More Than Bilingual
After a few months of surrounding myself with information about bilingual kids, it’s time to talk about multilingualism. There have been many news stories recently about the benefits of bilingualism (for both adults and children), but what about those of us who speak more than two? How do children experience multilingualism?
As I mentioned in my earlier post, Which Language and Why?, our daughter who is already fluent in Spanish and English would also like to learn French.
When we were in Montreal this summer it seemed like a great idea, we got lots of books and resources and started getting excited about French. Since then we have had a few “classes” and my little one continues to speak “French” (making up words but using a French accent) and she has definitely not lost interest.
But recently she has started to show interest in learning another language, one that she hears in public on a daily basis: Chinese.
Multicultural Environment and Multilingual Kids
How much does a child’s environment influence their language? I have friends whose kids were born in Canada, both parents are native Spanish speakers and only speak Spanish at home, yet the kids’ dominant language is English. It can be easy for children to become “passive bilinguals” just by hearing a language consistently. After a few days in Montreal my daughter’s accent in her made-up French seemed flawless, so I guess she could pick up another language passively.
We spend a lot of time out of the house, and living in Vancouver means that in public we hear a lot of Chinese. Whether on the bus, at the local community centre or grocery store over the course of two years of living in Vancouver my daughter can now recognize when someone is speaking Chinese and she has started to pay more attention, which has also led to her creating her own made-up version to add to the French.
Shoud we Add a Fourth Language?
My daughter will tell you that she speaks English, Spanish, French and Chinese, even if two of those languages are her versions. And even though I don’t have an answer I get the question “How do you say ____ in Chinese?” about as often as I get asked for French vocabulary.
We are considering Chinese as an option for an additional language even though neither of us speak it, there is a lot of opportunity to practice in Vancouver. But I’m not sure if I’ll put it in the action plan just yet as it would require a lot of extra effort.
So far we’ve started by watching Ni Hao Ki-Lan, a pre-school show similar to Dora the Explorer that has its good and bad aspects – more to come on that in a future post.