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Raising a trilingual child - Thinking about not using my minority mother tongue with the child but rather English


I have read some of your 'Ask a Linguist' about bilingualism but I would like to submit my case. I speak three languages, two of then learnt in childhood and one later (English). As English is more useful and schooling will likely provide the other two language to bilingual-proficiency levels, I wonder if I should aim for speaking English at home and raise my kid to be trilingual.

The details: I'm a French-Spaniard binational, son of Spanish emigrants. I was raised in France when a little kid (until 7), then moved with my family to Spain and kept up studying French at school until I was 18. When in France, my mother spoke to me in Spanish, so I learnt both languages at the same time and it's difficult to me to say which is my ''mother tongue''. I dreamt in French as a little boy, and when we were on holidays in Spain for the summer, I ended up dreaming and thinking in Spanish. And then back in France all my mind got back to French.

Now I'm 38 so I've been 20 years without practicing much French, my language skills are better now in Spanish. And I learnt English at school and later in lafe had more chances to use it in a professional setting.

I'm about to have my first child and I'm researching bilingualism to decide my strategy. It feels less natural to speak to my kid in French but I don't want him to be monolingual, even if my spouse is not bilingual. He will, from the age of 3, attend a French schooling in which he will study French, and English as a second language. It's a French culture and French system school, one of their goals is bilingualism in French-Spanish, and most classes are in French, so I'm assuming his exposure to French will be enough to achieve bilingualism even without my help. On the other hand, English is a 3h/week class beginning at age 10.

Thus I'm thinking about using English at home with him to boost his English and help him get a true bilingual level of that language, as an ''intermediate'' or ''advanced'' level is no longer useful to land any job or get any opportunities abroad, should that be his choice or need. English is also very useful for research on any subject.

I'm worried this could be too artificial for both me and the kid. Besides, my wife thinks there is so much more potential exposure to English even in Spain that it would be better for the child if I spoke to him in French. It's true that English movies, etc. are more widely available than French ones.

My wife knows English, although she doesn't feel too confident speaking, and she is just learning some basic French now.

I wonder: Is trilingualism a realistic goal or should I settle for Spanish+French and assume the child will learn English as a foreign language? Should I stick to French as I have a more emotional relationship with it anyway, as my ''mother tongue''? Or would English with the baby be just fine? Most importantly: Not being bilingual in English myself, would the effort really help the child become truly bilingual in English?

Would you have any advice on which path is more appropriate or useful for the child?

Thank you

Alain Ochoa

(Transferred from old LINGUIST List Ask-a-Linguist site)