You can make predictions about what schooling will deliver. But I feel that there is more to consider in early education than language learning. You want the children to be happy, have friends, and have an education consistent with home values.

Trilingualism is not unrealistic. But it is odd that you think you are not bilingual in English. Did you write this yourself? If so, you are definitely, without doubt, an English user and therefore bilingual with English. There is no such thing as 'truly' bilingual. Most linguists would say that a person is bilingual if they can hold a conversation in more than one language. It would be unrealistic to expect a person to have three absolutely equal languages.

Do what comes naturally. Do not speak exclusively to your child in a language that is not your natural choice. But feel free to mix bits of French and English with the Spanish, sing songs in them, and read books.

Anthea Fraser Gupta

Personally I strongly believe that behaving naturally and fostering a close loving relationship with one's children does them far more good than any hypothetical advantages in life that might arise from speaking extra languages. So if I were in your position I would speak to my child in Spanish, which sounds as though it is your wife's native tongue also (though you don't actually say that explicitly). But this is my opinion as a human being and a father and grandfather, rather than as a professional scholar of linguistics.

Geoffrey Sampson

Hi, Alain,

I'm a third-generation American, which means I was raised monolingual in English, although my parents spoke Yiddish sometimes between themselves. I had a few years of afternoon Hebrew classes in primary school. I took a Spanish conversation course in Summer school at 14 yrs. of age, and studied Latin in High School, Russian and German for 2 years each in college, and I learned to read French on my own in graduate school. By that time I was ... monolingual in English! I later went to Poland on a Fulbright and was there for 3 years, learning Polish more or less adequately. I married an Argentine woman while there and our first daughter was born in Poland. My wife naturally began speaking to the baby in Spanish, and I foolishly followed suit, although I definitely did not speak Spanish at that point, and continued the same with our later kids. We have lived and worked in Mexico since our oldest child was about 1 and a half.

The point is that, as suggested by the other respondents, even though I spoke only in Spanish to my daughter (and to the later kids as well), my wife and I speaking virtually only English between ourselves, none of the kids ever showed any influence of my very lousy (though fluent) Spanish on their own, native Spanish (at first monolingual, although all later went to the American School in Puebla and now live in the States and speak perfectly normal American English). I guess the point here is that they will know you are a native speaker and model their Spanish after yours (and that of their Mother and that of their peers), just as my kids knew I was not a native speaker and so never modeled their Spanish on mine. Indeed, I used to get quite put out by my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter running around using the subjunctive properly, as well as 'ser' and 'estar', while I was desperately trying to learn how to do all that acceptably.

Bottom line: your kids will be fine, and will sort out whatever they need in terms of languages. Just be sure that you do not feel deprived of French, if you want to speak it. From experience, I can tell you that you can lose even your native language, at least temporarily, if you stop using it. Good luck, and enjoy your kids!


P. S.: My Spanish is much better after 30-odd years in Mexico.

James L. Fidelholtz Graduate Program in Language Sciences Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades Benem'erita Universidad Aut'onoma de Puebla, M'EXICO