Raising multilingual kids

Are you raising multilingual kids? Great, I’d love to hear about your approach.
Which strategy do you follow?

  1. One-parent-one-language (OPOL): each parent only speaks their 1st language to the kids
  2. Minority-language-at-home: at home with the kids the parents only speak their 1st (heritage) language, the local language is learned at school
  3. Plurilingualism: parents use different languages in ways that make sense to them rather than follow a set of predetermined rules
  4. A different approach ……………

Plurilingualism is definitely my approach. Read this article in the Guardian: ‘We speak whatever language gets the job done’ <– This is what works for me, whether it’ll be successful …. we’ll just have to wait and see.

I love code-switching. You might know this if you’ve read my previous posts A downside of being multilingual. I also realise some people find it quite annoying and propagate the use of local words instead of English words. Don’t ‘Americanize’; in other words, don’t lose or dilute the local vocabulary. I agree with this to some extent.

In my opinion it would be a shame if all the world would speak only one language (English). Just look at this world map –>
Amazing isn’t it how many languages & different writing systems exist.
I think it’s important to preserve world languages and not let them be erased or replaced by English. Each language has its own uniqueness. Am I the right person though to make this claim, as I myself am a culprit? Watch Tim Doner’s TED talk instead.

I’ve been told by friends that, in many upper- and middle-class Indian families English has already won over the local language. I wonder, what’s the reason. Is it the same reason that holds for me? For me code-switching comes naturally. When I know you speak my languages and I can’t (quickly) remember a word in the language that we are speaking, I will substitute it with the word from our common other language. It stimulates quick and energetic conversations. I love energetic chats. I’ve noticed other bilinguals do this too, but we only do this in the languages that we know you understand too.

But, okay, coming back to the topic of raising multilingual kids. I’d love to hear your stories. What were the challenges, did you persevere or give in?

My parents opted for the OPOL approach, which was generally accepted as being the best method at that time. Both English and Dutch are my mother-tongues, my first languages. I know my mother could speak Dutch; she spoke Dutch outside our home, though I knew she 100% preferred speaking in English. She could have chosen to speak to us in one of her other languages, Malayalam, Tamil or Hindi, but English made most sense. My dad spoke to us in Dutch, which was also the local language of the country I spent many of my childhood years.

As you might know by now, while living in Cambridge/Boston I attended many Harvard and MIT lectures. During one of these lectures the topic of raising bilingual children was touched upon. As you can imagine this was a topic many spouses at MIT Spouses& partners association were quite interested in knowing more about. We were told: ‘Language learning doesn’t have to be done face to face. Children overhearing another language get to understand it.’
Yes, they do get to understand it, but won’t be able to speak it (it’s why I understand Malayalam, spoken by my mother within her family).

In my home I’ve adopted the plurilingual approach. I guess I chose this approach based on lectures I’d attended at Harvard in which expert said the following:

Code-switching is okay. Children are amazing learners. They are able to distinguish the separate languages (also grammar wise). Furthermore, children know which language to speak to whom and use native speakers as a model for learning a language

statement made during a Work-Life lecture at MIT, paraphrased.

Raising multilingual kids, what does mean? Does it mean they have to be fluent in more than two languages? Is the main purpose of language communication or are other aspects of language also important? My son will grow up susceptible to other languages. I know this for certain, as he already is. Here’s a wonderful recent anecdote:

At the dining table I invented a counting game, and I counted in German (not our local language, but we're near the German border, so he's interested): einz, zwei, drei
My son responded: dry (and then he said in Dutch), just like land where there is no water

I don’t know whether he’ll be a full on bilingual, normally he talks to me in Dutch but once in a while in English too. It’s totally okay, I don’t mind. I don’t see this as a failure as he’s had enough exposure and understands different languages.
I am sure that if we’d lived in a country where neither Dutch nor English were the local languages, we’d have brought up our son trilingual: Dutch, English and for example Spanish. I don’t expect miracles, as you’ve read in Bilingualism is it tough and am pleased with all the exposure he gets and know he loves languages.

Would love to hear your stories too.

Okay, I’ve come to the end of this blog about multilingualism and I’d like to share with you a video I am sure all multilinguals will enjoy watching. Check out Tim Scott’s video on languages, here.

How many languages are there? – Tom Scott https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYlmFfsyLMo&t=1s

For more interesting reads on languages across the globe, multilingualism etc go to We Swap Languages on Medium, click here.

Published by shakti

Author of Colours of a Cultural Chameleon. Kindle & paperback available on Amazon

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