Raising Multilingual Children – A Blog Hop

This was always our plan. From the moment that my husband and I realised that we were destined to stay together, to marry, to raise a family; we had always known that our children would be bilingual. It simply wasn’t an option to do otherwise as our parents do not speak each others’ languages. For our children to be able to communicate with both sides of their extended family, bilingualism was essential.

In this week’s bloghop, Tales From Windmill Fields asks

 

How important is language learning for you? Are your children bilingual? Will they be? How do you keep the languages going?

 

My husband is German, I am Scottish and our children were born in Germany after I had been living there for many years. I have to admit that I found it difficult to speak to my baby daughter in English, so immersed was I in the local language. We had very few English speaking friends, I worked in a German speaking environment, we spoke German at home, our TV channels were all in German. The only time I spoke English was when my mum phoned for a blether.

It did take a bit of work to stick with it, and it is one of the reasons that I get frustrated with the well-meaning comments such as “Oh, it is so easy for the children, they are like little sponges and pick up the language so easily”.

No. It actually isn’t easy. It is bloody hard work.

But it is worth it.

My daughter is now 9 years old and speaks English, French and German. Her strongest language is English, as we have mainly English speaking friends and her weakest is German as she so rarely uses it. Her 7 year old brother is similar, although his French is slightly better as he was younger when we moved to Geneva.

In the past year my daughter has started to read in her native languages, and writes lovely stories. We have not formally taught her English and German, she just seems to be picking it up. Sometimes she pronounces a word in a French accent, but quickly corrects herself.

 

What has helped them learn these languages?

 

  • Hearing both German and English from birth.
  • Frequent trips to Scotland, so that they realised why we want them to learn English.
  • Spending time with their Scottish Grandparents, and particularly their cousins was a huge motivator
  • CBeebies – and now KiKa German children’s TV channel – to pick up some of the “children’s language”
  • Skype, email and IMs with their grandmother on iTouch
Some people swear by the OPOL “One Person One Language“ idea. We never got on well with it, as our home language has always been German. I speak to the children in English most of the time but when their father is around, we both speak German with them.Since moving to Switzerland, the children have started answering in English but we don’t push it.
They understand the language and if we were to go back to Germany, they would soon be as fluent as monolingual children.If the children use the wrong word, I gently correct them if I notice that they are using that word constantly. I don’t correct them every time they do this though, as it makes them reluctant to talk. A good way of doing this is to repeat what they have said, then use the correct work, ‘Un crayon gris? You need a pencil?’Most important is, in my opinion, that the children have a feeling for the language. That they can have fun with it. It is important to play games and read books in both (all) languages. To tell jokes, even unfunny ones. Poetry is very good for this; we loved the Puffin Book of Fantastic First Poems and for many years, this poem was a favoured part of our bedtime routine.

The Bed Book

Most Beds are Beds
For sleeping or resting,
But the best Beds are much
More interesting!

Not just a white little
Tucked-in-tight little
Nighty-night little
Turn-out-the light little
Bed

Instead
A Bed for Fishing,
A Bed for Cats,
A Bed for a Troupe of
Acrobats.

The right sort of Bed
(If you see what I mean)
Is a bed that might
Be a Submarine

Nosing through water
Clear and green,
Silver and glittery
As a sardine.

Or a Jet-Propelled Bed
For visiting Mars
With mosquito nets
For the shooting stars
copyright Sylvia Plath
from The Bed Book

5 Comments on “Raising Multilingual Children – A Blog Hop

  1. I find my children often stumble on a word they’ve learnt at school, but don’t know the word for in English (and vice versa). Like you, I never make a big deal about it, just repeat what they’ve said with the correct English word.
    It’s interesting to hear how others cope. Thanks for sharing.

    • Oh, yes. Mine do that. They come home and say, “Mama, I need une règle!” and I have to work out what they mean.

  2. It isn’t easy at all: I do agree. In Britain it’s so hard to get away from using English everywhere and for everything, and multilingualism just isn’t valued; I remember a friend fluent in Punjabi and Hindi as well as English berating herself for being ‘useless with languages’ when she got a D in her GCSE French. And I’ve got a family member who ran into all sorts of bureaucratic hassles with his job because he has no qualifications in (and thus could not ‘deminstrate his proficiency’ in) his native language…

    • There is sadly a hierarchy of valued languages, with the Western European ones at the top. Any other languages are seen as non-desirable, unless they can be used for business purposes, then they are suddenly valuable again. It makes me cross when I hear a Croatian acquaintance say that she is not being encouraged to bring her children up bilingually as “what good is Croatian to her?”.

  3. Hi there Thanks for linking up, you are soooo right it isnt easy bringing up bilingual children at all. Love the poems ideas, This week we are looking for fun ways to learn languages so any more ideas would love to hear them!!

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