From Trilingual to Bilingual?

These past three weeks since we first got news of the possibility of our Big Move, I’ve had languages on my mind. While we’re very excited to be moving to the US (side note to say thanks to everyone for the lovely comments and emails :) ), I’m more than a little sad my sons will most likely lose their French. Well, Sprout 1 will most likely lose his French, Sprout 2 hasn’t really acquired much other than au revoir!

From Trilingual to Bilingual?

Our linguistic situation will most definitely change. At the moment, Sprout 1′s strongest language is English, Portuguese is second, but very close to English (albeit with an American accent) and French is the weakest, despite having excellent pronunciation (how weird is that?). We currently live in a country with three official languages (Flemish, French and German), but are surrounded mostly by either French speakers or foreigners (including English speakers, native or not). We will be moving to a country which speaks predominantly English, which means his strongest “home language” will be THE dominant language, and I’m trying to figure out what we can do in order for it not to take over entirely. On the bright side, he was very happy to learn he was moving to a country in which HIS language is spoken.

From Trilingual to Bilingual?

Being bilingual English/Portuguese myself, my first thought was to simply switch over to speaking Portuguese with the Sprouts, since they will be getting English from just about everywhere else. But Sprout 1 doesn’t like it when I speak Portuguese with him, and quite frankly, it doesn’t feel natural to me either. I’ve read many times about studies (study? sorry, can’t remember which or how many, but if you’d like extra info, I’d be happy to look it up) demonstrating that language is more than just a means of communication; it is also a way of showing love and can be very confusing to a child if you switch on them. I also recall reading in Raising Multilingual Children, by Tracy Tokuhama-Espinosa, how she switched languages on her son half-way through his second year and how that confused him and delayed his language development overall. After some discussion with Papa Sprout, we decided it might be best for me to keep speaking English to them directly, but use Portuguese as our family language when we’re all together, like at dinner and such. I’m really hoping this will work out and that I won’t forget to switch gears myself.

As for French… Is it destined to die? Will Sprout 1 ever even recall having known it to begin with? I know so many children of immigrants who have returned to their parents’ home country (in this case Portugal) when very young and who have completely forgotten having ever known the language of the country they were born in. True, for the most part, their parents didn’t actively stimulate the lost language, but still. French does not come naturally to either the Papa Sprout or myself, and wanting to develop good Portuguese language skills in our Sprouts, how are we to help them with French? It’s most likely they won’t even have it at school, given the importance of learning Spanish as a second language in the USA.

From Trilingual to Bilingual?

And Sprout 2? He will never have even had the opportunity to learn French (cue Mama guilt on not giving my children equal opportunities – but can you ever?). I’m mourning this lost opportunity.

For now, I’m collecting audio-books and DVD’s in French to take back with us. We are also taking French books, but that isn’t much of a help on its own since Sprout 1 insists we translate them to our respective languages when we read.

What do you think? I’m I giving this too much thought? Does it even matter if French gets lost, or do you have any ideas on how to keep it alive?

This post is part of  the monthly Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival, along with a lot of other great posts full of tips, tricks, trials and successes in the great adventure that is raising multilingual children.  This month’s carnival is hosted by You can check out the rest of the carnival on Monday 26 August. For more information, go here:

raising multilingual children blogging carnival

5 thoughts on “From Trilingual to Bilingual?

  1. I understand that you would like to keep the French alive for your children but think of it this way: having the opportunity to grow up with 2 languages is already amazing. I always envied children who grew up in bilingual situations. My kids are not even exposed to French because they go/will go to the local Flemish school. I try to expose them to English as much as I can, it’s not enough for them to become fluent but I like to think that it will give them a head start when they learn it at school. I think DVDs and books in French and Portuguese are great, try reading in those languages to sprout 2 maybe sprout 1 will come around to liking it too.

    • Thanks Diana! You’re right, that does put things a bit in perspective. :) Plus I just sort of randomly came across this blog via a facebook group: :) A french speaking mama in the DC area with a blog and list of activities/schools in French! Yay!

  2. Hi Sandra, maybe it’s little things that can help keep the French alive. For example, if you don’t mind having the radio playing most of the day or while you do housework: preset it to an internet radio station like Classic 21. Or sing along to French chansons, after downloading the lyrics. If you have the need for an AuPair, go for a native French speaker. Or you could become a member of CouchSurfing – offering a free bed for a few nights to young French speakers who are travelling through your town – you don’t need to accept anyone and everyone to come into your home, just go for those who say they are good with children. If French keeps being part of your lives, it will be part of your children’s lives, too.
    -Agnes- recently posted…Get well baby boyMy Profile

  3. I agree with theother, what you older child had learnt is not really lost. Even if he doesn’t get much of a chance to practise, by watching a few cartoons or finding a few French speaking friends, it will help keep it alive somewhere in his brain. If he ever needs to learn and use it again, it should be easier for him then.

    As for Portuguese, I think it is very important that you set up something with which you feel comfortable. As you mention language is more than a way to communicate. It can be really difficult to switch language, once you have set up a relationship in one language with someone. That being said, many parents have switched for various reasons and the kids have got used to it.

  4. How cute to see those babies trying to type! And how lucky they are that they speak three languages! I think they are still very lucky even they become bilingual. But I will encourage you to keep them trilingual as long as possible.

    By the way, you are more than welcome to link-up with me with any posts you have, past or present, about multi-lingual living (parenting, teaching, learning, resources), or anything relating to family, children, and education. Just click “Add your link” and copy/paste the URL of your blog post at Keep in touch!
    Lina recently posted…Best4Future Wednesday link-up party #1My Profile

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