Cha bhi clann aig a bheil trì chànainean a chaoidh gun fhacal ri ràdh!
Trilingual kids who will never be tongue-tied
By IVA POCOCK
You’d think speaking three languages would be confusing for kids, but don’t underestimate their ability to absorb
MY FIRST experience of trilingual children was living in Sri Lanka in 2005, where many of the kids I met spoke Tamil, Sinhala and English. I was astounded when I realised that they could also read and write in these languages, a feat requiring knowledge of three completely different scripts – the Roman alphabet, Tamil script with more than 200 letters, and Sinhalese which has more than 50 characters.
Indeed, to some of these children it appeared a language wasn’t real unless it had its own autonomous script. One young boy remained sceptical, despite my assurances, that French, Irish and English really were different languages.
Back then it never crossed my mind that one day I might have children growing up with three languages. Six years later I am blessed with two boys, Cóilín and Tarla, aged five and two, and thanks to their dad’s commitment to speak Irish to them, and the chance move to Brussels, our sons are growing up trilingually.
We’ve taken on board the standard advice for multilingual families to have a consistent communication system and to stick to one parent, one language. I converse in English with the boys and their dad, who in turn speaks English with me and Irish with the boys.
He made the decision to speak Irish when Cóilín was about nine months old, but the advice is to start from birth. Cóilín speaks English with us both, apart from a few words as Gaeilge that get inserted into an English sentence, eg “Come on, Dad, it’s time for iomrascáil [wrestling]!”
The number of Irish words he uses increases significantly when I am not around and he spends a lot of time with his dad.
Cóilín picked up French at his local playschool. Six months after he started at the age of two years nine months, we had some wobbly moments wondering whether it was all too much for him. But then, miraculously, he started speaking French and now he wonders why I am going to French classes: “What words do you want to know, Mum? I can tell you.”
For the first year or so Cóilín mixed words from all three languages, a phenomenon which is well documented among multilingual children. Gradually this stopped as he became aware of what he then called “Mummy’s language”, “Daddy’s language” and his teacher “Madame Mireille’s language”. The youngest, Tarla (2), is currently speaking a mixture of words. His vocabulary includes: man, péire (as in a pair of socks/gloves/shoes), pomme (apple) and au revoir.
Having grown up in a largely monolingual society I am amazed by my kids’ ability to absorb the languages they hear around them. But available data shows that, globally, monolinguals are in the minority. In this multicultural city many children are being raised with at least two if not three, four or five languages.
One time I was introduced to a Belgian teenager who greeted me with a choice of languages: “Français? English? Nederlands?” And I’ve met a Spanish/Lithuanian couple who converse with each other in English but speak their so-called heritage languages to their daughter, who goes to a French-speaking creche.
The advantages of being multilingual go beyond the obvious ones of being able to communicate and access different cultures. There are non-linguistic benefits too.
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Goireasan ionnsachaidh, ceanglaichean feumail is mar sin / Gaelic learning resources, useful links etc.
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