I heard that children learning multiple languages from birth had a strange result from research: that bilingual children do just fine, and master both languages. But the drop-off after that is huge: kids can learn more languages (more than 3 even) but don't not have the same level of fluency by a distance. Additionally, sometimes it really messes them up, they get confused and have learning difficulties. He said the switch from 2 to 3 was crucial.

Even without the potential learning difficulties it might seem better to master 2 languages as mother tongue and learn a third fluently later on. A colleague, like myself, is in a relationship where there are two different languages from the parents' countries and either English as the parental language or a third language from the country of residence. I told him about this (supposed) reserach, and he didn't seem interested - their first child was raised with three languages. He now has learning difficulties :( Obviously, only anecdotal...

I would like to hear if anyone has seen research on this theme of the disadvantages of learning too many languages, particularly higher incidence of learning difficulties. Personal experience welcome but please prioritise larger, controlled studies if you know of them or can find them.

Please note that while, for example, here in Switzerland there are 4 official languages, plus Swiss German (regional dialects used in everyday speech in the German half) they are not all learned from birth normally. In fact, as far as I can tell most Swiss only speak the language of the region they are in to a mother-tongue standard. In the German part they will almost always speak fluent High German too (the official language), but I don't think any of their non-German languages are commonly fluent, let alone mother tongue. I assume this kind of distinction exists in other countries famous for speaking multiple languages.

I found quite a few links on the first page of Google that seem like decent trilingualism resources. So far I have only skimmed them looking for something about this, rather than read in detail (someone add back the link numbers please and trilingualism tag):

Google Answers - Raising a trilingual baby

Issues surrounding trilingual families

Some personal opinions

The evolution of trilingual codeswitching from infancy to school age

Pragmatic differentiation in early trilingual development

Towards a Typology of Trilingual Primary Education (non-free)

asked 20 Jan '10, 15:52

Sambe's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%

edited 21 Jan '10, 03:18

Scott's gravatar image

Scott ♦♦

I spoke three languages from birth and soon learnt (and then forgot) even more. I can assure you that it has not resulted in learning difficulties but rather a better ear and understanding of oral tones and nuances. I think I listen better in general than most people who only speak one language.

So I can only respond from personal experience. A lot of the people I know also grew up speaking more than two languages and they seemed to do well linguistically, academically and socially as well.

This answer is marked "community wiki".

answered 10 Apr '10, 17:06

ajira's gravatar image

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+1 for this answer. At moms4mom we value personal experience and backed up references. Please see our back-it-up principle for more info: http://moms4mom.com/back-it-up Thanks for sharing your experience with other parents!

(10 Apr '10, 17:22) Scott ♦♦
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Asked: 20 Jan '10, 15:52

Seen: 4,369 times

Last updated: 10 Apr '10, 17:06