Multilingual Upbringing Part II- Our Plan

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If you have read the Part I, you know where we are at when it comes to foreign languages.

Now to WANT to raise you kid with two or more languages and actually DOING IT are two different things. The truth is you don’t need to even know or speak a foreign language to do it, but it’s an awful lot of work.

My husband and I have the advantage of me speaking Russian natively and both of us having a basic to intermediate knowledge of Spanish. So here’s our “optimistic, but possibly unrealistic” plan
We would like to introduce 3 languages from before birth: English, Spanish, Russian. We’ll be attempting to use the OPOL method ( One parent One language) + Spanish on the weekends (not sure how we’re going to pull off this part).

This method will give her a perfect native knowledge of both Russian and English with a nice base in Spanish ( being able to speak some and understand all).

There are plenty of reasons for why raise your children with more than 1 language, from the fact that learning two languages from birth wires your brain in a different way giving cognitive, problem solving and multitasking advantages, to higher IQ, easier time with learning in general, highly developed executive function of the brain, to something as intangible as better cultural understanding and world view, as well as a future leg up in the job market (the least of my concerns). Aside from the developmental benefits, there’s also the family aspect. I do want her to know her Russian side of the family and spend a few summers there which would be impossible without a working knowledge of Russian. And then there’s the good old linguistic benefit of knowing more than one languages ( anyone who speaks at least two languages knows exactly what I am talking about).

{Our multi-national crowd: Tatar, Russian, American, Italian, Jewish- between the 5 of us in this picture we speak 8 different languages}

But as much as I think a bi-/multi-lingual upbringing is a total MUST, I have my own reservations.

So before I go into that, I’d like to mention a few myths that most people have about bilingual kids to get these misconceptions out of the way (  I read about these in 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child) .

Myth #1: Bi-/multi-lingual kids will confuse languages or won’t become proficient in either one
NOT TRUE: Mixing two languages is a part of learning a language. So yes, in the beginning there will be some mixing. Just like any adult, who is learning two or more languages will mix them up from time to time. That will correct itself as kids become better speakers in general. Kids can learn up to 4 languages at a time without any long term confusion.

Myth #2: Bi-/multi-lingual kids have delayed speech development
NOT TRUE: Sometimes bi-lingual children start talking later but it is simply a temporary language delay. Because multilingual kids are learning the same words in two or more languages, they actually end up with a bigger vocabulary.

Myth #3: You have to be fluent in a language to raise your child bilingual.
NOT TRUE: All that’s required for a bilingual upbringing is time commitment. A lot of parents learn the language as they go while teaching their newborn. They become fluent just as their kid becomes fluent ( I am sort of hoping the same will happen with Andrew and Russian)
Myth #4: Children can learn passively by just hearing the language or watching TV in that language.
NOT TRUE: Yes, if the child hears the language constantly spoken at home, he’ll become good at understanding it, but not speaking. However, in order to have a native knowledge of the language you have to engage the child constantly.

So here’s why I am not all GAGA over pulling off the whole multi-lingual upbringing:

In the 9 years that I’ve lived in the US, I have spoken exclusively English. I was never the person to seek out “my people” ( i.e. my nationality). Whenever I’d accidentally stumble into another person who spoke Russian and we’d click, we both would feel more comfortable speaking English than Russian. So while I have a lot of Russian friends, our language is always English. My only point of Russian contact and practice is my mom. We talk almost daily via Skype, but somehow that has not been enough for me to slow down the inevitable loss of whatever Russian I had. Don’t get me wrong- I’m a native speaker, and I will never NOT be able to speak Russian. However the ability to properly express myself, find the right words, especially in contexts that I was relatively inept at back when I lived in Russia ( which is everything from computers to business to adult emotions and anything I deal with on daily basis that I didn’t, as a barely 18 year old in Russia) can only be retained with constant practice. I speak Russian like a native (maybe with a slight accent at times), but a native who slightly mispronounces certain words and does a lot of “ummm….”, “ehhhh”, “whatchamacallit…” in the middle of the sentence. Sometimes I get so frustrated I just use English words and to heck with whoever can’t understand me. The bottom line is I am completely uncomfortable speaking Russian simply because I can’t always fully express myself and it’s just a lot of hard work. I also don’t enjoy reading russian books or watching movies or articles –  at this point I have a much better comprehension if I do that in English, which is what I’ve been doing for years.

So that being said, in order for us to do the whole multilingual thing 100% RIGHT, we need to practice OPOL, one parent one language technique. Guess where that leaves me? That’s right- speaking EXCLUSIVELY RUSSIAN to Alexis! FOREVER! Do you know how much that prospect bothers me? English is the languages of emotions and feelings for me. That means: I “feel” in English. So in order for me to express my feelings, my love for Alexis, I HAVE to speak English. Anything said in Russian carries no emotional weight. I can say I love you, I can attempt to use baby talk but to me they are simply words that carry no feeling. How do you think it feels to be communicating with your unborn child in words that mean nothing to you?

My hope is that it would change if I just get more practice speaking Russian on daily basis, but for right now I am extremely uncomfortable expressing myself in it. And I admit, it’s something I need to work on mentally. But trying to imagine my whole life with Alexis speaking ONLY the “other” language- that just doesn’t sit well with me.

I know I am going to get over myself and do it anyways, because I just can’t justify ignoring the benefits when I have the tools to give them to her.
How can I say no to that simply because I am “uncomfortable” or it’s a lot of work for me (boo-hoo)?

So since the language predisposition starts before birth (I remember reading that in “Brain rules for baby“, my all-time favorite parenting book), I’ve been doing my best to speak to Alexis in Russian. It hasn’t been going too good. I keep switching to English because that’s how I express my feelings and at this stage it’s all about feelings. When I force myself back to Russian, I literally freeze because I don’t know what to say without sounding completely stupid. I don’t have as many problems reading Russian books to her, because , well, it’s scripted- you just read.

Some might suggest that we do not do OPOL, but have me speak both languages to her, while my husband speaks Spanish and English, but according to the books it’s a less effective method and due to the brain’s ability to always take the easier route, as soon as our little girl isn’t so little any more, she will start refusing to speak the “harder” language ( i.e. not the primary language,English) and because she knows we can do both, she’ll always opt for English. Plus it honestly just feels like a cop-out.

I am hoping that once she arrives and I force myself to speak exclusively Russian to her from the beginning with my mom being here and giving me even more Russian exposure, I will become more comfortable with that arrangement, however right now I feel I am doing a terrible job preparing her for Russian and that makes me sad.

Now Spanish is a bit of a different story. It’s a foreign language to both of us, a language that we don’t know that well, so there isn’t as much pressure to do it perfectly. However it is something I want for her. Living in Florida it’s going to be beneficial to, at least, have some sort of base. Spanish will never be her native language ( I doubt we can pull off the time commitment required for that), however she will be THAT far ahead on the “foreign language skills” front when she starts school ( and we better find a school that introduces languages early on). And from my own experience, learning one foreign language is a huge step forward, because all languages from that point on are easy-peasy. I am also hoping to take her to certain Spanish speaking playgroups from the beginning, and if we get a baby sitter, it’ll probably have to be a Spanish speaker. Not sure how well this plan will translate into reality, but I want to try.

So I guess what I am looking for is a little encouragement, because I am a sort of overwhelmed by the prospect of doing it all.

Maybe someone who had the same problem as me, but found it much easier than they originally thought…?

Or someone who thinks it’s worth it even though it’s going to take a lot of effort and work from me, beyond the usual baby mothering…

Also question to current parents raising bi-lingual kids:

1. How do you deal with speaking the language your spouse doesn’t understand? Do you speak the main language when they’re around or do you continue using “your language” even though they don’t understand what it is you’re saying to the kid? That seems like a lot of missed communication between the family as a whole.

Any experience that you have to share, please do! Is it rewarding, is it harder than you thought, is it easier, is it fun, what works , what doesn’t? I am interested in any input you might have.

Also, 3 more days left in this week’s Pregnant With Style  project, don’t forget to enter.

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  • Reply
    October 19, 2011 at 2:39 PM

    I was good friends with an American and Czech couple and they did the OPOL method. I think because the kids heard English around them (TV, out and about, friends, etc.) they really strongly associated the Czech language with the mom. T (the little girl) would instinctively speak English to anyone she met, and if they spoke Czech also she was really surprised. She also had to be strongly encouraged to respond to her mom in Czech, but she definitely could do it if she wanted to. And remember, Alexis will hear YOU speaking English to your husband, so it won’t be all Russian all the time. (My friends husband did pick up a bit of Czech but not as much as I would have expected…but then, so did I!) She was an extremely bright child and I have no doubt that the bi-lingual upbringing had a lot to do with it. They moved so we’re not super close anymore, but I know she (mom) loves talking about raising her kids in that environment so I could give you her email if you’d like to contact her. She (the mom) speaks Russian too. 🙂

  • Reply
    October 19, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    You can email me, my email is in my profile. 🙂

  • Reply
    October 19, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    Hmm not sure if my comment went through, let me try again!

    My husband went through the exact same thing! He is from Norway and is much more comfortable speaking English even though he has only lived in the US for 8 years vs the 24 he spent growing up in Norway.

    He ultimately decided to just speak English to our kids because he was just not comfortable speaking Norwegian at home and didn’t want to. We can always teach it to them later if they want to (I became fluent in Norwegian after just 4 months at age 14)

    Good luck!


    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 19, 2011 at 3:21 PM

      Hahah that’s what I want to do- to not bother 🙂 But our primary reason for doing a 2nd language is brain development, not the knowledge of the language. And most opportunities for benefits to the brain development close at 6 months 🙁

  • Reply
    October 19, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    We are raising our 22 month old daughter trilingual – I am native Russian, my husband- American and we live in Amsterdam. We are indeed using the OPOL method or Russian and English. She learns Dutch by doing to kindergarten twice a week. My husband doesn’t speak Russian, so when we are all together I address my husband in English, but still speak Russian to my daughter. Notwithstanding the fact that I have been living in Amsterdam for over 10 years now (moved at the age of 17) and am perfectly fluent in both Dutch and English – I feel more comfortable speaking to my daughter in English. This feels natural to me.

    Yes, my husband doesn’t always understand what I say to our daughter, but I translate to him what I said. Also, he loves that I speak Russian and really supports me in this.

    Our daughter is not speaking yet, only individual words, and they come in ALL 3 languages. So when she says an English word to me, I repeat it, but then in Russian so that she knows that these are two words that mean the same thing.

    We do not speak Dutch at home at all – she learns in only outside and in the kindergarten. However, she must become fluent by the age of 4 because then the school starts. So I hope that 2 days a week is enough for her.

    Having said that I am not a supporter of speaking the language that you are not fluent in – like Spanish in your case. What is the point of speaking Spanish if you will possibly do it with mistaken and/or wrong pronounciation? I wonder what the value of that could be. Maybe you should consider signing up your daughter for a kid’s Spanish class later on. I’m sure the brain development will not be affected by understanding/learning/speaking 2 or 3 languages as long as it is more than 1 🙂 And this could ease up the initial difficulty of getting used to multi-lingual upbringing. Good luck in your choices!!!

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 19, 2011 at 3:51 PM

      From what I read, your daughter should be fine with Dutch as long as it’s the language that the outside world speaks.

      My husband is super supportive when it comes to multilingual upbringing but again, he is not the one doing all the work and getting out of his comfort zone, so for him, all he sees is the benefit but no effort 🙂 lol

      As far as Spanish, again from the books on multilingual upbringing, it doesn’t matter than you might mispronounce words or use the wrong words as long as like you said, later the kid get a more formal education in the language. Plenty of parents succeeded in raising their kids speaking languages they weren’t fluent in or didn’t even know in the beginning ( i read a few forums and it’s truly amazing). The reason for Spanish? Well, she’ll be learning it no matter what when she goes to pre-school ( either I’ll be teaching or the school), so if I just introduce it from birth, she’ll have an easier time and will be much more ahead when she goes into the formal Spanish studies. It might be a bit easier for me to drop the Spanish idea completely, but that’s the part I am actually excited about- I don’t mind speaking Spanish to her and truly enjoy that.

      Thanks for your feedback!, Katya!

  • Reply
    October 19, 2011 at 3:50 PM

    I agree with Katya, let her get the Spanish somewhere else. I think since you are already so hesitant about Russian, adding a third language in is going to make it overwhelming. As for the emotions part… can you talk to her about people you love who you associate with Russian (your family and friends from Russia)? Maybe that will help you feel your English emotions in Russian.

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 19, 2011 at 5:09 PM

      The problem is that Spanish is the part I’m excited about. I’d much rather speak Spanish.
      I can try using your suggestion and talk to her about Russian people I love. The issue here though is that I still think of those people IN English. Lol All my Russian friends speak English and that’s how we communicate. We don’t really express emotions with my sis or dad so I’ll attempt to channel whatever feelings I have talked to my mom about. That’s might be a good idea that will at least get me started in the emotions department. Thanks!!!

  • Reply
    October 19, 2011 at 4:40 PM

    My husband is bilingual, English and Spanish. I am not, but we plan to teach our 2 month old Spanish. I hope to learn as we go along. I think its going to be fun, and I look forward to it!

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 19, 2011 at 5:56 PM

      When you say plan, you mean in the future? I think it’s really cool if you get to learn it along with your baby! Languages are so much fun!

  • Reply
    October 19, 2011 at 5:48 PM

    I think it’s less daunting than you feel (at this point) that it is. I was also a little overwhelmed at the idea of speaking German all day, my second language. I was a Linguistics major, and we learned a lot about Child Language Acquisition. They are so like little sponges right now, even if you slip into English (or have bad days where you skip Russian altogether), her little brain is still going to map the language. I have to almost constantly remind myself to speak German though, and it’s really tough when my husband is home..he doesn’t speak German. Something that might help is trying to find a Russian speaking playgroup. This will help you with your Russian, give little Alexis the exposure and possibly when she is older some playmates to speak with. Good Luck!

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 19, 2011 at 6:02 PM

      Oh, it feels really good to know that someone is just as intimidated by the prospect of speaking the secondary language (sometimes I feel like a wimp). I like the idea of a Russian speaking playgroup ( not sure if I can find one here), because when I am forced to speak Russian, I do ok. As much as I don’t want to get into an exclusively Russian company, I think that’s what I am going to have to do for long term success. It’s funny cuz I thought of finding a Spanish speaking playgroup, because that’s what I am interested in, but the thought of a Russian one never occured to me lol

      • Reply
        October 19, 2011 at 6:49 PM

        Whenever I feel bogged down by it, I just remind myself it’s for him. It’s a gift for him and if I don’t do it, I will regret it one day..(and RUSSIAN! How cool for her to know! And useful too) Have you tried

        • Reply
          Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
          October 19, 2011 at 6:53 PM

          That’s the only thing that keep me from just throwing in the towel on it all 🙂 lol Plus hubby feels really strongly- he’s obsessed with her brain development (hahaha)… I did use meetup a few years ago, but not for russian people, I was never interested in russian groups… Will see if there’s anything there now.

  • Reply
    October 19, 2011 at 6:53 PM

    I don’t have any anecdotal advice at all, as I don’t have kids OR speak a second language, but I just wanted to say how great I think it is that you are going down this route. Really, it will be so absolutely worth it. I would love to raise my kids bilingual one day. I have friends who have been raised bilingual using the same method, and I can say that it will become such a special part of your family, even though it is daunting now. Best of luck with it all!

  • Reply
    October 19, 2011 at 7:35 PM

    How about getting a foreign babysitter to supplement whichever language need help with?

  • Reply
    October 19, 2011 at 8:49 PM

    here is my 2 cents. When you play with a baby (thats old enough to be aware of what you are actually saying) you tend to just say the word. My daughter picks something up and shows it to me (she’s a year old) and I say “thats a ball. Ball” I would think that you could probably get away with talking to her in both Russian and English because quite honestly, you dont hold a huge long conversation with a baby anyway. If she shows you a ball… could say “thats a ball. Ball” and then repeat that in Russian (and since you want to do it in Spanish as well….in spanish). You may feel better about the Russian if you do it that way instead of OPOL.

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 19, 2011 at 9:02 PM

      The problem with that method is that when she’s older, she will refuse to speak Russian because she’s always had a choice of speaking English to me. And I know it to be true from my Russian friends’ experiences.

      Also aside from an actual conversation with the baby once she can understand, there is a lot of talk that the baby learns starting from birth. I plan on pretty much talking to her nonstop from the beginning since that helps language development especially in a bilingual situation. So if I only speak English to her before 1 when she can actually get that I’m saying a word, all the brain benefit from Bilingual upbringing will be gone. Kids learn language from even before birth (the brain gets predisposed to certain sounds in a language they hear in utero). So opol method is truly best in all aspects except for the parent lol I think I might just need to suck it up. 🙂

  • Reply
    October 19, 2011 at 9:00 PM

    Why not get a Russian babysitter? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for her to communicate with your family in Russian as opposed to complete strangers in Spanish? You didn’t mention having a large circle of Spanish speaking friends.

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 19, 2011 at 9:36 PM

      A few reasons. Not a lot of Russians here, but a lot of Spanish speaking people, so chances are any babysitter we get will speak Spanish. I also don’t plan on having a permanent baby sitter, only on rare occasions. And finally, it seems silly to hire a Russian babysitter for Alexis because her own mother doesn’t feel comfortable speaking Russian lol.
      Of course any of my family members who speak Russian will visit as much as they can but for it to be beneficial it would have to be a common occurrence and unfortunately that’s not possible with them being in Russia and all.

  • Reply
    October 20, 2011 at 11:45 AM

    I don’t have any experience in this but I thought I would mention if your husband doesn’t know Russian then you shouldn’t feel too embarrassed if you stumble and don’t know what to say. It is that extra bond that you are having with Alexis!! You’ll be able to tell each other secrets and no one else know, it will be magical!! 😀

  • Reply
    October 20, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    I just left you a super long reply that you blog deleted 🙁

  • Reply
    October 20, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    While I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. I wanted to mention that it’s not impossible to spend summers in a different country and enjoy and learn, while you dont speak the language. I spent a few summers in Malta with family and didn’t speak a word. I learned while I was there and have retained a lot of it.

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 20, 2011 at 2:22 PM

      Yeah I know, it’s pretty easy to learn if you’re immersed. I brought my nephew to US for one summer and he spoke no English. He went back with a pretty good knowledge of it. But it would definitely be easier on my family if Alexis already knew Russian. Plus with my mom visiting I want them to be able to communicate early on.
      But to be honest my biggest reason is the brain and learning benefits, more than just the coolness factor of knowing another language and those things are best developed if taught from birth.

  • Reply
    October 20, 2011 at 2:03 PM

    There goes the multilinguality if there is such a word! It’s weird that your wordpress won’t accept comments in other languages :/, my dad was able to leave one in Russian on my blog. Weird.
    Anyways, just wanted to give you kudos on planning to speak to Alexis only in Russian, it will be hard but so worth it. I’m actually really worried that my son won’t speak Russian even though me and my husband do. Ive seen this situation in other Russian speaking families.
    You also look amazing pregnant, by the way, and your pictures are beautiful!

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 20, 2011 at 2:18 PM

      I don’t think it’s my blog per se. It just shows up all in question marks. Always has when my Russian friends commented. It probably has to do with encoding but I’ve tried every single one of them and it still shows “?????????”

      Anyways, you’re lucky both you and hubby are Russian because you can choose to speak only Russian at home and your baby will learn English from the environment. But since you write your blog in English I assume you also feel more comfortable expressing yourself in English?
      I have gotten a Lot of encouragement from people here and it definitely makes me feel better about trying.

      As far as you and Sasha, you just have to have at least one of you speak Russian exclusively and D. will be ok. It’s usually in mixed language families or ones desperate to assimilate that kids end up without their patents’ language and that’s sad 🙁

  • Reply
    October 20, 2011 at 2:58 PM

    Maia started speaking a little later than most but when she started to speak she knew whom to speak english with and whom to speak spanish with. That’s how CRAZY awesome this is. She understands everything in both languages and Jose speaks French to her as well. She’s not confidant in French but she has an understanding of what he says and that’s extremely exciting. So while I was fretting that whole time that she’d “never talk” hahaha, she was just figuring out 2 languages! And now she doesn’t stop talking. I know that this is very beneficial. We often hear her teachers raving about how quickly she picks up on just the smalles things. SOOO all that I have to say to you is DO YOUR THING! Embrace it and Alexis will too. And you’ll just be blown away by her 🙂 I’m very excited for you, Elena!

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 21, 2011 at 10:39 AM

      Maia is really amazing! I saw the cute little video of her talking! That’s so inspiring! All the comments really made me want to do it!

  • Reply
    October 20, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    Hi, Debs Dealz stopping over to check out your site, and I love it! I am officially your newest follower via GFC. I invite you to stop over and check out my blog, and hopefully follow me back! Thanks, Deb

  • Reply
    October 20, 2011 at 5:25 PM

    We take our son to a Swedish school where there are about 150-200 kids, some kids have one parent who is Swedish ( and I know most of them speak Swedish to their kids) and other kids have both parents speaking Swedish to them at home. You can definitely tell at school which ones come from parents of two Swedish speakers- they are the ones running around speaking Swedish on the playground- the ones who have two parents, and most go to school also and hear English- they def. aren’t as comfortable speaking Swedish- but can when needed. But it still definitely helps with the brain/education factor! Plus most of these kids go spend a month in Sweden every summer and then when they come back in August their Swedish is 100% better-unfortunately a few months later, they are back to being uncomfortable with Speaking it. I’m the same way! Though I spent my childhood in Sweden, I’m still 100% more comfortable speaking English- but when I go back, all it takes is a day or two and I’m right back to where I left off so I’m grateful I at least have that!

  • Reply
    bilingual mama
    October 20, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    I can relate to your post. I’m a native English speaker but my husband and I speak Spanish to each other and live in his home country in Latin America. I hated the idea of not having one family language while knowing we had to teach our child both languages. So I do English and he does Spanish and now that our child is 2, I can’t imagine having it any other way! It’s so special that we communicate in a language lots of folks around us don’t understand, and I think all the loving ways my mom spoke to me as a baby just come out. It feels so natural now, and I am so glad we each get our own language and way of communicating. It’s really special. I hope you find what’s best for your little family!

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 21, 2011 at 10:43 AM

      How do you deal with when you are all together? Do you speak Spanish so that everyone could understand?
      I just wish I was as comfortable speaking Russian and you English.
      I do hope that once I start it’ll become really special!

  • Reply
    October 20, 2011 at 8:13 PM

    I think it’s awesome that you can speak both Russian and English and that you and your husband will incorporate opol with your daughter. My husband and I don’t know any other languages fluently. He has taken some years of Spanish, and I had a bit of German, French, and Spanish. Certainly not enough to hold a conversation in though! I find it fascinating when people can speak more than one language. Your daughter will have a wonderful advantage!
    By the way, you have a wonderful grasp of the English language and I would never guess by your writing that you’ve only been exclusively English for 9 years!

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 21, 2011 at 10:45 AM

      Thanks so much, Rachel! I know we are lucky we have the option to do this, it just seems so intimidating because it’s permanent. if I speak Russian to her, that’ll all I’m supposed to speak 🙁 But I’m sure it’ll be dine after a while.

  • Reply
    October 23, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    My cousin raised her daughter Clara using OPOL – she spoke exclusively English while her husband spoke Danish.
    They lived in Denmark when Clara was a young baby and then moved to the US/UK. I think they found it a lot emotionally harder than they were expecting. Although my cousin understood basic Danish, she felt left out of her daughter’s upbringing in a way. As Clara got a bit older she would have longer conversations with her dad and leave her mum out, which isn’t the nicest experience even if you do get a translation. I think Clara got a bit of an ego boost to be able to do something that her mum couldn’t and would use it against her in some ways, teasing her because she couldn’t understand. They also found it quite hard to discipline her because she’d run to whichever parent hadn’t given the punishment, as she didn’t see her parents as a ‘united front’ due to the differences in language. Even now she has a strained relationship with her mum and is much closer to her dad, due to the special bond developed because of the “secret” language they shared. Just something to bear in mind. It also got harder to maintain when she started school. Although they were strict (if Clara didn’t reply to her dad in Danish he wouldn’t listen to what she had said until she did), because she was surrounded by people who spoke English she naturally leant towards it and you could tell that she got a bit frustrated when she had to change from the language she was most comfortable with for “no reason”.
    I think it’s a great benefit to be able to speak two languages, in life as well as for brain development. But I wouldn’t beat yourself up if you lapse into English for one of two words because no matter how hard you try to speak exclusively Russian, Alexis will end up leaning towards English because you live in an English speaking area.

  • Reply
    sandie mirfield
    October 26, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    Hello,I am facing a challenge which I was hoping you would be able to assist me with. There is not enough research on trilingualism.

    I am Lebanese and a trilingual ( Arabic, French and English speaker). My husband is British ( English speaker) and we live in Australia ( English speaking environment).

    Our 3 year old daughter has already mastered the English language. She perfectly understands French but she rarely uses it. As for the Arabic, this is where the problem is, it is basically

    non-existent, for now.

    I am not sure how to introduce the Arabic language if I am already doing the one-language-one-parent rule and I am only speaking to her in French. How do I do the transition, the

    switch? I guess the obvious answer would be through music and videos, but so far I have not been adventurous enough to expose her to the Arabic language yet. I am also thinking of

    play dates and playgroups. She is exposed to the Arabic language fully once a year during a whole month when my family visits. But from my part, I am not sure where I stand. Should I

    utter a sentence in French then translate it into Arabic every time? How should it work?

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 26, 2011 at 9:22 PM

      Hey, Sandie! The best case scenario would have been phasing Arabic in since birth- that’s why we want to do Spanish right away, even though I can’t really picture us pulling it off. But , since she’s already three and talks, you gotta approach it differently. I’m pretty new to this too, so I’d suggest you read a book or two on it, since I wasn’t paying too close attention to advice given for late language introduction. I do seem to remember them not recommending doing the whole repeating sentences in 2 languages. You have to approach it kinda like OPOL with specific times or days for the 3rd language. Like weekends are Arabic or after 5 pm is Arabic or grandma is arabic only. But it has to be one language at a time, not two repeated one after another. And you gotta have a certain amount of hours a week of that language to make it work ( don’t remember the actual number)
      I’d say order this book: 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child, it definitely runs over many scenarios including trilingualism and late introduction.

      Also for her to be proficient in French as well, you need to refuse to accept answers in English, which I know sucks, but unless she’s forced to speak the language she will not have that skill when she grows up. She will only understand but that will not translate into speaking. So you need to make yourself a true exclusively French person, which is what I’ll have to do with Russian and I’m not happy about it.

      Good luck and let me know if you have further questions.

  • Reply
    September 17, 2012 at 12:02 AM

    Hi Elena,

    I´d love to hear your thoughts about all this now after 7 months with Alexis. I saw on a video that you are in fact talking to her in Russian, and I am very interested in knowing how it´s been for you. I am having my baby girl soon and my husband speaks only English (I speak English and Spanish, originally from Colombia). I feel the same way about speaking in Spanish to my baby. At this point, after 7 years living in the US I dream and think in English. I talk to my mom almost every day but that´s almost as far as my Spanish goes and I think it will be a challenge to be the Spanish speaking parent in the house.

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      September 17, 2012 at 7:46 AM

      It’s been hard… I speak more English to her than I’d like to, though i try to at least repeat whatever I say in Russian when I slip up.
      The toughest part has been getting good books in Russian. Lexi is obsessed with Dr Seuss and won’t tolerate anything but him but there are only 2 Russian Dr Seuss books in print that I could find.

  • Reply
    December 7, 2012 at 9:24 PM

    Hello, I just found that post through the YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE tab, and I can totally relate to that. I am the only one in the family speaking Russian to my children. My husband and step daughter speak only english. When I came here with the little baby I was very confident that I will be speaking only Russian to my baby, because it actually is a language of emotions to me, but later it became difficult because I was all by myself talking with a tiny infant and I was slipping to English more often. Plus the fact that I didn’t have any russian friends here yet. If was until probably my son was year and some I went to gymnastics class and met a russian girl with a 3 yo boy, who was perfectly speaking Russian to her and having English conversations with every one else. Then I decided to totally stick to the decision to speak native language.
    And now after 2 years I can say that it really paid off. My child not only understands me but he even wants me to talk Rusiian to him, even when I ask him something in English he still answers in Russian!
    And he already talks Russian to his baby brother.
    Now I have couple new problems though. the more I live here, the more English I talk, the less expressive my Russian gets, but I am really working on it. The other one is reading book. We love Dr. Seuss! and always get books from the library, so at bed time I try to read one English and one Russian book (as you can see I am not totally OPOL), I even used to translate some books when he was small but it is getting challenging with the books getting bigger and more complicated.
    I am sorry for the looongest comment ever, but I though I would say all that because sometimes just one person’s word of encouragement can change the whole world!
    Please, do not get frustrated, just keep working on it, even if it is not 100% Russian, it will pay off and you will be so happy to see your little daughter talking your language back to you. It is harder at first, as they are small, but when she starts talking…everything gets better.

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      December 7, 2012 at 10:14 PM

      Thank you, Julia!

      Now at 10 months, we are still trying hard to speak Russian. There are times when it’s really hard, and others where I try so hard and it gets better. My Russian sucks at this point. I can’t express emotions well in it, but I am getting better the more I speak. Like you said the biggest challenge has been books. I’ve ordered a ton of books on but nothing can compete with English Dr Seuss. We’re working on it though. My mom is coming in 2 days and she is brining a whole suitcase of Russian books.

  • Reply
    July 11, 2018 at 10:40 AM

    I’m going back to some of your older posts because I’m going through some of this stuff with my own kid. So get ready for some fun responses! 😉

    My daughter is turning 4 in mid-September.

    I originally wanted to do one parent, one language but we knew before we even started it wasn’t going to work. My husband speaks Spanish (He’s English and Russian American) and has been speaking it since toddlerhood. I’m Filipina-American and have been hearing and speaking Tagalog (the official Philippine language) since birth.

    It never worked. We were both inclined to speak English because of our native fluency. I learned how to speak Tagalog first as I lived in the Philippines from ages 2-4 when I first started really talking. Other than that I was born and raised here.

    I still try to use Tagalog phrases and all but it’s not enough. She knows the words for Philippine grandma and grandpa and other random words but sadly she will never be conversant in the language. I honestly don’t care though. My whole family and extended family all speak English so there’ll be no trouble there. And as far as “keeping her culture”, I’d rather focus on exposing her to other fun parts of the culture (the will also have to be the non secular parts…and vegan parts..which will be hard because Philippine cuisine is very meat heavy).

    We’re still trying to encourage her to be trilingual if she wants.

    So…she’s going to start Mandarin summer camp in August and immersion preschool (same place as the summer camp) in September. It was always part of the original plan when it came to her schooling. She couldn’t start earlier because she wasn’t potty trained at the time (she was 2, going on 3). Now, she’s potty trained so we’re finally sending her there this fall while the other 2 days she’s at her Waldorf preschool. I can’t put her in anymore stuff because I just don’t want to over schedule her and she needs to be able to play outside and make/do art (her current passion).

    Anyway…OPOL…good luck to whoever tries to do that. Not to be a skeptic but it’s too idealistic and doesn’t work unless there are outside forces that help the kid hear the back and forth, like you mentioned.

    I don’t know if you ever wrote about this again but did you end up exposing Alexis to any kind of Spanish? Curious to know!

    • Reply
      Elena @ Every Avenue Life
      August 26, 2018 at 12:45 AM

      As you know everything is a lot more difficult than the plan. Reality sucks. She speaks and understands Russian, but with an accent and not willingly. She would be able to communicate no problem, but to get her to do that is another story. I am to blame partially bc it was hard to respond to her in Russian once she started speaking because she would speak english and I prefer english as well.

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