I’m from the US and I live in Chile with my husband who is Chilean. I speak English with our son who just turned three and my husband speaks Spanish with him (we speak Spanish between the two of us).
We want to put our son in a German-speaking playgroup, but the speech therapists (fonoaudiologos) here tell us he’s not ready. We are not sure that this assessment is accurate since they tested him only in Spanish.
When can we introduce a third language to our son? Do you know of anyone who can help us here in Chile?
The answer to your question about when children should be introduced to a new language is: when that language is needed. Languages are there to be used, and using them means having a need for them. Acquiring languages has nothing to do with timing and all to do with necessity. Your son will learn German, or any other language, whenever he finds it useful to learn it, just like he’s found it useful to learn both English and Spanish. Acquiring his new language through peers, in a playgroup, is certainly a powerful motivation.
You say that your son is being seen by speech therapists, but you don’t say why. I was also curious about the statement that you son is “not ready”. There is a belief that new languages should be introduced when one language is “in place”, to use a popular expression, but I am not sure what being “ready” for a new language in this sense might mean, for two reasons. First, language acquisition in fact goes on throughout the whole of one’s life; and second, many children, like your son, acquire several languages at the same time, not just one.
Testing one of the languages of a multilingual and assuming that doing so gives an accurate picture of multilingual language ability is another common belief that finds no support in what we know about multilingualism. You may want to have a look at my discussion of these matters in a recent guest post for ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing-Association), at http://blog.asha.org/2010/12/16/multilingual-typicality-vs-speech-language-disorder/.
Unfortunately, I have no answer to your last question, about getting help where you live. Whether you mean clinical help, in case your son has a clinical diagnosis, or you mean help nurturing his languages, the Multilingual Living website might be the perfect place to look for assistance from other mixed families like yours living in Chile.
Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.
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