The child and trilingualism

'Everything depends on the first 6 years'.

(Dr. Fitzhugh Dodson)

For even the youngest child it is no more difficult to study two or three languages than it is to study one language. If the child is younger than 6-7 years old and living in a family where communication in this or that language is native, there is no need for the child to have translation or direct training in language.

The earlier the child starts learning a language, the less probability there is that the child will speak with an accent* (Research by C. Hagège in 1996).

It should also be noted that there is a potential in each child for natural perception of grammatical structures. "Children have a universal knack for perception of grammar as an integral part of language. By the same principle the child comprehends the outside world, thanks to feelings, emotions and intelligence – all his faculties".

For adults, there is the chance that they will simply try "to impose" a foreign language on their own and won’t be able "to get rid" of the knowledge of their native language.

The child, in turn, will learn a foreign language in the same way as a native, developing in parallel two various linguistic systems. THE CHILD LEARNS TO SPEAK BY SPEAKING.

In time, the child gradually builds his/her own grammar and syntax during colloquial practice.

The adult is unable to do this; he/she cannot get rid of "the" first grammar. First, the adult will try to analyse "grammatical rules", and only then will try to speak.

This may result in the adult developing a fear of seeming ridiculous and often having trouble with speech in a foreign language. However, a child does not experience such fear.

1. Three languages at P’titCREF

Teaching must take place naturally and in game form. This is one of the basic pedagogical principles at P’titCREF.

First, the child has to fall in love with the sound of language, the teacher, a new culture and new games connected with studying

In no case should the child be forced to memorize whole pages of words - it is useless: the child needs content, he needs context. As already noted, the child learns best when he speaks, but first of all - when listening and playing. On the basis of this principle PtitCREF has developed a teaching methodology aiming at the natural learning of foreign languages through real situations.

2. Can all children learn three languages?

The child never has any significant problems with the learning of new (s) language (s).

The difficulties in learning a language are most commonly associated with internal problems. These difficulties reflect the complex situation that is the cause of  child's bilingualism or trilingualism.

 In a mixed marriages, sometimes one of the parents has problems: nostalgia, lack of attention to the language of the spouse, the lack of interest in it.

There is one more very typical problem: the native language - it is usually the language of emotions. This language is used by dad or mum to express tenderness, as well as to scold the child. This lack of balance can sometimes lead to the fact that the child will consider one of the languages as "negative" (the language of aggression), and the second language as "positive".

It is important not to force the child to repeat phrases in another language, do not force him to speak it. Many parents make this mistake.

The most undesirable is a child starting to think of language as a "duty" (the same happens with teenagers and adults).

Parents very often try to talk to their child in a foreign language. Most often, the child will say, "Speak the language X (native language), not Y». And it is quite logical. From the start, it is extremely important to associate the language with a specific person. The child would also be happy to speak a foreign language when playing with his toys, with the teacher or with his foreign friends.

Do not forget that children are still small and that even if the child is 4 years old and does not speak a foreign language, he will remember it and he is likely to speak at 5-6 years, when he wants it himself!

3. Parent's frequently-asked questions

Example 1: The refusal to speak a foreign language

Mary, the mother of 3-year-old Peter: "It often happens that Peter does not want me to speak another language, he said to me:" Mum, talk Russian to me."

 P'titCREF psychologist opinion:

In this case, the child is not refusing to speak the second language. As already mentioned, the child associates the language with a specific person on an emotional level. For him, the fact that his mother speaks different language is not understood, this is not his mother's language.

The child's learning process is still in the early, primitive stages; at this stage we have no choice but to associate a language a specific person.

Example 2: mixing the languages

4-year-old Zoe, whose dad is Russian, mother is French.The family lives in Russia. Zoe says "I joue» (joue fr. - Play).

In this case, the child does not refuse the second language.

 P'titCREF psychologist opinion:

Mixing languages - this is quite normal process and does not indicate a problem. The child (as well as an adult, speaking 2 or 3 foreign languages) has a variety of linguistic "tools." So he spontaneously chooses the "tool", which is the easiest one to use.

The child will gradually "unscramble it" and will no longer mix languages. Under normal circumstances, any child can successfully learn two (or three) languages and two (or three) cultures. Difficulties may arise only because of the immediate cause of bilingualism, or learning a foreign language.

In this case, the role of the teacher and our methodology will be decisive for the child as they pass on a new language and a new culture to the child . A good teacher and interesting classes organized in a playfull way  (a joint celebration of traditional holidays of the country of the studied language, the country's games, etc.) will prompt a child's desire to speak the language, go to the country and to learn more about it.