Schedule Challenges with 2-and 5-Year-Old Kids Learning 3 Languages

Challenging Schedule: 2-and 5-Year-Old Kids Learning 3 Languages

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!

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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.

Challenging Schedule: 2-and 5-Year-Old Kids Learning 3 Languages

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.

Mostly English and Chinese during the day

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.

Failed attempts at putting my kids in the same bedroom. For those who are wondering, current attempt at big bed in a separate bedroom is also not working.

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.

Weekday schedule

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
Toddler son helping unload clean laundry from drying machine

Weekend schedule

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.

Daughter reading Chinese book in bedroom library

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.

Daughter drawing the hundred chart and multiplication table while speaking in Chinese
Daughter drawing the hundred chart and multiplication table while speaking in Chinese

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.

Daddy speaking English to daughter after ballet recital

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.

Visual OPOL trilingual schedule for 老大 and 老二

Here’s a visual breakdown of our kids’ language schedule during the week:

5-year-old trilingual schedule Chinese, English, Korean

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%)
Trilingual schedule 2 year old

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.

Chinese:

Korean:

  • 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

English:

  • 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 Learning set 2 (use code BETTY20 for 20%); 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

Extracurricular activities:

  • Swim, ballet, tap dance, piano, Montessori (English, Math, fine motor handiwork)
Challenging Schedule: 2-and 5-Year-Old Kids Learning 3 Languages

2.5-year-old 老二’s progress with learning 3 languages

Chinese:

  • 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.

Korean:

  • 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)

English:

  • 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. 🙂

Challenging Schedule: 2-and 5-Year-Old Kids Learning 3 Languages

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!

Riding bike and scooter, enjoying beautiful weather!

Learning 3 languages over the next school year

Future trilingual schedule for 老大

English

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.

Korean

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.

Chinese

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

English

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.

Korean

Since he will spend 2 to 3 days per week with our nanny, I expect his Korean to improve.

Chinese

As he approaches age 3 and shows more interest in Chinese characters, I will begin to introduce Chinese character activities as well as Chinese Montessori sandpaper cards.

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!

HOW TO RAISE MULTILINGUAL CHILDREN

Thank you joining our trilingual family journey, friends!

6 Comments

  1. Hi Betty, I am really happy to read your website. Now I know I am not the only one who is teaching my children more languages (Cantonese, Mandarin, Dutch and French). I start to speak Mandarin when I was 23 and now Mandarin will be the mother tongue of my children: 9, 7 and 3 years. You used a lot of different books. I just used 四五块度 and now I am still looking for good books (for a higher level) adapted to my children and it is not so easy to find some. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi David! Thank you for taking the time to write and share your background! What system does your family follow to balance 4 languages? If you have time, I’d love to learn what books your children are enjoying after 四五块度!

  2. Hi, Betty..
    Thank you for sharing this.
    I know your from IG and I just have the time to read and comment in this article. You wrote this in detail and I never thought about my daughter’s language too much like this before.
    My husband and I talk to our daughter with 2 languages for now (Chinese and Indonesian), but because we lived in Japan, so she will be exposed more in Japanese at school around one and a half year from now.
    I didn’t really sure how to maintain her language until I read your article. Thank you for your inspiration.

    1. Hi Ricca! Thank you so much for taking the time to write and share your experience! I’m glad to hear the article was helpful! Best wishes on your multilingual journey, and please let me know if I can help along the way!

  3. Hello, thank you for sharing. You mentioned that your daughter learnt reading in English through a Montessori teacher. What was your experience like? Are you able to share more about the Montessori activities and English reading with the teacher? Thank you:)

    1. Hi Jenny, thanks for asking! I’ve been meaning to write about this and still haven’t gotten a chance to. She only had once a week lessons with the Montessori teacher (1 hour session), but it was helpful to see how she patiently presented blending letter sounds through activities like matching word cards to miniature objects through the Montessori 3-period lesson. She also let us borrow many Montessori materials! I took a few videos here on my Instagram stories and this Instagram post.

      Last year, my daughter used All About Spelling which mainly focuses on spelling, but it also helped her with remembering all of the various letter sounds. We also read a lot more English because of her homework, and the combination of this helped her catch up quickly with English reading this past year.

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