How To Raise a Trilingual Child

Jason Honua managed to raise a daughter who speaks English, Swedish and German.  He describes his method below:

As a parent, I decided that my daughter would only consume non-English media, since we live in an English speaking country. What I’ve employed to great success with my daughter is to find an app of a television network from a country that speaks the target language. The best example I’ve come across for this is SVT Barnkanalen for Swedish and Kika/Kikaninchen, ZDF and WDR for German. I use a VPN to access the app from an IP address from the origin country.

Through this method over the past 3 years, my daughter speaks near fluent Swedish and German – this is feedback given to me by actual Swedes and Germans. One Swedish family we met was confused that she hadn’t actually lived in Sweden. I do speak Swedish and German, so she receives reinforcement in our interactions but my child already has a bigger vocabulary in Swedish and German than I do, often knows more idiomatic ways to express something, and has better pronunciation (and often corrects mine).

Most of the time she is watching something in Swedish or German, she is repeating back what she hears, and later when she’s playing on her own she plays in Swedish or German. The visual component is absolutely key here, because what is being said is directly related to what is being done. I don’t think this would be possible with radio or audiobooks, because then you would need the context of another language to explain what was said.

Editors note:  Thanks to Jason Honua for his helpful advice.

When looking for shows on YouTube and Netflix, there is temptation to spend too long deciding which show to watch, and there’s temptation to watch things in English, so downloading foreign TV station apps and only allowing your child to use those apps is an idea worth looking into.  We would need to be sure that the television shows and commercials are appropriate for children, though.

If you try this out please don’t ask your children to repeat what they hear.  It is much harder to do that than you think.  They will repeat what they hear when they are ready.  Don’t expect them to play using the foreign language any time soon either.  They have thousands of words to learn, and they have to internalize grammar.  Remember the phrase, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”  Have patience.


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