The last school year was challenging, and I sometimes wondered if my children (5.5-year-old daughter, 2.5-year-old-son) should keep learning 3 languages.
This “end-of-the-school year” trilingual progress report is super late! Summer’s almost over and a new school year is about to start.
I know many of you have asked about our typical schedule, and I keep sending you to last year’s overview of how we balance 3 languages!
But our language diary would be incomplete if I skipped our 2018-2019 reflections.
Recording milestones and creating visual tables gives a big picture view of our progress and challenges. It helps me set realistic expectations for the next school year.
I hope this glimpse of our routine can help your family reflect on your language schedule and goals, too. For those looking at weekend language schools or bilingual caregivers, please consider how you can maximize time and quality of language input.
Quick recap of our Chinese-Korean-American family
Although everyone code-mixes with English, the main language, we have been trying to follow the one person, one language (OPOL) method at home:
- Korean-American Dad: English with almost no Korean
- Chinese-American Mom: Chinese (conversational proficiency)
- Korean-American Nanny: Korean (conversational proficiency)
Now, I secretly wonder if we should keep investing effort in Korean. Because my oldest attends school and our nanny doesn’t see her much, Korean has been difficult to maintain.
Challenges with children learning 3 languages
This year, I felt like God was telling my husband and I to put on the brakes with our workaholic tendencies and be more present with our family.
We endured the usual parenting trials and tribulations: working overtime, sleep regressions, toddlers acting out, and ruthless winter germs!
But we also experienced serious health challenges, and my children attended their first family funeral. I won’t burden you with those details, since we all have our own challenges to deal with.
This bible verse comes to mind though:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” – Matthew 11:28 (NIV)
Each event has been a wake up call to examine our daily priorities.
A typical day with mostly English and Chinese
Generally, my children are interacting in English or Chinese with very sparse Korean.
Since we live in a small, non-diverse town, we spend most of our free time outdoors with English-speaking friends.
Even when our kids are “with” our nanny, 老大 (lǎodà / oldest child) is often doing things independently (eg, reading a Chinese book, playing piano), and therefore not interacting with our nanny.
老二 (lǎo èr / second child) has more Korean exposure when 老大 is at school. However, since 老大 mainly speaks to him in English or Chinese, his Korean regresses when they are together.
In addition, our nights have been rough. I am very sleep-deprived because my son, who used to be a great sleeper, has been struggling to stay asleep at night. After having anaphylaxis a few months ago, he wakes up with nightmares.
We end up co-sleeping, but I only sleep well next to my husband! As a result, I have little energy left to research Korean resources, let alone study Chinese.
For the 2018-2019 school year, my daughter attended preschool 2 mornings per week. Our son is with our nanny on those days.
This was our weekday schedule for the past school year (scroll down to see the tables for more details):
- 7am: Kids wake up; son nurses; daughter does activity or reads; husband goes to work
- 7:30am: Breakfast & get ready for the day
- 8am: Daughter goes to school or kids play; mom starts work
- 10:30am: Snack
- 12pm: Lunch/son’s nap time
- 1pm: Pick up daughter from school and chat/read Chinese for 30-60minutes; outside play or planned activity with nanny
- 3:30pm: Shower/snack
- 4pm: I am done with work; nurse son while my daughter reads
- 4:30pm: Dinner
- 5:30pm: Play outside
- 6:30-7:30pm: Clean-up together (wash dishes, kids put toys away, sweep/vacuum)
- 7:30pm: Get ready for bed; long story time; prayer
- 9pm: Bedtime
On the weekend, our only scheduled event is church on Sunday, and we attend an English-speaking church.
The rest of the time is for free play (usually park or beach). Given the demographics of our area, play dates are always with English-speaking friends.
On weekend mornings, my children are allowed to watch 30 minutes of a Chinese show. However, they are usually playing or reading and forget this option.
Changes in English, Chinese, and Korean language exposure
Less time with Korean-speaking nanny
Our nanny came less often, so I worked less this year and was with my children on most days. This markedly reduced Korean exposure.
I also don’t know when our nanny will decide to have her own children and move on to another chapter of her life.
Who’s going to chat and read with my children in Korean when she moves on? This one of the downsides of living in a small town away from family.
More extracurricular activities
You’ll see in the tables below that our day-to-day schedule varied with extracurricular activities for 老大.
My 5.5-year-old 老大 was extremely bored at preschool, and she really looked forward to interesting lessons!
Since her extracurricular activities were in English or Chinese, this meant less time for Korean.
More time with English-speaking dad
Another big change was letting my children go to bed an hour later so that they would get to see my husband at night most nights of the week.
Although they were usually overtired, spending even half an hour with daddy was much needed.
From a language standpoint, this also meant more English stories at bedtime.
Accepting our limitations with learning 3 languages
I know what I’m supposed to do to boost both minority languages, but I feel spread thin.
Since I don’t understand Korean, researching Korean resources takes a ton of time and energy from other responsibilities.
Also, being their mother, I know that our Chinese learning efforts are more likely to produce tangible results.
OPOL trilingual schedule for 老大 and 老二
Here’s a visual breakdown of our kids’ language schedule during the week:
5.5-year-old 老大 is awake ~98 hours during the week:
- Red = Chinese = 44 hours (45%)
- Blue = English = 47 hours (48%)
- Yellow = Korean = 7 hours (7%)
2.5-year-old 老二 is awake ~98 hours during the week:
- Red = Chinese = 42 hours (44%)
- Blue = English = 36 hours (38%)
- Yellow = Korean = 17 hours (18%)
5.5-year-old 老大’s progress with learning 3 languages
As shown in the tables, 老大 essentially has 2 dominant languages, English and Chinese. Korean is the lonesome minority language.
- Beginning to learn idioms from Chinese teacher
- Listens to Chinese audiobooks and music daily
- Reads 1000+ simplified and traditional Chinese characters fluently (probably much more for simplified Chinese but I haven’t kept track)
- Writing practice 3-4 times per week through copywork and handwriting cards, letters, and mini books
- Can 听写 (tīngxiě) 50-75 simplified Chinese characters by memory (recall varies from day-to-day)
- Native sounding pronunciations but rusty speaking proficiency, basic listening comprehension maintained
- Easily reads words and remembers phonics, but reading comprehension has decreased
- Korean handwriting very neat but rarely feels compelled to write
- Started 한국어 1 workbook but paused early in the school year
- Strongest spoken language
- Hired a Montessori teacher to help with English reading
- I’ll write more about this later, but I want to improve my home teaching skills. Since I don’t have time to train for a Montessori certificate, observing the teacher has been helpful.
- Completed Dash Into Reading Set 1; Montessori pink, blue, and green series, Bob books, Guided Science Readers
- Occasionally reading simple leveled readers, signs, menus, and other environmental print
- Currently gradually working through Dash Into Reading Set 2
- Read to by dad most nights
- On and off interest in cursive handwriting
- Swim, ballet, tap dance, piano, Montessori (English, Math, fine motor handiwork)
2.5-year-old 老二’s progress with learning 3 languages
- Usually speaks Chinglish with random Korean words in the mix
- Can also switch between English and Chinese comfortably and translates for caregivers
- Native-sounding Chinese pronunciation; imitates older sister’s Chinese speech as well as audiobooks
- Recognizes 15+ simple Chinese characters:
- 爸 妈 姐 弟 心 大 中 小 月 女 人 车 刀 奶 口 木的
- These are the Chinese characters that he remembers consistently. At times he has remembered more, but then he has forgotten them or confused them with other characters.
- Understands basic conversation
- Infrequently initiates phrases in Korean; prefers English/Chinese
- Beginning to learn Hangul alphabet vowels and consonants (focusing on phonics through listening/speaking over letter recognition)
- Strongest spoken language, full complex sentences
- Holding off on letter recognition until Chinese and Korean have a solid foundation
In contrast to big sister who was precociously tracing at age 2.5 and writing before age 3, 老二 is still an awesome scribbler. He enjoys drawing lines and sometimes circles. 🙂
Reassessing goals for learning 3 languages
I have prayed a lot about what to do with our children’s 3 languages, and I believe that God wants us to love how he made us, including our cultural heritage. For now, I think we can keep moving forward while readjusting expectations.
My main goal is for my children to have positive memories of learning Korean and Chinese. Because I was a failed bilingual during my childhood, I know what not to do with my kids.
I’m not sure how far we will get with the minority languages, but I know that my children will declare their own opinions. When they are adults, they can decide whether or not to pursue further learning as I have been doing with Mandarin Chinese.
For Korean, I’m accepting that some Korean is better than none. My son’s Korean will likely improve when big sister is at school, and at least my daughter might still be able to maintain listening comprehension.
Meanwhile, English will take the front stage as my daughter has mandatory homework assignments. Therefore, I need to make sure that Chinese continues to feel necessary and appealing for both of my children!
Learning 3 languages over the next school year
Future trilingual schedule for 老大
Next year, my daughter is skipping kindergarten and starting 1st grade. She will attend school 2 full-days per week, and per her request, we will add soccer to the other extracurricular activities.
She will have lots of homework that she must complete in English during our home Mandarin immersion time.
My daughter will have only a few hours per week with our Korean-speaking nanny. I’m encouraging our nanny to focus on listening/speaking skills. When she’s with the kids, she will set up fun Korean-learning activities and devote 30 minutes to Korean story time.
In addition, I’m planning on adding weekly online tutoring. I’m hoping to find a trilingual teacher who can speak both Chinese and Korean fluently. This way, my daughter can practice 2 minority languages simultaneously.
Although there will be less time for Chinese, my daughter has a strong positive association with the language from my intensive efforts over the past few years.
Since she is now self-motivated to read and learn Chinese, I don’t really need to prepare special Chinese activities for her anymore.
Now, the main goal is to find books and music that my daughter will love!
Writing will continue to be child-led, and I will encourage it through natural experiences (eg, to-do lists, journaling, pen-pals, card-making).
Future schedule for 老二
老二 will start toddler gymnastics and soccer; all community classes in our area are held in English.
Due to multiple severe food allergies, I don’t plan on sending him to school until he is older.
Since he will spend 2 to 3 days per week with our nanny, I expect his Korean to improve.
Is your family learning 2, 3, or more languages?
What challenges have you experienced? Have you had to drop a language or readjust language goals?
I’d love to hear about your experience in raising bilingual and trilingual children!
Please share in the comments below!
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- How I Taught My Child 1000+ Chinese Characters as a Non-Fluent Speaker