I was at a Dual Language Education conference a few years ago when the keynote speaker mentioned something very intriguing about phonological development in babies. He said that the gibberish babies’ express could very well come from a multitude of languages. In other words, infants are literally taking in every sound they hear! He went on to explain that while parents are cooing back at their baby, their baby could actually be reiterating bits and parts of the Farsi they heard while on a walk earlier in the day, the Chinese they heard by a neighbor, or the French sounds they heard via their mommy’s favorite French song like, La vie en rose, by the infamous francophone, Edit Piaf. Eventually, baby learns to make the sounds, the words we positively reinforce such as the language(s) we speak. I found his comments fascinating. A part of me was a little saddened by the fact that as babies we all have the potential to speak more than one, two, or three languages. But in the end we learn what comes most natural to those raising us, unless of course you make the deliberate decision to teach your baby more than one language, at least the case with my little family.
Now that I have some mommy routines down, the Spanish is flourishing. My husband has also been on board. For instance, he keeps telling people when they meet Sabrina for the first time, “Here’s Sabrina. She only speaks Spanish.” He’s joking, but it helps me stay on track. Plus I like the way some people respond, they actually believe him.
One of the activities we have implemented to expose Sabrina to Spanish and French is the reading of a book or two prior to her bedtime. Every night either, my husband, or myself will read a book in Spanish to her. Most recently I have started growing her French book collection. We have a combination of books from the library and those I bought online. For instance, today we received one by Eric Carle, La chenille qui fait des trous (The Very Hungry Caterpillar). Papi will be the one to read the French books to her until Mami catches up in terms of proficiency.
As I was watching my husband read to her I began to wonder, and I’m sure the data is out there, whether Sabrina can already cue into only Spanish and English sounds. What about French? How is she responding to the very little French she hears? My next plan is to play more French music for her. As I search for different ways to expose her to French I am also learning how much more effort is required to expose a child to a language that is not part of my identity, my everyday vocabulary, to a language that is not my own.
I’m curious. Are there any bilingual parents learning a third language while at the same time trying to raise trilingual children?