Teaching My Son 3 Languages + Learning for Infants

Updated on October 12, 2009
D.V. asks from Milpitas, CA
23 answers

I have a 2 month old, he is my first child. When I was in school I had a learning disability, so I’d like to have my Son start early with learning (not necessarily now but soon). As of now I speak to him (no baby talk), read to him, play music for him and he watches Sesame street.. well more like listens to it. I thought of ordering the “My baby can read” DVD’s but I’ve heard they may not work.. Is there anything else I should try to help him?

I am Mexican and Puerto Rican- I don't speak Spanish at all and that’s something I wish my Dad would of taught me. Spanish was his first language, my Mom also speaks enough to get by but she isn't fluent. Both my parents want my Son to learn Spanish and they speak to him in Spanish now. Also he listens to a TV show that teaches Spanish.

My Husband is Vietnamese/mix- His first language was Vietnamese (since he doesn't know his Dad he really only identifies with being Vietnamese). He speaks to my Son in Vietnamese and at his Moms the language primarily spoken is Vietnamese. My husband and in laws would like my Son- Ryan to learn Vietnamese. As would I.

As of now, Ryan is mostly with my Mom at home. When he is about 5 months he will go to his Ba's (my mother in laws) twice a week while we are at work. He will hear both languages and I love absolutely love for him to learn both + English. Is this possible and how will he not get confused. AND since I don't speak either will it be a problem? I'm sure many kids are Trilingual and I’m just wondering how this was accomplished? ALSO- Neither of my Step sons speak Vietnamese.
Thank you!

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answers from San Francisco on

I have no immediate experience with the duo-triple language thing, but have watched two of my brothers "teach" two languages to their children. One brother married an Italian woman, and one brother married a Taiwanese woman. Both moms spoke their native language to the children from birth, and the dad's spoke English. All my neices and nephews are fluent in both their languages. The only thing we didn't know going in is that some of the children were slow to speak (either language) initially. Apparently this is common in these situations. They could understand but wouldn't speak. Just be aware that this could happen but is NOT a problem. Between the two families they have 8 kids ranging from 6th grade to toddler and they are all extremely bright. (One slow to speak boy is now doing math with kids two grade up.) Good luck!

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answers from Las Vegas on

Hi D.
Don't worry too much about it, kids brains are amazing !! they can pick up on all those languages at once..
My son went to a preschool that only spoke Spanish, then at home we spoke English , while at his Grandmother's , they spoke Italian.. He is now in 3rd grade, speaks beautiful English and is at the top of his class...However, I will say since schools primarily teach in English (especially private schools) I think it IS a good idea to teach a child English. I believe my son knowing good English and could read and write in English is what allows him to be such a good student. But I do think it's great to learn as many languages as possible, esp when young..

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answers from Bakersfield on

I know you will get tons of great advice at this site. Have you thought of starting off with Baby Sign Language? I think it helps a great deal, especially with boys. My son became verbal early and I attribute it to all the things you are doing as well as the sign language. I received two Baby Einstein dvd's and one was Baby's First Signs. I also reinforced the basic signs in everyday life. It was amazing to watch him transition and start signing and then saying the word while signing at the same time. He spoke rather clearly for his age before he turned two and started speaking in nice long sentences before he was two and a half. Also, I consistently pointed to and said words of everyday things while walking around the house and outside with him as an infant. I will never forget the day my son started pointing to things and looking at me for me to say what it was. It's an amazing journey to watch communication develop from early on. Enjoy it and take notes on his first words and first signs. My son's first sign was for the word "more" while eating. He loves hearing me tell him stories of things he did when he was a baby and it's a great distraction tool right now when he is having a hard time during a terrible two kind of day. As far as the introduction of another language, the sooner the better. I did a bit of this with my son and I regret not being more consistent with it. I'm keeping at it thought.

All the best to you,



answers from Los Angeles on

I am Taiwanese and I grew up in Argentina, so I speak Taiwanese, Mandarin (Chinese official language) Spanish, and English. My husband is also from South America and speaks fluent English. We are planning on having our kids learn as many languages as possible from the very start. I have cousins that live everywhere in the world and are interracial married. They don't have a problem with their kids speaking and understanding more than 3 languages! Kids are super smart they can learn and absorb anything. The amazing thing is that kids even know what language to use to different family members. It's like their brain is able to switch gears! I am not sure if every kid is like this, but so far all the kids that I have seen that come from multi racial families are able to handle the different languages beautifully! We are expecting our first child, so we are planning on having our kid learn as many languages as possible. My husband and I also travel overseas a lot, and I must say that it is so amazing to be able to communicate with the locals whenever we travel. Everywhere we go, someone speaks English, Spanish or even Chinese! We just came back from Italy, which we go very frequently. A lot of Italians don't speak English in not so touristy areas, so we speak to them in Spanish. We are not able to fully communicate 100%, but by using Spanish, we can at least get some points across!
Go for it! I love it that I can speak at least more than 3 languages. It has helped me in my career, meeting people (sometimes if you speak the same language you get better deals!), and in all my travels!

I don't think that any of my cousins had any special way of teaching their kids to speak the different languages. What I do know is that every grandparent had a specific language that they had to stick with, this way they wouldn't confuse the kid. The kids were able to learn very fast, and they knew who should be spoken to in what language!



answers from Sacramento on

That's fantastic that your son's exposed to multiple languages. I am Vietnamese and speak it and English while my husband speaks English and is learning Spanish. I have the luxury of my parents near and my mom watching my kids so they are immersed in Vietnamese only. This has been the case ever since my daughter was born and now my twin boys.

At home, my husband speaks to the kids in English and I speak to them in Vietnamese. We were curious as to what would happen when my now 34 month old daughter began to speak. It amazes me still because she will be talking to me in Vietnamese and then turn to my husband and ramble off English to translate what I'd said. My husband will also say words in Spanish as well and she picks up on it quickly. Do not underestimate kids as they are very smart and are like sponges. It's like they turn a switch to tap into whatever language is needed. My twin 14month old boys are responding to both languages as well. Sometimes my daughter speaks a combination of the languages. It's pretty hilarious.

Keep up the interaction and everything else will fall into place. One of the best gifts you can give your child is the ability to speak multiple languages. Have fun and good luck!



answers from San Francisco on

From all I've heard, children are able to absorb language (first,second and no doubt a third one) by just having it used around and with them regularly for the first several years of life. This doesn't mean in a teach-y sort of way, just using it in the natural way we speak with children.

In terms of mixing up the child, having specific people in day-to-day life that use the language in a natural immersive way sounds like it is a help here. There might be some mixing up of words through the beginnings of preschool, but our brains are capable of soooo much, I am confident it would sort itself out.

I hope you get some replies here form people who have had a lot of experience with this. What an exciting opportunity for you little one. Lucky boy :) Enjoy your little one!



answers from San Francisco on

Hi D.,

You might want to check out spanglishbaby.com. It's a new website for raising bilingual/multilingual kids. It has a Spanish focus but lots of the information could apply to other languages. There are great links to bilingual Spanish resources.



answers from San Francisco on

D., I hate to rain on everyone's parade, but sometimes boys, especially, will get confused with having several languages spoken to them. One of my friends and her husband spoke both Arabic and English to their son and finally, at the age of four, took him to a specialist to find out why he wasn't talking. After they started speaking only English, he did start to speak.

That said, unless he appears to be having trouble, I would speak all three languages with him. Turn the TV off! There is nothing he will get from it, especially at this age. At this age, all your son is doing is learning. Soon he will be able to roll over! This is the kind of learning he is doing now. He should be learning to reach out a grab at something that is hanging over him. Music is fine. Baby talk is fine. I'd skip the reading to him until he is about six months old. I would not make learning a chore--for an infant, every moment is a learning experience. Babies are curious about everything--it's when they're about two and "no" becomes a word that they start limiting themselves.



answers from San Francisco on

Yes, it's possible and no, he won't get confused. That's the beauty of a young brain. Lucky him, to be exposed to so many languages when he's young!



answers from San Francisco on

Hi D.! My husband spoke 31 different languages. Unfortunetly he never taught much of it to our children.
I have several friends that switch languages just while they are talking and it is amazing. For example:
1. A mothe rof 8, all of her children speak and understand- Tongan, Samoan, spanish, and english. Never is there a problem withit .
2. My boss is totally amazing. her eldest is now movingto Japan, just to learn the language and to absorb the culture..
She was raised in refugee camps, and speaks fluent Thi, Laotian, Chineese, French, English, Cambodian, and Vietnamese.
She will be having conversations with her family and can without missing a beat speak in any of the needed languages. All of her children do the same. I have been encouraging the family to learn Sign Language as well.
3. I have a dear friend that is hearing impaired. Her children all do sign from birth. She is teaching my Graddaughter now and my son. It is beautiful to see and once my son ws able to help a family that couldn't get their need across. I was grateful for her teaching him.
So children willl learn easier than an adult will, and it will come as natural. You will be amazed at what a differance it will make. I do want you to be a ware that teachers in schools( my husband was a teacher, and complained about this a lot about othe teachers), but teachers are confused and even threatened by students even young ones that have to switch gears in their heads to answer a question. The problem as he saw it was -- that they had to decide how to answer the question and in what language. So the student is not slow, delayed in anyway, or even needing speech therepy- no they are shifting gears and languages and then will answer.Because some languages don't have the words for what they may have been asked. Good Luck, I am 100% behind you and support you all the way. Start with simple things-- my adult children, still call their belly buttons by the Chekoslovakian name. You will have an highly intelligent child and it will be great for the other children as well.
Isn't it interesting that your parent expect you to do what they chose not to do about teaching you languages for what ever reason. We have found that in so many areas with our families as well. Good Luck. Nana G



answers from Sacramento on

What a lucky little guy to have all those languages to learn from people who love him! I wouldn't worry at all about this. He'll learn from each person who cares for him, and he will be able to sort out the three different languages and use them appropriately. I wouldn't bother with the "Baby Can Read" stuff. You seem to have all the interest and are doing the right things to help him. No amount of "formal" teaching methods can compare to parents (and granparents) talking with and loving their child. Do read books... and if you can get some in Spanish and in Vietnamese to read to him too, so much the better. I like the no baby talk rule. Also be listening for his own 'talk' and respond to him. It may seem far off, but it won't be any time at all before he begins to say actual words that you can understand, and that you realize he understands as well. I was amazed when our grandson looked up at a light at about six months of age and said "igh". He was so young I thought I must have been dreaming it, so I kept listening and sure enough he was recognizing and saying light in his own way. Not all children begin that early, but then most adults aren't listening well enough to know when they do begin to talk. It sounds to me like the adults in your son's life are listening and you'll know.

Do the step-brothers speak Vietnamese too? If so, that will be an easy language for Ryan to learn as the little guys tend to pay more attention to their older siblings.

You may just find that you'll learn that Spanish you wish your Dad had taught you, and it will be your son who will teach it to you after he learns it from your parents! He may not end up being the only tri-lingual member of your family.

I would love for you to keep us posted from time to time on Ryan's progress.



answers from San Francisco on

You will find that reading maybe a bit delayed as well as children being willing to speak when learning more than one language. This by no means holds them back and it does not mean that they won't level out and be speaking and reading in both or all three languages. I am a first grade teacher at an international school and see great success with children being fluent by 5th grade.
Please do not push your child to read to early. Please allow them to go at their own rate. I so often see parents who push children to read to early when it is not developmentally appropriate and this only leads to children pushing away from reading and not loving it as they should. Children need to learn in a developmentally appropriate setting. They first need the chance to explore the world and play! By allowing children to dream and use their imagination you are building skills such as independence and caring. There is NO need not to use baby talk. This actually helps children with language. There is a reason everyone does it! Please become more informed by reading how a child's brain develops. There is so much science about it today and every day there is more being learned. Every child will read and speak. They need to be put in an environment that is developmentally appropriate and supported not pushed. The is NO need to teach a baby to read. Read to them and they will grow!



answers from San Francisco on

I agree that Ryan will happily learn all three languages from his various relatives with very little confusion. As for him knowing a language that you don't, that really hasn't been a problem in our house. Both of my girls are fluent (read, write, speak) in Spanish and neither me nor my hubby speaks it. Yea for Immersion School. :o)

As for getting a jump on learning to avoid a learning disability, I wouldn't worry about that too much. Learning disabilities are not effected by how early a child learns. As a matter of fact some kids that learn to 'read' by using flash cards with words printed and pictures on them are sometimes delayed in having their learning difficulties diagnosed since it seemed like they were reading when really all they were doing was memorizing. Stick with natural learning.
Babies learn best from the people in their lives. Read, sing and play with him. Talk to him as you go through your day. 'Let's go upstairs.' 'How many stairs are there?' 'One, two...' You get the idea. There really is no time too early for this kind of learning. I would suggest that you stop having him listen to TV. Even 'educational' programs are not good for little ones. Sesame Street can actually aggravate ADD and ADHD issues in some kids since it is chopped up in little segments and way over stimulating. Learning throughout his regular day by interacting with the people and objects around him is the best way for your little guy to learn. Get his big brothers in on it. They can read and sing to him, or just talk to him about what they like to do. 'When you get big, I will teach you to ride a skateboard.' That sort of thing.

Your new little one is a lucky boy to have such a diverse and loving family around him!



answers from Phoenix on

Not a problem at all! Go right ahead. However, be aware and don't be concerned if your child doesn't talk early. Mine didnt (he's a boy, and I sign to him) although all the other neighbor girls same age to a few months younger were all signing/talking before he was. But he more than made up for it (I think, we moved away from those neighborhood girls) because he was reading 1st, 2nd grade books while in Kindergarten.

I do think language learning (especially sign language as it uses the spatial side of your brain in addition to the linguistic side that all languages do) will build and develop more connections in the brain. It may slightly delay him at first (only because he has so much to choose his words from) but he will make up for it abundantly!

I think you're doing a great job! Follow your gut feelings, if you think it's a good thing, it probably is! If you feel you're overwhelming him, take it easy until he seems comfortable again. But there's no reason you "can't" teach him to learn as many languages as there are in his life!



answers from San Francisco on

From the studies I have read and my own observations, the best way for children to learn different languages is to have them spoken consistently by the people with whom he spends most of his time. so if you speak English, your husband speaks Vietnamese, your parents speak Spanish, your very lucky son will absorb all three languages and be a very lucky tri-lingual boy. He will of course hear more english than just from you, it will be all around him and don't count on tv or dvds, he doesn't need them. just normal conversation about what is happening. Do read to him a lot and encourage reading (and learning to read and write ) in those other family languages as well.

Lucky son and blessed family!!Enjoy every minute!!




answers from San Francisco on

About the languages, my observation is that kids know who they are talking to. So he will figure out that you speak one language, and others speak other languages, and will naturally sort it out on his own.

About the whole learning topic, babies are learning all the time by seeing, touching, listening, being talked to and played with. I think you are way too concerned with occupying him with TV, reading DVD's etc. There is a natural progression to things, and you sound like you are really trying to rush him through it, just because of your own experience. You have to realize that he is his own person and he deserves to learn at his natural pace.

I would recommend that you read a couple of books on baby/child development and see what kinds of learning are important at his age. The most important thing is of course to be with him and talk and play with him. You don't have to get him to make up for somethign you think you missed. You may very well accidentally set him up for failure that way. FOr instance, if you are expecting him to learn letters from Sesame Street or learn to read from DVDS's at his age, you will find that it won't happen, and therefore he is a failure. You don't want him to have to experience his parents thinking he is a failure when he is not!

Good luck!



answers from San Francisco on

Save your money!!! You all will do a terrific job of teaching him the languages better than any taped system!



answers from San Francisco on

First, contratulations on becoming a Mom!

Because this comes up in my Gymboree classes that I teach, I asked my pediatrician about babies learning languages and if there is a limit on the number that they can learn. Basically, he said no - not in the early years so it's great that your son will be exposed to different languages. The brain synapses that babies are born with are like sponges which is why it's so much easier for them to learn so many different things, including languages.

You should also look into Gymboree classes - there is a level 1 for babies under 6 months. There is alot of learning that goes on within the basic 45 minute Gymboree class. Also, in our Lafayette site, we now offer a full immersion Family Gymboree class in Spanish.

I don't know where you live but you can get information about Gymboree at www.gymboreeclasses.com.

J. F.



answers from Yuba City on

Hi there. I think this is wonderful. I am speaking 2 languages with my daughter, she is now 10 months old. Her pediatrician told me most kids handle this fine. If there is going to be confusion you will start to notice it around 18 months (I hope I am remembering the age correctly). He said at that point we would cut down just to one language. But he has seen lots of kids that learn 2 or 3 languages and would know what language to use with each person, without confusion. Pretty amazing.



answers from San Francisco on

Hi D.,

I can empathise with you. My daughter now 5yr is quadrilingual. I am a physician and I have also spoken to other doctors and my DD's pediatrician about multiplae languages being spoken to the kid. They all agree : expose them to as many languages as possible. small kids are like sponges. They will absorb whatever you expose them to.

Since my dd was a baby (day 1) I have been speaking my mother tongue (marathi) including my mom when she is around, my dh as well as my in laws have been speaking to her in Hindi and I insisted my neighbour speak to her in her mother tongue.
DD never had any problems. She does occasionally substitute english words or words from some other language when she doesn't know the appropriate word in one language. This is decreasing as her vocabulary increases.
She didn't know english till she started going to preschool where she picked it up. We ensured (her teachers also advised us) that we don't speak to her in english. She is growing up in US- she will speak english the moment she starts interacting with other people/ school.

This is long but I do want to encourage you.. your has a unique opportunity to be multi-lingual.
One of our married friend's son is also trilingual. The dad is indian- speaks marathi (he can speak to me in marathi when I talk with him), mom is Chinese and speak mandarin to him. he learnt Engish when he started going to preschool. He was able to translate for his parents when he was 2.5 yr!

So go ahead speak your respective languages to the baby. Baby will respond according to his age. I wouldn't put on TV for him. Just talking and reading is enough. He will pick up alll the languages.

Hope this helps. If you want to talk some more you can send me a personal message at [email protected]____.com



answers from San Francisco on

2 months old and you are worrying about learning to talk? You have a ways to go for that. =) Right now just play with him, talk TO him, love on him! Kiss his toe and SAY toe. Touch your nose, say nose. He wants to interact with YOU.

I consider your son VERY lucky! To live in a world where he could learn two languages is awesome, to live in a world where he could learn three?? WOW! He is a very, VERY lucky boy! Don't worry about him getting mixed up, he will learn very quickly who can understand him and who can't. I had friends that were in a very similar situation. At 2 their son would say sentences like "Mira (Spanish)the (English) fluge(German)!" Mom was German, Dad was Hispanic and they both spoke English together. By the time he was 4 he figured out that he needed to speak German with mom, Spanish with Dad and English with both of them...and he was fluent in all 3! Think about it. This little boy will do great things with that knowledge! Don't stifle it, encourage it! =)



answers from Stockton on

Hi D.,

here's my two cents :-) He's so young right now that I wouldn't worry about learning disabilities until later. Right now he's going to learn what every baby learns - rolling over, socializing with care givers, etc. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies not watch TV at all until age 2. The more TV young children watch, the less their language skills grow. They need interaction to learn a language.

That being said, what a lucky boy you have! Babies don't learn and retain language from learning from TV and DVD's. But they do learn and retain language from interacting with live people. Your son has a great opportunity to grow up trilingual!!

I'm Caucasian and speak only English. I've dabbled in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. My son's father is Cantonese and Vietnamese. My son is now 3 years old and is learning Spanish in preschool. I enforce what little I know at home because his Spanish level is so simple right now.

So, basically, I speak English and very basic Spanish to him. He doesn't like it when I try to speak to him in Chinese. However, he does translate what the family says in Chinese to me (in English) :-D His dad speaks a mix of Cantonese and English to him. He was raised by his Cantonese grandparents while his father and I worked and it's actually his first language. He was so good in Chinese and so lacking in English, that we put him in preschool to catch up in English. His grandparents don't speak English. His English exploded at that point and now he's very fluent in Cantonese and English and limping along in Spanish :-)

My mother fussed and said he wouldn't learn either
language very well, but that just wasn't true. Babies have an amazing ability to pick up what surrounds them. Your son will easily be trilingual if his care givers consistently speak to him in their native languages.

One tip I read is that who speaks which language should be consistent. For example, the child might get confused if you always speak English and then one day you break out talking in Spanish. You can, for example, be the English speaking parent while his father addresses him only in Vietnamese.

This next bit is neither here nor there, but I just thought it was interesting. My boyfriend grew up speaking Cantonese and Vietnamese and learned English when he came to the US. He also learned Mandarin in Chinese school after regular school. His family speaks primarily in Cantonese and so he is fluent in Cantonese and English. However, once he wasn't living in Vietnam, he never heard the language and basically lost it. He can understand it, but he can't respond comfortably in Vietnamese. He understands bits of Mandarin, but can't speak it (and he mostly understands it because many words are similar enough to Cantonese that he can pick up the gist of what people are saying). My point is: use it or lose it. Your son needs to hear and respond in these languages for most of his life to retain the ability to use them. Even if he learns it once, and never uses it again, he'll lose it.

Anyway, you have one very lucky little boy! Enjoy every moment with him. They grow so fast!



answers from San Francisco on

Hi D.,

What a lucky little boy to have the opportunity to be exposed to all of those languages!

We are living in Rome, Italy right now. Both my husband and I are American so we speak English at home and Italian out of the house. Our daughter (2 years old) goes to daycare in the mornings where they speak English, Italian, and French. She counts to 10 in both English and Italian and was starting to speak really well in Italian before the summer, but after 5 weeks in the U.S. this summer she is speaking mostly English. The teachers at school say she understand everything in French, but since we don't speak it we haven't heard her say much in French.

We have a lot of international friends here who have exposed their children to many languages. The thing everyone says works best is to have each person speak in only one language. So, your parents should speak to him only in Spanish, your mother-in-law only in Vietnamese and you only in English. It might be difficult for your husband not to speak English since you don't understand Vietnamese and the three of you will all want to speak together!

I wouldn't worry about exposing him to too many languages. From what we've seen here with our friends, when/how the child learns really depends on the child, not the number of languages. For example, a Swiss/Italian family we know has a daughter who speaks both French and Italian REALLY well for a 2-year old. And other children who are exposed to just one language don't speak well yet at all. And if the child learns a little bit more slowly, that's okay, too. It doesn't necessarily mean he/she will have problems later.

One other thing I would say is not to push the languages in a formal way (with DVDs/CDs, etc). It is amazing how little ones soak up everything around them. I've noticed that I used to quiz my daughter about colors, shapes, letters, etc. because I want her to learn them. But I think that puts a lot of pressure on little ones and they don't need it. She seems to pick up on things just as fast on her own as when I try to "teach" her something. I am backing off and letting her just learn from the world around her at this point. Later there will be plenty of time to be more formal about teaching. I hope that makes sense!

Lastly, I also have a mild learning disability (dyslexia - I hope I spelled that correctly! :). And again, I think it really depends more on the makeup of the child than on "teaching" him/her early.

Best of luck,


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