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Subject: A Fourth Language?
Question: My 6-year-old son is growing up trilingual. He speaks German with his German mother, English with his Irish father,
and Dutch at school, which he started aged 4.

Besides Dutch, the school offers one-hour sessions every day in a second language, with a choice of French, Spanish
and English. We were advised to put our child in the English group, because three languages were considered enough
for a child to contend with.

The problem now, however, is twofold. First, my child’s English teacher is from Hungary, and although her English is
good, she speaks it with a clear, non-native accent. Second, my child already has a good grasp of English at age 6,
but sits in an English-learning group with in children who have no English at all. I doubt whether he benefits at all from
these English sessions.

My question is thus:

Would it be better to move my child into either the French or Spanish group, or leave him in his English group? I don't
want to burden him unnecessarily, but I don't want to bore him either.

Any advice appreciated.

Best, Billy Nolan

Reply: You say that the school “offers” one-hour sessions in languages other than the mainstream school language. As I understood this, attending those sessions is not compulsory. They seemed to me to be targeted at monolingual Dutch children – who will be learning their “second” language –, in accordance with the currently fashionable trend of thought that ‘multilingualism is good for you’.

If so, your son doesn’t need to attend these sessions at all.

He may nevertheless want to do so, if it turns out that his best friends are attending sessions in one of these languages, and he doesn’t want to miss out on this additional shared experience. Having friends with whom to use a language is a good way to maintain an old language and/or learn a new one.

My children were in exactly the same trilingual situation as your son (with Portuguese, Swedish, English), when they lived in Singapore, and they chose Mandarin as their “second” language because they had Mandarin-speaking friends in school. What matters in matters of languages, for adults and children alike, is that there are good reasons to learn them and use them.

Madalena

Reply From: Madalena Cruz-Ferreira      click here to access email
 
Date: 19-Nov-2012
 
Other Replies:
  1. Re: A Fourth Language?    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (21-Nov-2012)
  2. Re: A Fourth Language?    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (19-Nov-2012)

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