I was recently reminded about our multilingual journey such as how far we have come and how far we still have to go. Therefore, today, I am going to briefly update you on our journey as well as share some reflections on how to raise a multilingual family.
If you haven’t met us before, we are a multilingual/cultural family. We speak English, French, Turkish and Arabic on a daily basis. My husband (The Turk) sometimes our kids speak Kurdish and Zaza.
Miss F (6 years old) speaks English, French and Turkish interchangeably. Her preference is French. But she will also start talking in Arabic on occasion.
Mr. Z (4 1/2 years old) prefers to speak in Turkish or French. He has made vast improvement in English as well as in Arabic.
Mr. M (1 1/2 years old) can say certain words in certain languages like
- French – bonbon (candy) or attends (wait)
- English – bird, dog, ball, and he can make animal sounds
- Turkish – Anne (mom) Baba (dad), gel (come)
In the past week, his spoken language has exploded, he’s repeating words back and trying to say new words.
I speak French and English on a daily basis. I speak Turkish when needed. I basically learned Turkish through listening to other people speak and the tv (that’s another post for another time). I am also a beginner Quranic Arabic learner. Thanks to similarities in Turkish and Spanish, I’m picking up words and their meanings a little bit easier.
The Turk speaks Turkish, Kurdish, Zaza and French on a daily basis. He has just started learning how to write correctly and read in French, up to now he was only a speaker. He is also trying to learn English and will sometimes blurt out English phrases like “Come here” or “sit down please” when we are out and about with the kids.
Reflection for the multilingual parent(s)
Accept your situation
Be more open about speaking your minority language(s) outside the home and don’t worry about others judging you for it. Listen around you and I am sure you will hear other languages than just the majority language.
I regret not spending enough time on minority languages in Miss F’s early years. It wasn’t until Mr. Z was starting to speak that I understood the importance of speaking our native languages at home and outside the home. I was so focused on everyone needing to speak French in order to be understood in the community that I forgot about our language goals in English.
All languages will never be equal. Your children may speak one better than the other while being able to read better in another. It takes time to learn a language.
I have been learning French for almost 20 years and everyday I learn something new about the language! I am also relearning concepts since Miss F is just now learning to read in French! We have held back a little in learning Zaza and Kurdish, but we often learning how to count and basic sayings around the breakfast table.
Language should connect not divide
Each person in your family should actively try to learn the others language. For me, I don’t use a dictionary if I’m trying to find a word in Turkish, I just make one up! The Turk on the other hand used his phone with Google translate while we were in America to say what he wanted and to have the person say something back. I think he learned more in English that way.
Focus on vocabulary
Follow the child’s interests and plan activities according to that. Spend time learning with them. Play games with them. Focus on learning vocabulary in your minority language(s) with hands on activities or home school.
Learning doesn’t stop at school. Learning can happen almost everywhere. We walk to and from school almost every day and we usually use that time to spot new animals or nature around us. We also try to spend at least 20 minutes doing something together learning about a new subject together. Or sometimes we spend time learning a language together.
Learning around the house
Children love to cook and help out when given the chance. Try making a dish that is related to one of your native cultures in your language.