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.
I’m Hafsa, mum to two girls Ammarah, aged 6 and Hibah, aged 4. We reside in Saudi Arabia but are originally from the UK. Our roots actually go back to Pakistan. We love learning languages even though we have only really mastered English ! A lot of my love for languages goes back to my love of the different cultures across the globe. To truly know a people is to know their tongue.
What languages do you speak ?
I speak English, Urdu, Pahari (Which is a dialect from the North Western Provinces of Pakistan), Urdu and some Punjabi. I can also speak Arabic to a beginners/intermediate level after having studied Arabic Grammar.
How many and which ones do you speak on a daily basis ?
I speak English on a daily basis and Urdu and Pahari when to parents or my mother in law on the phone or when they are visiting.
Are you teaching your children these languages ?
I’m teaching my girls Arabic. My eldest understands Urdu as her grandmother speaks Urdu to her. My girls have taken up an interest in learning Turkish after our numerous visits to Istanbul, Turkey !
Do you homeschool, if so, how do you incoporate the languages into learning ?
Yes I homeschool my girls. I always knew I’d start teaching Arabic an early age mainly so they can access and recite the Quran. But of course living in Saudi Arabia and being in a community of Arab speakers has encouraged us some more. We have started teaching Arabic regularly this year. I’ve used what I know from teaching English as a foreign language and how I learnt languages in the past to teach them.
I used vocabulary learning, dialogue, games, repetition and reading as our way forward, all centered around a topic from their Arabic Reading books.
Eventually we will look for an Arabic Tutor for them.
What have been challenges so far ?
The main challenge was Ammarah found Arabic learning difficult as she wasn’t taught Arabic as a non-native. As soon as I started teaching her myself, this year, using similar teaching methods to how we learn Turkish, the girls have started loving Arabic again.
They are confident in greeting others or saying Thank you to strangers which they never did even when they knew what to say !
Tell us about one or two of your successes.
Role play speaking and dialogues have been a great success for us. We used pictures of the girls dressed up in Turkish dresses with speech bubbles saying a greeting in Turkish. These poster cards which I made allowed them to take turns in reading a typical greetings dialogue which they have now memorised !
In the same way, Ammarah managed to learn all the numbers in Turkish up to 80 all by herself ! I only had a resource printed out, but as the language script is in English, she picked it up so quickly ! It did help that we were in Istanbul at the time, I think being there really encouraged her !
What is some advice you would like to offer to other multilingual families ?
I think a lot of language is learnt through speaking and exposure. I wouldn’t worry if your child speaks more than 1 language at all.
In fact as a former teacher we would encourage parents to continue speaking their mother tongue at home too.
It does help speaking another language whilst your children are really young, but if you miss that time, don’t worry at all. I learnt Urdu at 18 when I lived in Pakistan for 2 years !
Name up to 3 resources you find useful for your family.
We have found the dialogue cards I created with my girls dressed up in Turkish clothes in the Turkish one and in an Abaya and scarf for the Arabic dialogue cards a big hit !
I’ve also found the app Dinolingo brilliant for my girls ! They pick up so much by themselves through the games, activities and stories all whilst collecting dinosaurs ! The offer a wide range of languages !
I’ve also recently started using the Arabic Seeds resources which are made for non native speakers of Arabic. The resources work really well with how I teach my girls Arabic so I recommend checking those out !
Which langauge would you recommend someone to learn and why ?
If someone wanted to learn a language then I would recommend a language that means something to them. Many would opt for Arabic as it is the language of the Quran. As Muslims we are taught to read Arabic from a young age so that’s always a given.
But other than Arabic, I would recommend Turkish. The main reason is we love to visit Turkey most summers. But also because the script is in English which makes it easier for the girls. The language is fun with a mixture of vocabulary from Arabic, Persian and even Urdu. There are a few alphabet sounds which are different but other than that it’s a fun one to learn !