“The language journey is a marathon, not a sprint.” (Family Fridays)

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Photo via Carissa Rogers

¡Feliz viernes, amig@s! We’re back with another edition of Family Fridays here on the blog. This weekly series highlights a different multilingual family from around the world. If this is your first time to the blog, welcome, and please take a few minutes to meet some of the other families who have already shared their stories.

Today, I have the privilege of introducing you to fellow bilingual mamá and blogger, Marianna Du Bosq from Bilingual Avenue. A native of Venezuela, she and her American husband are raising their lovely daughter in Spanish and English; they currently live in Germany, where “Little Peanut” also attends a German-language pre-school.

Be sure to check out Marianna’s blog, as well as my recent interview with her, in which I talk about my experience in learning the language of mother.

Happy reading, friends, and be encouraged.

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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 are a little family of three. My husband, our two year old daughter and myself! I am originally from Caracas, Venezuela and my husband is from Florida, USA. We use the One Parent, One Language strategy where I speak exclusively in Spanish and my husband speaks exclusively in English to our little one. My husband and I speak English to each other. We currently live in the Black Forest in Germany and our Little Peanut attends a part-time German preschool.

What prompted your decision to raise your children bi-/multi-lingually?

I moved to the United States right before I started high school with my parents, my sister and my brother. Like many other migrant families around me, I expected that my extended family would soon follow and join us in our new community. The years went by and no one with the exception of maybe some third cousins ever made the move.

Despite the distance, I knew that we would remain close and for me that closeness was directly tied to our ability to communicate through our shared heritage language, Spanish. It was this connection that motivated me to never lose my mother tongue and served as the inspiration to raise my own multilingual children. While pursuing a Master’s in Education I was introduced to the vast benefits of multilingualism which to me became the icing on the cake!

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What positive growth or results have you witnessed in your children/family because of their multilingualism?

At two years old, our Little Peanut is already an excellent translator! This is something that in hindsight should have been expected but I still remember the first time she did it and the feeling of joy that took over me. We were getting out the car heading into a restaurant and I said to her “Vamos a comer” which in English means “Let’s go eat” and she immediately turned to my husband and said “Daddy, go eat!” My jaw dropped!

That translation demonstrated so much to me. It showed me that she knew that Daddy does not quite speak Spanish and so in order to not leave him out she went ahead and translated what I said to him, in her own words of course! It was such a simple moment and she really did not give it much thought, but I had goose bumps and the motivation that this language journey is certainly worth it!  She now translates for him on a regular basis.

What challenges have you faced or are you facing with language rearing and learning? How do you handle them?

We live in a very small town in Germany with a population of 4,000 inhabitants with little to no access to speakers of other languages. My husband and I are the only real exposure she has to our family heritage languages. We know that rich language input is critical when raising multilingual children so we work really hard to present her with that exposure.

One of our favorite ways of doing this is by leveraging technology to stay in touch with our family overseas. We Skype with at least one set of grandparents daily and we make sure that those interactions are very purposeful. We work with our parents to create simple yet engaging activities for our daughter like reading books, puppet shows, dancing to music, practicing the skills we are reinforce at home (for example, learning colors), singing, etc. She’s learning and having a lot of fun in the process.

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Can you talk about the cultural aspect of bi-/multilingual parenting as it relates to your family?

My husband and I were together for over eleven years before our Little Peanut was born. In that time, we began to integrate aspects of our cultures into our own relationship and so when she arrived into our lives it was relatively easy and smoothly to incorporate her into those traditions. We have a healthy blend of Venezuelan and American food, music and holiday favorites! We love arepas for breakfast as much as we do pancakes! We take turns celebrating Noche Buena on December 24th and Christmas Day on the 25th and incorporate both family traditions. We have also found cultural activities are a great way to infuse language in a natural way so we find ourselves going out of way to incorporate them and having a great time in the process.

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.

The memorable moment that comes to mind is actually ongoing! Because Little Peanut only speaks to me in Spanish, I do not always have a great grasp of her English vocabulary. It is not until Daddy comes home and I see her interactions with him that I realize how vast her knowledge of it is! It such a contrast for me because with her Spanish, I am well aware of every word she knows because I have been the one teaching them to her but with English it is almost like a daily surprise! We are in the middle of her vocabulary explosion so it really is an exciting time to wait until Daddy comes home and find out what else she knows!

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How do you involve your family, community, school and/or world at large in this bi-/multilingual adventure?

From early on, as a couple, we communicated our family language goals to our respective families and we are grateful that both sides were supportive of our decision. On my side, however, there was one small issue we had to address. Since my husband is not yet fluent in Spanish, we had all grown accustomed to switching to English whenever he was present in the room.

We did not want that to be the case once our Little Peanut entered the picture. We felt that the switch would significantly decrease the exposure we would otherwise be able to leverage from my family in Spanish. We were very honest with them and explained that we needed their help on the journey and that we would need them to exclusively communicate to her in one language. It did take some getting used to and from time to time they still say that they feel bad leaving my husband out of the conversation. Yet he is always glad to jump in and remind them why we need their help and assures them that he is able to follow along by using context clues.

What advice or encouragement can you share with other families raising their children bi-/multi-lingually?

The language journey is a marathon not a sprint and so it is important to find support along the way. That support can come in different ways, whether it is through family members, friends, other multilingual parenting groups, the internet, blogs, podcasts, etc. We often feel very alone in our journey yet the majority of the word is multilingual! Many families around the world are doing this work daily and it is important to keep that into perspective. We just have to find our motivation and inspiration to keep us going because in the end giving your children the gift of language is one of the most valuables things you can give them.

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Freebie! Anything else come to your mind about the issue of bilingual/multilingual parenting?

Misconceptions about multilingualism are still prevalent! Even the most well-meaning family member or friend may second guess your decision to raise multilingual children because of some myth they have heard in the past and incorrectly believe. I always encourage parents to stay informed and understand the myths about multilingualism just as well as they do the benefits! I have yet to meet a multilingual parent who has not come across some skepticism about their language decision! Therefore, in my eyes, it is important to understand the common fears so you can address them when presented to you and make sure they do not lead to any doubts in your mind about your family language decisions.

Muchas gracias to Marianna for sharing her family’s journey in bilingual parenting. If you’re a multilingual family interested in sharing your adventures here on the blog, please contact me. I’d love to include you in the Family Fridays series!

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