what language should we speak to our son?

so i’m italian and my finacee is mexican, we are having our first son in around 2 months. we moved to the u.s. both when we were kids, and we both agree that our son will be trilangual.

I told her that we should speak to him in our own languages since birth (i’d talk to him in italian, and she’d talk to him in spanish), and talk in english every once in a while so he’s not confused when he’s out with little friends, on the contrary my wife thinks we should talk to him in english at birth and then when he’s a little older teach him our native languages.

what do you think?

39 Comments

  1. Speak in your native tongue, have someone else speak to him in English…
    he will learn it all….I promise.
    Mom talks like this.
    Dad talks like this.
    Next door neighboor talks like this.

    They need to learn it before 5 years of age.

    I have a friend who is German (Germans speak fluent English) Her husband was a Spanish boxer. Her parents moved to America to be close to the grandchildren. Grandparents spoke German to the children. Father spoke Spanish. Mother spoke American English. The children spoke it all.

    pinkstealth
  2. no you speak to him in english first but in italian and spanish once and a while…he lives here so i think that it’s the first thing you should teach him then broaden his arisen…

    Shlane
  3. It would be an asset to the child to teach him all the languages that you and your wife speak. Being fluent in several languages can be a tremendous job advantage in this day and age.

    Lilly
  4. How awesome for you having anew child to teach so much to. I would mix it up. Babies have a way of grasping on to more than we can imagine. This child may learn to have say a sentence with 3 different languages by 3 years old. You both are right though he will learn to respond to both parents but just as any child "learns the language" you will be able to teach more when he gets older.

    Michele
  5. I think that you should let your son learn English first because it he is going to live in the United States then he needs to be able to speak proper English. Then, when he is a little bit older you can begin to teach him your native languages. I think it would be fine to teach him a few words of the two other languages as well. Can’t hurt. Hope this helps.

    Devon
  6. Speak all of them… You’ll be amazed at how kids just suck it all up. They’ll have a little bit of problems when they start socializing with other kids, but they get over it really fast. My friends’ kids can switch from english to polish to armenian without missing a beat. Trust me they learn better when they’re young, not when they’re older.

    dreamed1
  7. you should do it since he is a baby that way he will learn with no problem at all it will feel natural to him, and when he is older he may have trouble because he could misunderstand the languages

    plulis
  8. When my daughter was born, we spoke to her in both English and Spanish from the beginning. It took her a few months longer before she started talking, and when she did, she spoke in English but with Spanish structure. "No I want to go outside" meant I don’t want to go outside, for example. She quickly caught up though and is now fluent in both languages. Be patient as your little one starts speaking. One other thing that I wish I’d done differently – because I started off speaking English, that language got "assigned" to me and if I tried speaking Spanish, she would get confused and cry. If you’re going to speak Italian and English, do both up front and keep mixing it up. Baby will eventually sort it all out.

    Stef
  9. i think i agree with your wife. As staying in the US, the main language will be english. It would be at your son’s advantage that you both speak to him in english initially, when he is a few years old, you and your wife can teach him italian and spanish simultaneously with english. It may be confusing at first, but it takes time for him to get used to it. I really admire your spirit to teach your son your mother tongue: i think that italian and spanish are beautiful languages and you should pass it on to your son so that he can learn more about his culture in time to come.

    Fiona Y
  10. your wife maybe right! you don’t want your son to appear freaky to his playmates right? they might make fun of his different accent and words. i’m half spanish but i don’t have our native accent when speaking english, because my mom will always talk to me in english when i was young. then she taught me spanish while i was growing. don’t bombard him with different langauges.
    take it easy!

    but i must say! he’s very lucky!

    ascker
  11. Definitely give him a foundation in English, since he is in the U.S.
    At the same time, you can teach him Italian along with the English (bit by bit) while your wife does the same with Spanish.
    Learning multiple languages at a young age is so valuable (and much easier)!
    Good luck!

    Peace
  12. I think that it would be much better speaking to him in your native languages, so that he will catch the correct accents and pronunciations. Then just let him learn English at school by himself, it will all work out. If you speak English to him right now, it will be much more difficult for him to learn the native languages when he grows up. Why? Because the only ones that are gonna speak your language then will be you and your wife, but if you let him learn English later, all his friends, family, etc.. will be speaking it.

    In other words, if you talk in Italian/Spanish right now he will adopt it and then adopt English and be surrounded by it. But if you speak English now, then he speaks English at school, and is barely surrounded by both of the other languages, he will not learn them as well.

    Siervocal
  13. I live in Hawaii and have several friends who grew up speaking more than one language. They say they can’t remember being taught any one or another, which tells me they were learned simultaneously. Use Italian when you’re with him, let your wife use spanish and there will be plenty of english in between. It will be when he reaches schooling age that english will be more of a priority outside the home. But at home you should use whatever your family is most comfortable with.

    jadechronic2000
  14. Children are sponges. If you speak your native tongues at home and speak english in public, he will learn it all. He should learn to speak English with ease, because he lives here. But children can learn so much when they are very young and it is harder for them to learn later.

    plaplant8
  15. That’s really cool that he’s going to know three languages. I think that your wife is right. I think that if he’s going to be living in America you should teach him English first and then Italian and Spanish a little later (maybe introduced one at a time). Hearing both Italian and Spanish at the same time might be confusing. If he’s going to be speaking English primarily as he grows older (except possibly at home) then English should probably be his first language.

    Holly
  16. If you speak multiple languages to him, he’ll probably advance at a slightly slower rate than if you spoke just English. Kids usually do, since they have to learn twice (or three times) as much information. Overall though, multilingual kids always catch up. Plus, if you spoke all three then he may actually end up fluent in all three, or at least with a good head start later in life. When my wife and I have kids, she’s going to try to exclusively speak Thai to them.

    boxingnun
  17. Speak your mother tongue, let her speak Spanish and you speak Italian, beauty about kids is, they pick up as many language they hear, please don’t worry or hesitate about it, trust me you won’t regret, and the kid will be so proud of himself when he grows up, kids are very sharp, they learn faster at this tender age.
    He is bound to learn English in the school, that’s not a big deal.
    Plus when you go home, he will be able to communicate with grand parents, both sides, hers and yours, and they would be so proud of their grand kids.
    We are from India, and though we all know English, but the rules are that once the kid come from school, he has to speak our mother tongue, and "IF" he speaks English then we don’t reply, but by now he is mentally programmed and we are all fine, he is a teenager (my sister in law is a white girl) has blonde hair and blue eyes like his mother and when he speaks our mother tongue, people are shocked and amazed and praise him.

    Mumtaz
  18. i’ve heard that english is a really hard language to learn, so i’d definetely go with your wife. Although, i think you should talk to him in spanish and italian as he grows up so it’s not like he learns in high school, but i would have is primary languange be english, because i think that language is becoming the primary language all over the world.

    scrusso
  19. My daughter is is trilingual, I had the same question before she was born. But we spoke , and still do, our native tongues with her, and she is doing just fine with English too. They learn everything pretty fast and they know when to speak each one. If you don`t speak your native languages with your kid, he (she) will get just English and forget about the others pretty fast since you live in America. They will speak English all day long at school and before that they watch those kids channels that teach them a lot, like Reading Rainbow and Elmo, so don`t worry.

    HappyErika
  20. i’m trilingual. my parents speak 2 languages, plus i have to learn english. what my parents did is at home we spoke our maternal language. and outside english. when we are babies or kids, it’s more easy to learn the languages even if there are totally different with they will know the difference between this one or this one.

    so speak to him in your languages. ’cause one of the problem of the society is that people are losing their culture by assimilating another.

    so at home speak to him in italian and mexican. he will have time at school or daycare to learn english. English is an easy language.

    BlowMeAway
  21. If you want your child to speak your native langauges, it’s best to begin when he is born! Once children become comfortable with English, it’s very hard to encourage them to learn a language unless they are taking formal classes or growing up in an environment where most everyone is speaking the language around them.

    More importantly I encourage you to also teach your child to read and write your languages, if you are literate in them. Even if you don’t write Italian and Spanish, you can use your langauges to improve your child’s academic and intellectual growth by "discussing" with him in your languages. Most of us just use common language at home, centered around things like "What’s there to eat?" or "It’s time to pick up your toys." But to succeed in school your child not only needs you to read to him, he also needs you to ask him questions and make him think about his world. Show him bugs and ask how they are the same, how they are different. Let him describe how he sorts things into piles. Ask him what character in a cartoon he likes best and WHY.

    Most importantly, modern language theory has found that it’s NOT exposure to a language that makes a person fluent – it’s interaction in that language! I have taught students whose home language is Spanish, their parents do not speak English, yet these students could barely keep on task speaking Spanish. They undertand everything but they can only hold the most basic conversation. The reason? They HEARD Spanish all the time, but they only spoke it with Abuelito and Tía Gloria. Children need to engage in conversation to be fluent.

    You see, these students were not native Spanish speakers, they were bilingual from birth! They learned both Spanish and English at the same time, like your child will, but they spoke primarily English with their friends and little cousins. They only spoke Spanish with certain adults who could not speak English.

    Your child will most likely be trilingual from birth. You will need to be diligent in speaking only your languages if you want him to become fluent. It might be hard because you both probably speak English well already, so it will be a habit to speak English in the home, and you’d have to break that habit.

    Finally, I encourage you to have your child take formal classes when he is older. In every country a child must take classes in his native language until he is somewhere between 15-18 years old, so it’s not reasonable to expect an individual to be fluent and literate in any language if they don’t study the language.

    When we had our children, we had the same question about language. People wisely advised us to start with Spanish, but since I spent more time at home with them, I tended to use my native English. They learned to understand Spanish, but not to speak it much. They are in their mid-twenties now, and both are bilingual and biliterate, but the difference came when they 1) took a few classes in high school, and 2) had the chance to speak Spanish with more people than just our family.

    Congratulations on your little one – you will be great parents if you are already thinking about such topics.

    Mimii
  22. He will learn English in school.. Both of you should speak your respective languages because by the time he gets to be about 6-7 years old he will not want to speak any language but English.

    lizardonearth
  23. I come from a bilingual setting, so can identify to some extent with your situation. It is great that you want your son to be trilingual. If the U.S. is your permanent residence, by all means emphasize English as the main language, for his sake. It is important that he hear it on a regular basis. I don’t really think it is necessary to decided when each language will be spoken. Simply decide that all three languages will be spoken in the home, with a constant emphasis on the one which will be his primary language (English, presumably). A child has an astounding ability to handle various languages with little or no effort or confusion. This natural ability diminishes as he grows older. So let him start hearing the two secondary languages during his first year.

    David J
  24. I think English because he lives in the USA. However I am sure you can teach the three languages. When he will be older and will speak Italian, Spanish and English. WOW.

    I know a girl who lives in the USA, her mother is Brazilian. She knew, in my house with my mother I speak Portuguese, out of my house I speak English. They arrived in Brazil to see Brazilian family and she began speak English with people on street. It was funny. Everybody looked scared, a little girl speaking English, she seems a Brazilian like us! Now she is older and knows the difference lol

    Star
  25. If you don’t teach him your natives tongues now, he won’t learn them so easily later, whereas he will always assimilate English whilst living in an English-speaking environment. I have seen so many potentially bi-lingual kids let down by their parents’ failure to teach them their language from birth. And don’t worry that Italian and Spanish being similar will confuse him: kids born into Catalan and Galician speaking families in Spain cope with this all the time.

    GrahamH
  26. hi im also italian and my husband from Ukrein and we are living in Turkey.
    so we are teaching to our son all the languages.
    hes talking with me italian with my husband russian and hes also learning turkish.

    vantuegna f
  27. ok you must talk him in italian, and your financee in spanish, and he would learn english at the school… it’s not a problem… little babies can learn languages very fast!!

    you must teach him or her spanish and italian by illustrated books and that type of things!!

    eduardo m
  28. I think you could speak in Italian to him, your wife in Spanish and between you two you could speak in English…
    I know a family that is doing the same (meaning speaking three languages around the child) and he is doing well…
    I think: the sooner the better!!!

    Only thing: he will probably start speaking later than the other children because he might be a little bit confused but he will do brilliantly!!!

    In bocca al lupo per tutto e congratulazioni per il vostro bambino!!!!

    Danielina
  29. You can speak Italian to you son, and your wife can speak Spanish. Your son will be exposed to English around town, in the media, and in school anyway.

    Years ago, I read an interesting story about an Australian couple who met in Germany, then married and returned to Australia. Not wanting to lose his German, the man spoke to his child only in German. (This also worked since his wife also understood German.) The woman only spoke to the child in English. The child is a native speaker in both. Here’s the interesting part: when the child was 4 or 5 years old and started going to pre-school, the child spoke English to every woman he/she saw and spoke German to every man he/she saw. He naturally thought that women spoke "this way" (English) and men spoke "that way" (German). Once the child was taught that everyone in Australia speaks like Mommy (in English) and that everyone in Germany speaks like Daddy (in German), there was no more confusion.

    I used this story as a model for my own family. My wife is Japanese and I myself am fluent in all forms of Japanese. When our first daughter was born in Japan, we spoke to her only in Japanese. I did not speak to her in English until we moved to the States (when she was 2-1/2 years old). Now my wife speaks to her only in Japanese, I speak to her only in English, and I speak to my wife only in Japanese.

    As long as you understand Spanish and your wife understands Italian, why don’t you each speak your native language to your son? I believe that language equals identity. Your child will be Mexican-Italian, so why deprive your child of either Spanish or Italian?

    Jazz In 10-Forward
  30. I’m not an expert on languages, but if I were you, I would use all three. Young children can pick up on languages fairly easily while they’re figuring it all out for the first time, so exposure to all three sounds like the best option. I’m including a couple of links to pages about raising trilingual/multilingual children that will provide more information than I can.

    Good luck to you and your family!

    Joshua
  31. I agree with you.
    They learn better and faster when they are younger. So it doesn’t hurt them or anything.
    It is harder for them to understand and pick up the accent when they are older.
    Speak with them in all three languages.
    They could also learn english by watching tv or listening to music and stories.

    They wouldn’t be confused. Some of my friends’ kids know different languages and they aren’t confused!

    Samantha
  32. Talk to him in Spanish and Italian first…. then immediately translate everything into English, that way he has something to work off of.

    UnknownX

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