A child is exposed to language already in the mother’s womb and gets used to the various sounds of the language it is exposed to, just like to the magnificent musical pieces. Neural connections that are formed within our brain during learning of a new language, are fascinating and there is still a lot of unknown in that field. There is an interesting article published recently which shows that even if the child stops being exposed to its mother’s language as a baby, the neural patterns in the brain corresponding to that specific language still stay there for years later http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/151201/ncomms10073/full/ncomms10073.html
Our children were exposed since their tummy time to four languages on the daily basis. At home they are exposed to mummy speaking croatian, daddy speaking polish and mum and dad speaking english (sometimes german) to each other during the day. Everywhere outside home (during play dates, day care, etc) they are exposed to german and sometimes english.
Is it hard? What are the challenges we encountered so far?
Yes, there are moments when it will be quite hard and very challenging. One of the challenges are people, close-minded people who can be found everywhere on our dear planet. Those individuals who do not like to hear when you speak some “weird” language to your child. Sometimes you might count on getting some funny looks or comments , but I find those are easy to ignore;) Also, if you have some of those individuals among your neighbours, like we have, who make fun when your child doesn’t have perfect “r” pronunciation in Grüß Gott (in Austria it is a commonly used version of “hi”) they ll present you a challenge. Luckyly our daughter has a great sense of humour so she usually deals with those individuals in her own funny way (showing them funny faces, singing “Hallo song“, etc.). You could say for future – it is actually a great opportunity that your child learns how to deal with bullies.
What you should take into account is that your child will most probably start talking slightly later than its monolingual peers – but that completely makes sense. Your child is processing not only new words every day in one language but in 2, 3 or 4 languages at the same time. For example our daughter understood a lot of words with 10 months, but she starting saying with 14 months. But at the same time she started speaking croatian, polish and german (she understands some english but says just around 20 words in english). With very simple sentences she started with 22 months. And just recently she started using two verb sentences (mostly in croatian). So please do not compare your child to its peers, especially when it comes to complexity of used language – your kid has it much harder (for a matter of case do not compare your children in any matter – they are all so different (imagine how the world would be boring if they wouldn’t be;)).
A big challenge of using more than one language, in our case four languages on daily basis, is you will mix it up. So not only your child will make up sentences containing words from 4 different languages – you will as well;) Especially after dinner time, depending on the tiredness factor, both me and my husband can have very funny conversations in mixed language (cropolgernglish;) and not even notice it for some time (usually until Natalia joins in;).
If you are also getting ready for a journey of raising multilingual children, enjoy it, it will indeed be an exciting journey.
Read with your kids, since they are babies. You may notice I wrote with, instead of to, it is for a good reason. Especially, when your child is still a baby or young toddler, they may not neccessary want to read all the book from front cover to the last. Follow their lead – read what they seem to be interested at, let them hold the book and turn pages. Sometimes your child will notice something on the drawing in the book that will remind him or her on something they experienced that day, something they saw on your last weekend walk through the woods, engage and use that opportunity to discuss with your child – do not force to follow the story in the book, follow the story of your child. It helps a lot in expanding your child’s vocabulary. I am reading a lot to our kids various books in croatian, german and english. And it is important you read also with your baby – a baby is never too small to enjoy the reading adventure. it can be short stories, poems – this is how you are opening them the language treasure box. You nourish their love for books in that way and teaching them to treat them with respect. There are some stories that Natalia already knows by heart so now she is “reading” them to her little brother:) Go with your kids to the local library, visit the children corner – let them choose the books they would like to borrow. Even if you can borrow from your library only books in one language, that should not stop you to read with your child in other languages you use on daily basis.