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Multilingualism

Jane - Raising 3 Kids with 4 Languages in Spain

"The 2 older children don't seem to think about the languages. It seems completely natural for them to be having a conversation with one person in one language and turn around to the next person and have a conversation in another language. They've never asked why we speak different languages at home and they've never really mixed the languages up apart from the odd word. When they learnt to read their choice of language was always Spanish - I guess as it is phonetic and so easier to read than English"

  • Four Languages in Spain

    Centro Yoga Om, Vilanova i la Geltru Image

    What languages is your child exposed to?
    I have 3 children aged 10, 7 and 4 who are exposed to 4 languages on a daily basis.

    Was your child exposed to more than one language from birth? If not, how was the adaptation process?
    I am British, my husband is Italian and they were all born in Spain so they have had those 3 languages since birth. Catalan was introduced to them from about the age of 2 when they started in the nursery.
     
    What is your children’s “attitude” towards their languages? Which language do they prefer and why do you think that is?
    The 2 older children don't seem to think about the languages. It seems completely natural for them to be having a conversation with one person in one language and turn around to the next person and have a conversation in another language. They've never asked why we speak different languages at home and they've never really mixed the languages up apart from the odd word. When they learnt to read their choice of language was always Spanish - I guess as it is phonetic and so easier to read than English. But now the oldest is equally happy to read in English as well.
    My youngest child on the other hand has always had a preference for English and is only now beginning to feel comfortable with Italian. The children have always watched television in Italian (we have Sky from Italy) and until recently the youngest would always ask for the programmes to be in English. Now he seems to be OK with the Italian and doesn't ask to change the language any more.
     
    What is your “strategy” in terms of bilingual education? (OPOL, Minority language at home… ?)
    OPOL since day one but we have always added a few extras for the Italian (like all tv in Italian) as it is the minority language.
     
    Did your child start speaking later as a result of being spoken to in more than one language? This is much discussed - do you think this is a myth?
    The first 2 started talking at the same time as their peers and the third one started speaking a little later but I put this down to the fact that all children are different and I don't think it was anything to do with the languages.
     
    Do you think your child/ren suffer from a vocabulary shortfall? Does he/she mix languages?
    Yes for sure they are lacking vocabulary but it is only really noticeable when we go to Italy or England on holiday. After 2 or 3 weeks 'full immersion' in one language with their cousins their increase in vocabulary is noticeable.
     
    Could you tell us a funny anecdote related to your children’s bilingualism?
    I like it when they take a Spanish or Italian verb and conjugate it in English or vice versa. It doesn't happen very often but when it does it makes us laugh.
     
    What was or still is difficult?
    Nothing really. Maybe we have been lucky that our children have never refused to speak a language or complained about having to speak so many languages.
     
    Do your children get the differences between the languages and cultures?  What do you do to keep them interested in both cultures?
    We make sure that we give equal importance to England and Italy - visiting family, seeing the country, eating the food, watching films from both countries, reading books from both countries etc. We never tell them one is better than the other but just that they are different.
     
    Can you think of any resources that helped you or recommend any support groups, websites or social media groups that you have found useful??
    We have many friends, foreigners and locals, but the families that we gel with most are the ones who are like us - a mixed couple living in a third country with children who speak several languages. My friends who are in the same situation understand what it is like so I find them to be very supportive. I recently came across a facebook group Raising Bilingual/Multilingual Children which I dip into sometimes. It's a group of intelligent, caring and non-judgemental parents giving each other ideas and support.
     
    How do you perceive the key benefits of bringing up a child bilingually/multilingually?
    We didn't do it by choice. It was just the way it happened but I think it has many advantages. The children are confident when communicating with others, responsible when translating for others and have empathy for others when they do not understand a language. I have tried to learn languages all my adult life and have always struggled. They won't have to do that. Learning languages will always come easily to them.
     
    Are there any disadvantages? Are their challenging aspects with schoolwork for example?
    I don't see the disadvantages yet but then my children are still fairly young. Maybe things will change when the chldren are teenagers and there is pressure on them to do well in exams etc.
     
    What advice would you give parents about to embark on bringing up a child bilingually?
    Be confident in your choices and if your children aren't accepting of your language for whatever reason, persevere. But at the same time be as natural as possible and your children won't know that what they are doing is really extraordinary.
     
    (Feb 2015)