I Want to Teach My Child a Third Language

by Corey · 5 comments

I live in Brisbane Australia with my wife (Korean) and three children.  They all are bilingual Korean/English.

I have tried to teach my daughter, Angela, who is 5  years old Spanish but she can’t find the need to speak Spanish and shows no interest.

Could you give me some suggestions to gain her interest in learning a third language?  — Nigel

Dear Nigel,

You may want to ask yourself why you want to teach your daughter Spanish. Does it matter to her, or does it matter to you?

Languages are tools that serve specific purposes, they are not collectible items, as it were. Your daughter speaks Korean and English because she found out that speaking these languages serves a purpose.

I understood from your question that you do not speak Korean. This must mean that you have found no reason to learn it, although Korean is one of your family’s languages. Your daughter may well wonder why Spanish, not Korean, should then matter to you, and why you would want it to matter to her too.

Children are essentially pragmatic. They learn what matters to them, and what they can find a use for.

If your daughter is not interested in, say, playing with dolls, you will find the same difficulty in persuading her that there is a need to do so. If and when she finds a use for Spanish, you may rest assured that she will learn it, in her own time and at her own pace, with or without your intervention.

Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.


Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, PhD, University of Manchester, UK, is a multilingual parent, educator and scholar, and the author of Multilinguals are...?, a book on myths and misconceptions about multilingualism. Her blog Being Multilingual deals with multilingualism at home, in school and in clinic. Her contact, and details on her work, are at: beingmultilingual.com.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kimberly de Berzunza August 19, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Good point. My son learns L3 (French) at school in an immersion program. It has always been easy for him (presumably because he speaks Spanish, but also because I think he has a good ear for language) and he never really protested once he started. On the other hand, he’s attended weekend Mandarin school the past 3 years, initially his choice, but last year because I made him continue. Why? Obviously I believe he has the facility, I believe Mandarin will be an important, advantageous language to know in his future, and since he’s already invested 3 years into it, to quit now seems like a waste.

That said, since he’s just 9, he can’t really see the value and he doesn’t like the extra 3 hours a week of class plus the extra homework. Is it worth pushing?


2 Corey August 24, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Thank you for this great comment, Kimberly! Such great observations and questions – ones that we should all be asking ourselves all along the way. Finding the balance can be really hard: not pushing too much but pushing enough to not lose momentum! My recommendation would be to keep an eye on the weekend Mandarin school to see if this is a passing phase or is becoming a true burden and cause for friction. You could also evaluate how much Mandarin your son is really picking up at the weekend school. I would recommend differently if the weekend school were his only chance for second language learning, but as it isn’t, you have some room to adjust and change plans if you feel it would be for the best. Either way, what a fabulous position to be in – so many languages available! Let us know how it goes and what you all decide!


3 Layla Mila December 28, 2010 at 8:21 pm

I speak French. Not fluently, but I can express my thoughts quite clearly. I have studied it since I was in grade 4 and I am now doing a major in French Linguistics. All that, and I’m still not fluent (I know.. sad, huh?)

Well, when I have children.. I want to teach them french. But, can I do that.. since I’m not altogether fluent?

I live in Canada and we have plenty of french-immersion and all-french schools. I think that would be supplementary. But, is it enough?

I guess my question is: Do i have to be completely fluent in a language to teach my children? Can I continue learning as they begin learning?

Thanks in advance!!

p.s – I hope to make them trilingual. But, I figure perhaps I’m stretching it.


4 Jiya May 24, 2015 at 6:50 pm

My daughter is almost 20 months old and me and my husband are trilingual but we share two common languages and the third one being our native language. My daughter is learning two of the common ones both of us speak, but I would really want my daughter to speak my native language as it is very different than others and that will get her to socialise with her cousins back home, as they only speak the native language and I would not want her to be left out and not understand what the others are saying. I don’t know if this is the right time to start speaking to her in my native language when she has just starting to speak a little words in English and Urdu. I don’t have anyone else speaking to me in my native language where I live right now so she can not learn by hearing me talk to others. Any suggestions will be appreciated.


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