Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Speaking in (three) tongues...

My ten-month old son can recognize words in three languages: show him a picture of a group of animals and say bear, Medved (Russian) or Yulu (Kyrgyz..well that may not be the word but it sounds like that) and he’ll pick out the proverbially wood-defecating animal. Impressive, eh?

Now, this is not going to be a post claiming some kind of ridiculous precocity on my son’s part. Firstly, that’s not true. He’s no more precocious than babies speaking one language at that age. It just so happens that he’s exposed to three languages: English totally from me, English and Russian from his mother, Russian from his aunties and Kyrgyz and Russian from his grandparents.

But I am beginning to think about how you bring up a bilingual or trilingual child. How do you make sure he’s fluent in all of them? Can you make one of the languages his ‘first’ language? Do you have to have rules about who speaks to him in what language? I vaguely remember reading somewhere that you have to speak the minority language in the home, i.e. the language that he won’t be exposed to in the country you’re living, and the majority language outside the home. That would mean English indoors and Russian outside. But of course, I could have misread that and it was the opposite.

Anyhow, I really do want English to be his first language. This isn’t some kind of prejudice, just a practical acknowledgement that his future will be much brighter if that’s his mother tongue. But I also want him to speak Russian fluently and at least have a working knowledge of Kyrgyz. Kyrgyz I think will be the trickiest, simply because I think at some point we’ll move away from Kyrgyzstan and my wife isn’t totally fluent in the language (something she’s somewhat ashamed of given her nationality). If anyone has any advice, It’s be welcome..

3 Comments:

Blogger Michael said...

I read somewhere that one parent should only speak one language to the child, and the other parent should only speak the second language. So in your case you can speak to him in English and your wife in Russian, and perhaps your in-laws can take care of the Krygyz side of things? (Which is probably how things will end up anyway, since you're still learning Russian...)

10:59 am  
Blogger Victoria said...

My children were all born in the US, and since their dad is an American, they only know a few words in Russian -- my fault, of course! My grandma taught me some Kyrgyz, but now I'll be lucky if I can count to 20.

12:17 am  
Blogger bathmate said...

nice posting for this site...
Bathmate

12:39 am  

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