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Multilingual Family Interview | English/Singaporean/Pakistani in Ireland

by Adrienne
Multilingual Family Interview

Each month, we share a multilingual family interview from a family around the world. The interview shares their story as a multilingual family as well as their challenges, successes, tips and advice in language learning.

Introduce yourself and your family.

Well, there’s no short way to do this so here goes. I am half English/Irish through my father (who became a Muslim more than 30 years ago !) and half Singaporean (Malay Arab). My parents, who are the best out there I believe, moved to Saudi in 1993 so that we could learn Arabic and the Quran and alhamdulillah, all eight of us have memorized the Quraan. My mother has her own blog where she talks history and raising children with the Quraan but that’s for another day. Post growing up in Saudi, I read Law in Malaysia and returned to practice in Saudi for a short while before getting married. My husband, who is my anchor and keeps me grounded, is Pakistani and together we have three beautiful children mashaAllah tabarakaAllah. We live in a small Irish city and are
homeschooling at the moment.

What languages do you speak ?

English is my mother tongue and my Arabic is native. I can speak and understand basic Malay but I do have a horrible accent. My husband speaks Sindhi (his mother tongue), Urdu, English, and basic Arabic.

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How many and which ones do you speak on a daily basis ?

We speak three throughout the day : English, Arabic, and Sindhi.

Are you teaching your children these languages ?

To the children, I speak in English during the day and in Arabic during the evenings. My husband is supposed to speak to them in Sindhi throughout but he does lapse into English quite a bit. My husband and I communicate in English and basic Arabic.

Do you homeschool, if so, how do you incorporate the languages into learning ?

Yes we do ! Since we homeschool in the morning which is our English time, most of our learning takes place in English. Having said this, my 5-year old has learnt how to read in Arabic and is an independent reader alhamdulillah.

Once our Arabic time starts in the evening, there are two things I consciously try to work through ; first, we read Arabic books together that match their interests for the day/week subject to what we have in the house of course.

Secondly, I initiate discussions on topics of interest in Arabic to increase their vocabulary and love for Arabic time. A while ago my eldest was interested in space, so that shaped our Arabic time for those evenings. Unfortunately, we do not have any Sindhi literature in the house so my husband generates interest through telling them his childhood stories, which they love alhamdulillah.

What have been challenges so far ?

The biggest challenge is keeping up with Sindhi. The lack of children’s literature coupled with the fact that my husband’s education throughout was in English mean that there are many things that he can only explain to the children in English. None of my husband’s family live in Ireland so the Sindhi influence is a lot less. This is a challenge we are constantly trying to battle because it is very important to us that they attain fluency in Sindhi inshaAllah.

Tell us about some of your successes.

As we don’t have any Arabic-speaking friends (save one and they live in another city) and I am not ethnically an Arab, keeping up with Arabic time is exhausting. But to have my son come to me and explain certain verses in the Quran that we are learning together without me telling him what they mean them first is beyond anything I can describe. I am literally moved to tears every time it happens. He has also started to express himself in Arabic outside Arabic time and its beautiful to hear. May Allah preserve him and keep us all steadfast until we meet Him

What is some advice you would like to offer to other multilingual families ?

Consistency is key. If you’d like to introduce a second language make it a daily portion of the day. Start with two hours if it’s a completely new language for the children and add more hours as they gain fluency. 

Name up to 3 resources you find useful for your family.

1. There’s nothing like memorizing poetry for straightening the tongue, introducing new vocabulary, and learning the language. It’s also catchy and easy to memorize so they’ll commit it to memory in no time. We use YouTube for old Classical Arabic poetry. 

2. Books. Arabic time means we read only Arabic books. Invest in some really good books for the second language your children are learning. 

Which language would you recommend someone to learn and why ?

Well if you’re Muslim and Arabic isn’t a language your children speak then that’s what you should learn.

If the children speak English and the grandparents speak a different language then that’s the language the children should be learning.

We need to keep our children connected to their roots and there really isn’t a connection without a common language.

Think of it as birr too (being good to your parents) as it’d make your parents happy to know that you’re putting in the effort to teach your children their ancestral language. 

About Khadijah:

My name is Khadijah and I am half English and half Singaporean. I was raised in Saudi by phenomenal parents and then went on to read law at university in Malaysia. I am now living in Ireland with my Pakistani and husband and three hybrid children. I love Arabic poetry, travelling, and cooking elaborate meals. I share all our craft sessions on Instagram because it’s a large part of our homeschool and it’s how I keep my children busy. My husband and I have five languages between us and we speak to the children in three out of those five. 

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