BilingualDictionaries[1]

How to raise multilingual children?

It is fairly easy. Kids are like sponges, soaking up everything without any effort or even concieus idea that they are in fact learning.

There are different scenarios:

  1. The family is moving abroad for a job.

  2. Parents are different nationalities and decide to teach their children their native languages.

  3. Parents know a foreign language very well, so they speak it to their children at home.

  4. Children are sent to school that the curriculum is in a foreign language, parents not necesarily have to speak it.

I personally know many families for every scenario. My cousin Patrycja, who lives in Poland talks to her son only in Spanish that she know very, very well. Our good friends, who lived in Toronto tough their kids Polish and French which are their mother tongues. The kids learned English outside, at school. In our case it was a job transfer to the USA where our children were born later.

We were sure that we wanted to teach our kids Polish, we just did not know how. We realized pretty quickly that it was not natural for us to speak to our daughter in English (despite knowing it very well) and it did not make any sense to introduce it at home since the whole world around us spoke it.

Nadia at a very young age realized that something weird was going on. Many times she had a surprised face, asking why everyone else is speaking different then my parents and I can not understand any of it:-) It changed very quickly, playing with American children every day, she reached their language level in few months. The situation was finally clear – Polish at home, English with everyone else. Sometimes she tried to mix, but we repeatedly and consequently asked her not to.

When she went to school, we started to introduce at home writing, reading and Polish grammar.

At this point she can write, read, speak, understand both languages and she just turned 7 last month.

In the meantime, our son Alexander was born. With his language education, we applied the same approach, except it was much easier because his main teacher was… Nadia. Now, he is 3,5 years old and does pretty good in both languages.

Here in San Miguel de Allende our kids learn a third language: Spanish. We enrolled them in Spanish only curriculum school so it is complete immersion. It has been 4 weeks and they can have a simple conversation, buy groceries at a local store and order their own food at a restaurant. Pretty good as for one month of school…!!!! :-)

Nadia often finds similarities to the languages that she already knows. That only proves that it is easier to learn another language while you already know some.

We also decided to learn Spanish and we use Rosetta Stone program along with real life practice. I have to say it is pretty good and gives me the flexibility to learn at my own schedule. Most days we learn in the morning and in the afternoon we go out and try what we learned with the Mexicans who are very, very patient. :-)

What is your experience? Please share…..

10 thoughts on “How to raise multilingual children?”

  1. I love San MIguel! My kids went to school in Guanajuato, Gto when they were growing up. It sounds as if you have a great approach to language-learning and to life! You might like Spanish Playground – it has lots of resources for kids learning Spanish.

  2. This information was well covered and I do hope that it gets a lot of views. I feel this is more important in our world now than it has ever been. It saddens me when I see children who do not have a grip on either parental language.

  3. This information was well covered and I do hope that it gets a lot of views. I feel this is more important in our world now than it has ever been. It saddens me when I see children who do not have a grip on either parental language.

  4. I love this post and here’s my case. My husband is originally from San MIguel de Allende, and I love it there. Before we had children, I told him that the rule in our home would be for him to speak only Spanish with our children and I would teach them English- my mother tongue. I learned Spanish as a second language, but like you said, speaking it to my children doesn’t feel very natural for me, though I could speak more with them. Am I doing them a disservice if they are with me 10 hours a day and relying on my husband to teach them if he sees them 2-3 hours a day? Probably, but I am relying on him and putting their movies in Spanish. They understand (they being my 2 and 4 year old) both languages, but they are lagging on speaking Spanish, but I have confidence they will do well. The only thing is, my husband tends to mix sometimes and I cannot understand that–I guess lack of full commitment- and I am sure to annoy him when I repeatedly say “They don’t understand you.” as a way to tell him to speak Spanish. Sometimes I even have to spook him and tell him when I hear him speaking English to the boys, “Oh well..I guess they’ll just sit and stare at everyone when we go visit your mother in Mexico.” That is his ultimate fear! Anyway, thanks for sharing your story. I find it all fascinating! 

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      Thank you for sharing your story. This subject is very important to me. You have a great approach, energy and commitment. Trust me you are going to collect fruits of your labor soon:-) Your kids are still very young but very soon you will be amazed by what you are about to witness. Even thou you are with them more they still learn a GREAT DEAL from your husband and movies. I have seen that happen with my friends daughter. She was the primary care giver speaking Polish while their  French speaking dad only had couple of hours with her. She speaks beautifully both languages. Here in SMA I met a family where the kids speak Italian to their mother, English to their father and Spanish at school:-) Do not change anything, just correct your hubby when he is not on the same page. Language separation and consistency are the key here.
      You also mentioned very important aspect, where kids can not communicate with their immediate family because of the parents neglecting to teach them their mother tongue. How sad is that:-(
      We are just about to leave SMA and head North back to the USA. My children have learned a lot of Spanish. They are not fluent but can speak VERY well. I would love to be able to stay in a Spanish speaking country to give them more time. Oh well, we will have to figure something out to continue Spanish for sure.
      Keep up the good work and someday they will thank you:-)

  5. Hi! I enjoyed reading about how you are immersing your children into multi-cultures and languages!
    English is my mother language, but I was raised in Mexico so I am fluent in both. I married in Mexico and continue to live here. I am afraid that I made a terrible mistake however because My husband does not speak any English, and since Spanish is so natural to me as well, I never made an issue to speak only English to my kids. Now they are 10 and 7 and I only hope that all is not lost! My son who is 10 can pretty much understand English, but he does not speak it much and doesn’t read it either. My daughter who is 7 is the one I have the hardest time with because when I try to speak English to her, she closes up and tells me in Spanish that she does not understand and then begins to cry!
    I don’t want to lose hope, but I know I should have started when they were much younger! Any advice on how to make English fluent even at this age?
     

    1. Hi and sorry for this delayed response. We’ve been visiting friends for the last few days and quite frankly had very little time to even check our mail. Obviously my wife is the expert on homeschooling and raising multilingual children, but I’d like to throw my two cents in.

      If you want your kids to learn English, I would suggest a few things:

      • Teach your kids friends.

        You could probably talk to your kids friend’s parents about giving English lessons. I know they would love you for that and your kids would not feel alienated if they could practice, not only with you, but also with their friends. As kids grow, their friends are getting more important than parents, therefore it’s more difficult to apply the same techniques as with younger children. Teaching a few kids may seem like more daunting task than teaching just yours, but this will be well worth the time, if your kids actually develop interest in learning a new language.

      • Convince your husband to learn with your kids.

        Similar to the one above, just using your spouse. Regardless of his age, or what he does for a living, a little bit of English can prove helpful in many situations. And it sets an excellent example for your kids…

      • Subscribe to a few american TV channels.

        As you know, we’ve been living in San Miguel de Allende for a few months. While we used the time to bring our kids a bit of Spanish, I noticed that a lot of young kids in Mexico seek out opportunities to learn and practice English. This is, after all, the language of the Internet, the music videos and Hollywood movies. I know most cable providers in Mexico have a large programming selection, including PBS and kids channels. You can also get them through satellite, or even on the Internet.

      Whatever you decide to do, I think the most important is not to force it upon them. Instead, try to develop their curiosity and interest, so that they come to you and ask you to teach them…

    2.  @bkduran 
      <p>Hi and sorry for this delayed response. We’ve been visiting friends for the last few days and quite frankly had very little time to even check our mail. Obviously my wife is the expert on homeschooling and raising multilingual children, but I’d like to throw my two cents in.</p><p>If you want your kids to learn English, I would suggest a few things:</p><ul> <li><b>Teach your kids friends.</b><p>You could probably talk to your kids friend’s parents about giving English lessons. I know they would love you for that and your kids would not feel alienated if they could practice, not only with you, but also with their friends. As kids grow, their friends are getting more important than parents, therefore it’s more difficult to apply the same techniques as with younger children. Teaching a few kids may seem like more daunting task than teaching just yours, but this will be well worth the time, if your kids actually develop interest in learning a new language.</p></li> <li><b>Convince your husband to learn with your kids.</b><p>Similar to the one above, just using your spouse. Regardless of his age, or what he does for a living, a little bit of English can prove helpful in many situations. And it sets an excellent example for your kids…</p></li> <li><b>Subscribe to a few american TV channels.</b><p>As you know, we’ve been living in San Miguel de Allende for a few months. While we used the time to bring our kids a bit of Spanish, I noticed that a lot of young kids in Mexico seek out opportunities to learn and practice English. This is, after all, the language of the Internet, the music videos and Hollywood movies. I know most cable providers in Mexico have a large programming selection, including PBS and kids channels. You can also get them through satellite, or even on the Internet.</p></li> </ul> <p>Whatever you decide to do, I think the most important is not to force it upon them. Instead, try to develop their curiosity and interest, so that they come to you and ask you to teach them…</p>

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