Making Sense Of 4 Languages (bi/tri/quadrilingualism!)

Before your child learns your language, you’re going to have to learn theirs. It’s a funny thing to experience, the seemingly nonsensical gibberish that you understand perfectly fine. If you’re a frequent reader, you might also know that Ean is being raised to speak 4 languages. Most people disagreed with this idea and thought it would be confusing for him but being a child of trilingualism, I can easily hold conversations in different languages at the same time, without any problems.

Ean has come to that point where he’s putting words together into simple sentences. He does it in Spanish with Ana, in Swedish or English with me and has no trouble distinguishing which language to speak with whom whether it’s us parents, people in the park or his grandparents.

To teach him what languages are, I used numbers. He first learned to count to 10 in English, then Spanish, Swedish and finally Assyrian. He doesn’t mix the numbers up by language so I used this to my advantage, saying “uno, dos, tres is Espanol”… and so on. So if I said, “Count to 10 på svenska” he understood what I meant and subsequently when I teach him new words now he can separate them by the name of the language based on the numbers he learned. Besides giving each language a label, it also helps him get an idea of what the language sounds like.

For the sake of simplicity I say the name of the language in each respective language. So I say, “svenska, espanol, english” and so on. By doing that, it makes the learning more efficient rather than having to learn 3 different words that describe each language. It’s hard as it is to make sense of, and understand the concept of languages at that age so I just simplified it for him and it works great!

A good example of how this can work, even without the prep work, is how I did with my cousins kid. He’s 3 years old and understands Swedish, two Assyrian dialects and English. With all of us in the same room, it became a big soup of languages so I started to explain the names of the languages. For example I said, the language Ana is speaking is English, if you want Ana to understand what you say, you have to speak English with her. It took a few days but he got it! Identifying and giving a label to those series of sounds we call languages, is key. Once you do that, it becomes much easier to comprehend, compartmentalise and expand on the kid’s vocabulary.

I’ve always believed that a child’s mind is a super computer and I’ve heard many horror stories of parents and families underestimating their kids and ending up under-stimulating them, ultimately crippling their abilities long before they’ve developed an interest for anything in particular and that’s just sad. If we are to live up to our potential, we have to be challenged, encouraged and stimulated, and that’s true for all of us, not just the little ones.