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Multilingualism

Veronika - Raising a Son with 5 Languages in Spain

"I see that sometimes it is very difficult for him to express his feelings or needs. He mixes languages quite often and I think I am the only person who completely understands him. He can have one word in many languages, for example he can say car in three different languages (auto, bil, coche). Sometimes he creates funny sentences by mixing words."

  • Bilingual in Barcelona

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    What languages is your child exposed to?

    He is exposed to 5 languages which are: Estonian, Swedish, English, Spanish and Catalan.

    Was your child exposed to more than one language from birth? If not, how was the adaptation process?

    He was born in Spain so that made him exposed to all of these languages from the birth.

    What is your children’s “attitude” towards their languages? Which language do they prefer and why do you think that is?

    He is speaking Spanish the most because he is in the daycare that uses mostly Spanish. Being around other children that speak Spanish makes him want to speak it too. 

    What is your “strategy” in terms of bilingual education? (OPOL, Minority language at home… ?)

    Our strategy is simple: one parent, one language. I only speak Estonian with him and his father only Swedish. We never use English or Spanish while speaking with him, even if I ask something and he replies in Spanish I still continue in Estonian. Since me and my husband only speak English with each other he has learned English as well. 

    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?

    I don't think it is a myth. I can see it very well on my own child, he is speaking much less than other kids at his age. I see that it is very confusing for him at the times but he can handle it quite well now.

    Do you think your child/ren suffer from a vocabulary shortfall? Does he/she mix languages?

    I think he does. I see that sometimes it is very difficult for him to express his feelings or needs. He mixes languages quite often and I think I am the only person who completely understands him. He can have one word in many languages, for example he can say car in three different languages (auto, bil, coche). Sometimes he creates funny sentences by mixing words. 

    Could you tell us a funny anecdote related to your children’s bilingualism?

    Same words can mean different things in different languages and that has created funny situations. For example he told his Swedish grandmother that he wants a korv (which is a basket in Estonian) but in Swedish it means a sausage so grandmother got him a sausage and Thor Sebastian was very confused.

    What was or still is difficult? 

    Fortunately the most difficult period is passed now. It was half a year ago when children at his age started to create sentences and he couldn't. That caused him lots of stress and frustration which made him behave bad. Once he learned how to express himself things got much better. 

    Do your children get the differences between the languages and cultures?  What do you do to keep them interested in both cultures? 

    We are trying to expose him to all cultures: Catalan, Estonian and Swedish. He learns a lot about Catalan culture in his daycare. I am teaching him Estonian and his father Swedish culture. We have visited Estonia and Sweden several time and I think traveling is the best way to learn. We take some tradition from all the cultures, for example at Christmas he had s Swedish Santa Claus, Estonian Elves and Spanish tio de nadal. 

    Can you think of any resources that helped you or recommend any support groups, websites or social media groups that you have found useful??

    It is always good to meet other families in similar situation, exchange experiences and suggestions. Nowadays there are lots of information online, you can find many articles and blogs about raising a bilingual child. One book that I found really helpful was: 7 steps to raise a bilingual child by Naomi Steiner and Susan L.

    How do you perceive the key benefits of bringing up a child bilingually/multilingually?

    I think that speaking many languages is always a big benefit and growing up by knowing different cultures widens the horizon. I only see it as a positive thing.

    Are there any disadvantages? Are their challenging aspects with schoolwork for example?

    The biggest disadvantage is a difficulties he has to go through when he is about to learn to express himself. Hearing so many different languages can be very confusing. Here parents can support a lot by being very understanding.

    What advice would you give parents about to embark on bringing up a child bilingually?

    Patience. Lots of patience. When children are still in the language learning process they need lots of support and security because the feeling that nobody understands me can make them behave badly or even aggressively. To us reading books in different languages helped a lot. I have always made learning fun and he really enjoys learning new words, colours, numbers etc. We have a tradition that every birthday, Christmas he gets books as a gift. It is never too early to introduce your child to books. 

    February 2015