Thursday, February 10, 2011

What it is like to raise a multilingual toddler

I speak English and a little bit of Chinese and French. I speak mainly English with Tristan. Jean-Louis speaks French and English and speaks only English with me and only French with Tristan. Tristan is 26 months old and is learning more and more language every day. His language consists mainly of English, some French, the odd Chinese and is accompanied by baby sign.

They say only the parents understand what their child is saying when they start to speak. It's not until around age 3 that they can be understood by other people. I can understand Tristan more than Jean-Louis since I am with him more. Some times neither of us can understand him. We would be asking each other "what did he say?" When Tristan speaks, he may be speaking with a mix of languages in his short sentences. We would then wonder if he is speaking English and just pronouncing it wrong or is he speaking French and pronouncing it wrong. Some times when we don't understand, he tries to say it differently and ends up saying the same word in both English and French. Ah ha! For instance, one day I was peeling eggs in the kitchen and Tristan was on the couch saying something like Tristan eat oeuf but he didn't pronounce "oeuf" right so he kept saying it. I asked you want to eat what? When he saw my confusion and I still didn't acknowledge him with an okay, he said "egg."

In fact, we have many examples of confusion over what Tristan is trying to say. The other day when I put Tristan in his stroller, he said big boosette. I repeated big boots? He said no and then kept repeating big boosette. Then it dawned on me that he was saying big poussette, where poussette is French for stroller. There are some sentences he will say which will be composed of English, French, and Chinese. Yeah, if we're having problems some times, an outsider would have no chance!

Tristan knows his construction vehicles in French since the books are in French. He also knows some of his insects in French. I'm learning these myself! He knows some of the English equivalents too but he refers to most of them in French. For everything else, it just depends. He may say it in French one time and then the next time he will say it in English. Or he may say it in French and English at the same time. Also, Tristan now knows how to curse in English (damn it) and French (zut). Watch out!

I would like to take advantage of this language spurt by teaching Tristan more Chinese words. He's interested in learning so why not, right? Sadly, I don't speak much anymore but if he knows some words, he will be able to understand my parents more. Although Tristan speaks mainly English, I would say his understanding of both English and French is probably the same. Here are some of the phrases he would say now:
  • Today, prend le skytrain again.
  • Papa prend le bus go working.
  • Tristan cry. Tristan miss daddy.
  • Tristan prend un bain. Papa prend un douche. Tristan grand, Tristan prend un douche.
  • Mama cook. Papa do dishes.
  • Coco at home. Eat du pain. (Coco is Tristan's friend at daycare)
  • Tristan eat nouille. Coupe nouille.
  • Papa carry petit Tristan. Mama owie arm.
  • Peoples get on, peoples get off chou chou train.
  • Tristan wear veste. Tristan put on gant.
  • Hand main dirty. Mommy clean.
  • Maman, what you doing?
  • Mama happy Tristan eat all.
  • Tristan wait mama downstairs.
  • Banana muffin no caca.
  • Caca in potty, not in couche.
  • Doggie no eat Tristan.
  • When Tristan grand, drive to Mexico.
  • When Papa small, Tristan put vaseline on Papa.
  • When big, Tristan drink coffee, go work, prend le cars.
  • Carrot go home eat.
  • Tristan wear pajama to sleep.
  • Tristan wake up, Tristan play play-dough.


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