¡Feliz viernes, amig@s! We’re back with another exciting installment of Family Fridays here on the blog. If you’re new to the blog, WELCOME! This is a weekly series in which I spotlight the multilingual journey of families from around the globe. Today, I am honored to introduce you to fellow multilingual mommy and blogger, Annabelle. If you haven’t already checked out her fabulous blog, be sure to do so after reading her interview with me. She blogs at The Piri-Piri Lexicon.
Today, Annabelle shares with us the adventures and challenges of raising her two lovely children in four languages. Be encouraged, friends.
Give a brief snapshot of your family’s language dynamics and your family’s language policy (what language(s) do you speak, who speaks what with whom?).
We have two children: LJ, 5 and E, 10 months old. I am French and speak exclusively French to my children. My husband is Portuguese and, although I would like him to speak exclusively Portuguese, he actually speaks a lot of French with the kids too. As a couple we speak English. We met and lived in England for 13 years. So the children hear a lot of English but it is never really directed at them and are certainly never asked to respond in English. Finally, we live in Germany, so the language outside home is German. LJ goes to a bilingual French/German kindergarten.
What prompted your decision to raise your children multi-lingually?
We never really thought we would do it differently to be honest. I was a researcher in linguistics and wrote a PhD thesis on language acquisition in bilingual children. It would have been more complicated to choose only one language to teach our kids! The only discussion we had was about whether it was worth including Portuguese as my husband wasn’t sure a third language (at the time there was no German) was worth it. He saw it as a lesser-status language and although he was convinced about bilingualism, he was wondering how three may work. I managed to convince him, of course. And we ended up adding a fourth when we moved to Germany. But maybe his reluctance today to speak only Portuguese is a sign of that initial uncertainty.
What positive growth or results have you witnessed in your children/family because of their multilingualism?
The eldest (because the youngest is still too young to talk) is a real little world citizen. Multilingualism has opened all of the doors she can possibly think of to learn about the world. She switches effortlessly from one language to another. She was exposed to German a little later than the other languages, yet, she is fluent and is much more confident using it than we are. She also understood very early on the concept of people speaking different languages and some members of her family “sadly” only speaking one and not understanding her when she spoke German or English. She always needs to know what language is spoken by any new person we meet. She can even now identify some other languages like Italian and Spanish (how? I have no idea!). Languages have been our key to the world and as we love to travel and travel a lot with our children, we are hoping that their multilingualism makes them even better world citizens comfortable anywhere with an appetite for learning.
What challenges have you faced or are you facing with language rearing and learning? How do you handle them?
Our main challenge is maintaining Portuguese. As the only speaker, and with no family around, my husband is the only input the children have. And he travels a lot for work. He is away weeks at a time and this has taken its toll on LJ’s level of Portuguese. Sure, we read books and watch cartoons. But there is no real need on a daily basis for LJ to use it. She has started saying she doesn’t understand x and y. It makes my heart sink. We need to review our strategy and find other solutions to boost it again.
Can you talk about the cultural aspect of multilingual parenting as it relates to your family?
I don’t think you can raise children multilingually without having some aspects of multiculturalism seep through. Culture in our house comes in the form of food as we love cooking and making the children taste things from all over the world. We also, read a lot. It is rather easy these days to get books in different languages from different corners of the planet (even though I wish Portuguese materials were more original and less based on translations). And we travel, see the world for ourselves. We have just come back from three weeks in the United States, where LJ’s English got a great boost thanks to the Disney princesses.
Share a memorable moment you and your family experienced with language learning, something that shed light or taught you a lesson about bi-/multilingual parenting.
Our biggest lesson was when, last year, our then 4-year-old, amazed us with full English sentences out of nowhere. We had friends round and she had been briefed on their monolingualism. She completely amazed us by blurting our sentences in perfect English while playing with the children. We knew she understood English well. But we had never heard her speak. Passive knowledge can become active under the right conditions.
How do you involve your family, community, school and/or world at large in this multilingual adventure?
Our kindergarten is bilingual, so LJ’s multilingualism was a great match. She was not the odd one there as there are a lot of bilingual families. We have no family around so our network is composed of expat friends, families from the kindergarten and colleagues. Needless to say, our community is a multilingual one. We like to be surrounded by people from all walks of life and all corners of the world. Our respective families are the little monolingual pockets of our identity.
What advice or encouragement can you share with other families raising their children bi-/multi-lingually?
Don’t give up. Even if your child answers in another language, pretends s/he doesn’t understand, refuses to use a language, don’t give up. One day, they will amaze you. The day will come. Keep trying. Multilingualism is ALWAYS a good idea.
Obrigada, Merci, Thank you, Danke schön, Annabelle, for sharing your family’s adventure in multilingual parenting! Are you a multilingual family interested in sharing your story here on the blog? Please contact me. I’d love to hear from you!