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I am a French mum who has a 2 year old baby. My husband is Swedish and at home we speak English. Our son is already speaking French and Swedish and some English. We speak a bit of English with him everyday when the 3 of us are together. The thing is we have just moved to Spain and he will need to learn Spanish, but we don't want to send him to school (bilingual English-Spanish) until he is 3 years. Our level of Spanish is B1. We are worried that introducing Spanish at home will confuse him, as we follow the method 1 parent-1 language and he is used to: mum+French, dad+Swedish, all_together+English.

How could we introduce Spanish at home? Can we use TV cartoons without us speaking the language? Would it be a good approach to watch some Spanish cartoons to introduce the language? Or is it better to wait until he is 3 years old and he starts school?
Can he get confused?
And another question: Would he get confused if I study Spanish next to him and he listens to me practising with an online course?

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    If you are in Spain, he'll pick up Spanish. Not a problem. The more languages, the better, though it does slow some kids down for a bit, sorting them out. Again, not a problem. It's normal for people to live in an environment where there are different languages and dialects, and kids adapt nicely to it. – jlawler Jan 21 at 3:06
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    Totally agree with @jlawler. My own experience, and the one of a few people I know who are in the same situation, shows that kids pick up the local language as soon as they go to nursery/school. We did not make any effort at all to inroduce our son to English. He started to attend local nursary at 4. Speaks like a Scot now. Keeping the native language on a decent level is a much bigger problem - this does require an effort. – tum_ Jan 21 at 8:06
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    across the world, and most of history, multilingualism has been the norm. It's only really the rise of centralised states and their efforts to create a unified national character that has lead to the monolingualism we often see today (especially in anglophone nations). Four languages should not be a problem for your child, and they'll likely pick it up quickly just from friends even without you speaking it at home – Tristan Jan 21 at 14:34
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    Thank you Tristan. I would love my son to learn as much languages as he wants. My only concern is if he will feel "anxious" or "unconfortable" the day he arrives with 3 years to school and he doesn't understand a word of Spanish. Maybe it's just an "adult mind problem". – FrenchMum Jan 21 at 17:29
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    Bonus: Spanish and French are similar enough (both being Romance languages) that fluency in of one of them will make learning the other fairly easy. They may mix them up a bit at first, but as they get older and are exposed to more native speakers of each of the languages, they should be able to handle switching between them. – Darrel Hoffman Jan 21 at 20:25
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I suppose you mean television cartoons, not comics (unless this child can read at age 2). This raises a question (potentially askable on a different SE) whether planting a child in front of the chatterbox has any positive effect. So leaving non-interactive media out of the picture, one option is to have a Spanish-speaking person regularly interact with the child, e.g. somebody who cleans, babysits or whatever and interacts with the child – in Spanish. Another is to use Spanish at home as well.

Since children at this age gain and lose languages very rapidly, you will not permanently damage the child by using ungrammatical Spanish. Even if you were fluent in Spanish, the child will invariably screw up sentences for a number of years, but eventually they get the system sorted out. Children are confused about everything to some extent from birth until I don't really know when, but they manage to eventually sort out what's Swedish, French or English, and adding Spanish or Basque will not make things worse. The only way that you could do damage would be if you formed all of your sentences by randomly switching between the 4 languages, within the sentence. Det skulle be muito dificil pour vous to do, anyhow.

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  • Thank you. Yes, it is not the best option to watch tv cartoons but right now we don't have the option to have a specific teacher or baby sitter:( If we could, he already would have one. Right now he watches around 15-20 mins of Peppa Pig to improve his English. My son is quite good at distinguishing languages. For now he is able to speak to each of us in our language without mixing words (he only mixes them occasionally). Would it be useful to watch some specific video from youtube like "greetings" or "useful expressions"? – FrenchMum Jan 20 at 21:14
  • Why would a Spanish speaking contact have to be someone they employ? If you live in Spain, you're bound to have at least some interaction with locals. If not, this might be a good excuse to go out and make some friends! – EdvinW Jan 20 at 21:44
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    Being in the middle of the covid19 pandemia makes it difficult to go out and meet people :( That's why I thought about watching youtube. I am not a fan of screens for children, but I don't see more options. I am just afraid to damage his learning if I try to teach some basics myself I've read some children get confuse and develop problems. – FrenchMum Jan 20 at 23:22
  • I’m sure that extra bit of Portuguese would do nothing to alleviate the confusion, either. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 21 at 16:57
  • XD I think we don't need to add Portuguese too – FrenchMum Jan 22 at 9:51
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I have seen success at this with a puppet.

In short, you want to introduce a new person to keep the correspondence 1 person = 1 language.

A nanny (as pointed by @user6726 ) would be the most straightforward option, that would be a new person, with a presumably correct Spanish, and would release some of your time as an additional advantage, for a cost. But it may not be the best option, considering the pandemic.

A puppet would work as a "fictional person", it is cheap, available 24/7, and it is embodied (contrary to TV).

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  • In case it helps, I could find several good options in amazon.es by searching for "marioneta de mano". – Trylks Jan 21 at 14:12
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    Thank you very much Trylks. It's a wonderful idea! I agree with user6726 in the fact that screen is not a good option for children, but I didn't know any other option taking into account, as you have said, that the pandemic is not the best moment to bring new people home. – FrenchMum Jan 21 at 17:32
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You've already extended from "1 person = 1 language" to the more general "1 context = 1 language" principle when you added "all together = English". Now you've moved to Spain, I would suggest extending this further with "all together at home = English" and "all together out = Spanish".

You'll likely find that forcing yourselves to interact with your child in Spanish when out of the house will be a big help with you and your husband with learning Spanish.

I learned Dutch mainly by using the 1 parent = 1 language method with our children who were both born while we were living in the Netherlands (my Wife and I are both native English speakers with a bit of French).

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  • Thank you Stephen. It's a great idea. My concern is that my Spanish is not good enough to teach anyone and probably he will make mistakes. But I guess it's better than nothing :), until the situation improves. – FrenchMum Jan 22 at 9:46
  • Of course he will make mistakes. That's how one learns a language. But if he's surrounded by native speakers, he won't make the same mistake often, or after a while, at all. – jlawler Jan 24 at 2:31
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This is a bit of an open-ended question. There are several approaches you could take. This resource contains some excellent tips, such as the following

Children can learn to speak more than one language. They can learn languages at home, at school, or in the community. Some children can speak both languages easily. But sometimes they know one language better than the other. The language your child knows better is her dominant language. Over time, the dominant language may change. For example, a child who speaks Spanish at home may start to use English when she starts school. Her dominant language could change from Spanish to English.

Speaking two languages is like any other skill. You need a lot of practice to do it well. Without practice, your child will have a harder time using both languages.

Teaching Your Child To Be Bilingual

There are a number of ways to teach your child to speak more than one language. You can:

Use two languages from the start. Many children grow up learning two languages at the same time. Use only one language at home. Your child can learn the second language when he starts school. Give your child many chances to hear and practice both languages during the day. Learning More Than One Language

Every bilingual child is unique. Learning two languages depends on the amount and type of practice your child gets. The following are some basic guidelines:

Most bilingual children speak their first words by the time they are 1 year old. By age 2, most children can use two-word phrases. Phrases like "my ball" or "more juice" can be in one or both languages. From time to time, children may mix grammar rules. They might use words from both languages in the same sentence. This is a normal part of becoming bilingual. Some children may not talk much when they start using a second language. This “silent period” can last for several months. Again, this is normal and will go away. Ways To Help Your Child Become Bilingual

Books. You can read to your child in both languages. You can find the books you need at bookstores, at libraries, and on the Internet. Music. Singing is a great way to introduce a second language to your child. And, it can be a lot of fun! TV and videos. Children’s programs are available in many languages. These programs teach children about numbers, letters, colors, and simple words. Language programs. Children can learn other languages at camps or in bilingual school programs. These give children the chance to use two languages with other children. Talking With Your Child

Your child might have trouble using both languages. In this case, talk to your child in the language you know best. You should do this even if your child uses a different language at school. A good language model gives your child the skills he needs to learn other languages. But try not to make a sudden change in your child’s routine. This can be stressful.

Remember, children all over the world learn more than one language all the time. Learning another language will not cause or worsen speech or language problems. Bilingual children develop language skills just as other children do.

If your child starts having trouble in both languages, he may need help from a speech-language pathologist, or SLP. To find a speech-language pathologist near you, visit ProFind.

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  • Thank you. But I am looking for something more specific for my case. – FrenchMum Jan 20 at 20:03

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