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Multinlingual children


Hi everyone,

I am French, my wife is Northern Irish and we are soon moving to China. We have just had our first child and want to make sure that he makes the best possible use of his multilingual background (i.e., that he picks up both of his parents' native languages as well as that of his host country).

I am a bit nervous about this for two reasons, however. For one -and I know this is strange-, I find that I can't be as close and tender to my child in French as I can in English, so I might not be able to speak to him consistently in my own native language, as many experts on multilingualism seem to advise: because for me, being close to my child is more important than linguistic parity. I don't know if anyone else out there has encountered this sort of hurdle before.

And the other reason for my nervousness is the sheer number of horror stories I have heard about or witnessed personally: kids who can speak one language but refuse to speak the other despite their parents' best efforts (I remember an Austrian-Chilean acquaintance of mine who stubbornly replied to his Chilean mother's every word in German, and when really forced to speak Spanish did so haltingly in an English accent), kids who speak both parental languages but with heavy accents, or perhaps strangest of all, kids who can speak the language of their host environment perfectly but neither of their parents' languages. I knew a Franco-Chinese girl who spoke excellent, colloquial, American-accented English (from the American-curriculum international school she attended)... but zero Chinese and only primary-school French. I also met a Franco-Irish couple who had lived in provincial Taiwan and whose red-haired, freckle-cheeked daughter only felt comfortable speaking Chinese.

I was wondering if anyone could recommend any resources (books, etc) to avoid such pitfalls in achieving multilingualism in children. Any advice would also be greatly welcomed, of course. Many thanks in advance!