I'd like to share a success story about a family whose children are growing up trilingual. The mother, Pat, is an American (native speaker of English); the father, Mohamed, is Moroccan (native speaker of Arabic); and the children Nezar (age 10) and Samir (age 8 1/2) speak English, French, and Arabic. Their story begins in Connecticut, where the kids were born. For the first three years of Nezar's life, his dad spoke to him only in Arabic, with all his other input coming in English.
When Nezar was three, the family moved to France and began preschool at the French École Maternelle (for further descriptions what that's like, visit the blogs Living in a Second Language and Caroline in Paris ). Pat explains, "His first year was a bit of a struggle for him. He really did not open up in speaking in French until the following year--although he understood what was being said to him. In the meantime, we decided that my husband should stop speaking in Arabic for the time being as [Nezar] was now trying to learn French at school. At this time, Samir was only 15 months old. We only spoke in English to him and he watched cartoons in French on TV. The following year, Samir started at the local maternelle school."
As the boys continued to attend French schools and make friends there, they learned to speak the language. While pleased with their progress, Pat wanted to make sure that they didn't lose their English: "We are mainly an English-speaking family. I am determined to keep up their English as much as possible by only speaking in English at home (all of us) and having English language TV (from the UK). I have seen so many of my other friends here with their children slowly switching over to all French once they are in school." So far this appears to be successful, with the boys mostly choosing to speak English when they are together.
However, the boys do seem to have definite language preferences. Pat says that Samir will occasionally speak French to his younger brother, but Nezar will reply in English. In fact, "I think if it were not for Nezar, Samir would prefer to speak in French. Nezar is totally bilingual in that he speaks, reads and writes in both languages. Samir is slower in learning (or really wanting) to read in English. He is not a reader at all. Nezar loves to read--in either language....They do not at all like for me to speak in French to them. English is our language and that is it for them. As soon as I pick them up from school, English comes right out of their mouths. They will always speak in different languages with their father and will certainly speak in whatever language is around them (French inschool, with friends, elsewhere in France, English in the USA with everyone, French and/or Arabic in Morocco with family there, etc.) But with their mother, it is always English!"
Arabic? Yes indeed! Now that the boys are older, their parents have thrown Arabic back into the mix. Although English is the most common language spoken at home, their father will sometimes use French or Arabic. To increase their familiarity with the latter, Pat reports that Nezar and Samir "have been going to Arabic classes once a week for the past two years. My husband (and father-in-law when he stays with us [two to four months per year]) will speak occasionally to them in Arabic. They certainly understand quite a bit but speaking is a bit slower as it is not used very much. When we are in Morocco, it all comes out with them. Nezar is doing really good in reading and writing in Arabic--which is a great feat in itself."
Pat adds that her father-in-law, though he has lived in France for 30 years, has not learned to speak French fluently, so their conversations are often half in French, half in Arabic. And what's more, now's he's learning his third language just like his grandsons: "My father-in-law is now understanding a lot of English from hearing me and the boys speaking together!"Pat concludes, "I am filled with so much pride that they have the ability and the opportunity to be bi(tri)lingual. I know that it will take them very far in their lives.I could not be happier for them."
See what I mean when I called this a success story? You can follow Pat's family's adventures on her blog, A View from Ivry.