It’s inevitable. Someone is bound to “curiously” question our intentions behind raising a trilingual baby. They want to know, “Why? Why have you decided to pursue this unpredictable and challenging path?” It’s an honest question. After all, it’s not like we live in Barcelona where there are two “official” languages in the autonomous Catalonia. It’s not like I’m from Germany and my husband, Marcus, is from France and we are living in an English speaking community. So, why? Why French? Why three languages? Why, bother? Not only will your children eventually ask you, why, but so will strangers, friends, and family.
The questions, in my opinion, double when the previous situations don’t quite fit your personal situation. My husband and I are both second generation Latinos living in the U.S. who are bilingual in the same languages: Spanish and English. English is certainly the language we use more often. To add to the complexity of it all and according to statistics, the chances of our daughter, a third generation Latina, of learning Spanish is unlikely, let alone a third language!
So, I’ve decided to informally state my motives and intentions behind raising a multilingual child because they will be what will guide us along the way. It’s almost like creating and displaying a Trilingual Mission Statement.
After reading numerous articles about trilingualism there are a few questions I really need to consider. In fact, researchers have stated that knowing where you, as a parent, stand in regard to these questions is crucial because they can influence the motivation and attitude your children develop as they grow to become trilingual individuals. Some of the questions include:
-What are your perspectives or attitudes towards each language? Do you personally favor one over the other?
-What kind of strategies do you plan on using to promote the home, school, and community languages?
-What is the local community’s attitude towards each language? How will you counteract any negative attitudes?
-How will you handle transitions children may experience between the languages (e.g. once your child starts attending school the home language typically loses status)?
-How will you integrate what your extended family speaks?
-How will you create positive cultural experiences amongst the three languages?
-How will you supplement the experience of a foreign language that may not be part of your community’s demographic?
There’s a lot to think about. As I reflect on each question and continue to explore our motivation and intentions for deliberately exposing our bebita to three languages, including one that is not “our own,” and not part of our local community I have to remind myself that one of the ways I see it is, SURE it’s a personal interest of mine, but its no different than the parent next door that enrolls their daughter in years of ballet, or the parent who sends their kid to football camp for years in a row, or the parents who expose their child to music and playing instruments. Our interest just so happens to include languages. That being said, I would not invest so much of our family’s time based on interest alone.
I sincerely believe in the cognitive and social benefits that come from knowing how to speak multiple languages. In fact, there are more than cognitive and social benefits that are being researched by linguists and educators worldwide. Some of the current research taking place revolves around identity and language. They argue that if the language an individual speaks is tied to their identity, then multilinguals take on multiple identities, multiple perspectives when interpreting the world around them or the world in general. Knowing how to communicate in multiple languages can also help them to relate more to people from different cultures. In the article, “The Effect of Multilingualism/Multiculturalism on Personality: No Gain Without Pain for Third Culture Kids?” researchers Jean Dewaele and Jan Pieter van Oudenhoven found that trilinguals were more open-minded and more empathetic towards other cultures than bilinguals, and bilinguals were more so than monolinguals. Interesting, right?
With all that in mind, I’d like to present a mini-version, a not yet refined, and probably evolving over time version of our family’s Trilingual Mission Statement.
“To foster the love of learning languages in order to expose our daughter to the multiple ways of seeing, being, and communicating in the world.”