Author: Mary Field
Families choose the International School of San Antonio because they want their child to learn a second language through San Antonio’s most comprehensive language immersion program. Some families even choose ISSA so that their children can learn a third language. While learning two languages may seem like a lot for any person, it is completely possible for children to become trilingual if they are in the right environment.
Many ISSA families speak a heritage language at home. Children learn a third language through our French, Mandarin, or Spanish preschool and elementary programs. Over the years at ISSA and over the course of our teachers’ careers, we have taught many, many emerging trilingual students. Our team is familiar with many of the common questions and challenges that parents have when raising trilingual children. Below we share some answers to these common questions.
Will my child learn English if we enroll at ISSA?
If there is anything that parents don’t need to worry about, it is whether or not their children will learn English. While they are very young, children learn most of their language from their parents. After that, they tend to absorb more from the surrounding environment. In an English-speaking society, this means that kids will ultimately get plenty of input in English. Their time, especially when they are young, is much better spent focusing on their languages other than English.
Will there be a language delay?
There is robust evidence that young children learning two languages at the same time do not have any greater risk for having a language delay than the general population. Further, there is no evidence that learning three languages would cause a delay. There is some nuance to fact that bilingualism does not cause a language delay. When we are counting the number of words a bilingual child uses (as we often do when checking milestones for very young children), we would include words the child says in both languages. So if a child says eight words in English and four in Spanish, we would calculate that the child knows twelve words in total. The principal holds for trilingual children as well.
How can I best support my trilingual child?
Whether parents are raising bilingual, trilingual or monolingual children, the same advice applies: make sure that the home is a language-rich environment. Parents should of course talk to their children and model complex language for them. So if a two-year-old child says, “mo nak.” It is helpful for parents to respond by modeling a more complex sentence: “You want some more snack? Would you like a banana or a yogurt?” For parents raising trilingual kids, this means using as much of the home language as possible. We recommend reading bedtime stories in the home language(s).
It is a marathon, not a sprint
Children who are monolingual in English are still acquiring their only language well after they have started elementary school. So it is important for parents raising trilingual children to remember that they are on a long journey. Trilingual children may go through several different phases on their way to becoming trilingual adults. They may learn to read in one language faster than another. They may start using only English just to annoy their parents. Once they reach adulthood, however, they will be grateful for their incredible language skills.