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I just found this site and it’s been very interesting reading everyone’s stories. So I thought I’d share mine. I grew up in a mono-lingual English speaking family in Arizona. My parents, however, loved to travel. We made frequent trips to Mexico and I always thought it would be really cool to know Spanish. So in college I minored in Spanish and spent a semester abroad in Ecuador. While my Spanish could definitely improve I am able to communicate effectively with native speakers. My love for Hispanic language, culture, salsa dancing, and multiculturism in general attracted me to my husband, who is from Iran, lived in Argentina for six years, and then moved to the US. When we started our family we wanted our children to be proficient in English, Spanish, and Farsi (since that’s my husband’s native tongue and part of their cultural heritage). So far, our experience in raising multi-lingual children has been such a delight. First of all, it helps that we live in Oakland, CA, which is an extremely diverse community. My husband is an optometrist and our practice is in the middle of a Latino neighborhood so we have ample opportunities ourselves to practice our Spanish with native speakers. Overall, the community here celebrates multiculturalism and so I’ve never heard a single negative comment from anyone about my children’s linguistic abilities. My husband and I make a conscious effort to speak only Spanish to our kids, although my still limited vocabulary necessitates some mixing with English words. We speak mostly English to each other, although we lapse into Spanish occasionally as well. My mother-in-law takes care of the kids when we’re at work and speaks Farsi to them. I’ve loved watching my older son (who’s now 2 1/2) go through the process of learning multiple languages. So far, it’s been easy. He started speaking mostly in Farsi at first (we were delighted because we think that’ll be the hardest to maintain). He then mixed the languages quite a bit. His first sentences were things like “Apple va inja” (the apple goes here) or “Grandma zapatos bepoosh” (Grandma put on your shoes). Despite the fact that it was near impossible for anyone who wasn’t trilingual to understand him, our family and friends thought it was adorable so he got lots of positive feedback. It didn’t take him long to stop mixing though. Now he not only speaks all three languages but he knows who to speak which language to. So when I ask him in Spanish to ask his grandmother to give him an apple he promptly goes to her and asks for the apple in Farsi. He’s especially sensitive about translating everything when we visit my family, since he knows they only understand English. He’s also much more proactive about learning language than I’ve seen with my younger siblings. If he sees an object that he doesn’t know the word for, he’ll ask me how to say it. Then he’ll discuss it for about five minutes. “Oh, this is a cup. Mommy, did you see the cup. It’s called a cup. We use the cup for drinking water. This is a cup.” Now if he knows a word in Farsi but not in Spanish he’ll ask me how to say it in Spanish and then in English. My son’s language proficiency has definitely been a social boost for him. He gets a LOT of praise from EVERY adult in his life, which seems to be giving him a lot of self confidence. It enables him to move easily between the variety of social gatherings we go to. He’s at home in both the qinceneras in our neighborhood and at the persian naw ruz picnics. I’m so thrilled that we decided to create a multilingual and multicultural environment for our kids. Being bilingual has created so many economic and social opportunities for me so I know what an asset it will be for our kids. And now that my first has taken to it so well, I’m sure the baby will learn all the languages from his brother. The only thing I’m worried about now is school. I have many friends who say that their children stopped speaking the minority languages once they went to school. We’ll probably put them in a bilingual English/Spanish school but maintaining the Farsi may be a bit more difficult. I know of extracurricular Farsi programs in our community for kids but I don’t really know any children that speak Farsi amongst themselves. Some of the Persian kids in our community will try to speak Farsi to my kids because I ask them to but they don’t really do it very well. Even the children of monolingual Farsi speaking parents don’t speak Farsi very well. I worry that my son might not be so enthusiastic about speaking all three languages once he realizes that most of his peers only speak English. We’ll see how it goes. For now, though, it’s such a delight. Good luck to all of you in raising your multilingual children! Genesta mom of Kai (2 1/2) and Aziz (6 mos)
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Thanks a million for taking the time to share your story. We all love to hear the “full” story from other parents, not just the isolated questions. /Christina – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Christina Bosemark Founder & List Moderator Multilingual Children’s Association
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I would like to share my “trilingual” story with you and invite you to comment.
I am German and grew up monolingually in German, but learning English at German high school. After graduating from high school I spent one year in the United States where I polished my English to a degree that non-US people, including British, often believe that I am a US citizen.
While in the US, I met my today’s wife who is from Italy, but who lived a number of years in Washington DC. At home she always spoke Italian. Also she speaks English without foreign accent.
When we met, neither one of us spoke the other’s language. Therefore, we always spoke in English and still do today, even though by now my wife speaks very good German after going to University in Germany.
Together we have one son, who is 17 months old. My wife speaks Italian to him, I speak German to him. As my wife and I are communicating in English with each other, he is “exposed” to three languages, two of them being the speakers’ native language and the third one -English- at least close to being the speakers’ native language.
Since 6 months he is attending a German-Italian kindergarten where he meets other kids from bi-national but also mono-national couples. In addition we have an Italian part time nanny who is looking after him.
Recently we observed that linguistically, our son’s development is a little bit behind compared with monolingual children. Of course at 17 months also most monolingual children do not speak many words yet. However, to us there are clear signs that other children have a better pronunciation, understand and speak more words. Now we are wondering what we can do to support our child’s language development. We are fully aware that it is quite normal that multi-lingual children need more time to develop speaking abilities. But we are interested in minimizing any differences with mono-lingual children.
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Hola! Hi! Salam!
I found Genesta’s story very interesting and encouraging! I am Spanish, but speak English, French and Arabic (I work in the United Nations). I really move a lot (in the last 5 years I have lived in different 4 countries). My fiance is Persian, who speaks Farsi and English. As you can imagine our common language is English, and we do not understand each other’s mother tongue. We are planning to get married and have our first child pretty soon, and we were starting to discuss about languages at home. We came up with the conclusion that we should both speak our own native language with our children, myself Spanish and him in Farsi, and English for common family/couple life. As most probably we will continue moving around, we think the best would be to enroll our children in an English school (although if in Spain or in Iran, we would probably change to the country language). We have decided to start learning each other’s language so in the future we will understand what the other actually is saying to the children. I am concerned about how realistic it is for us to reduce the use of English at home, given that this is the common language for us. Although I do not doubt about using Spanish with our children, at the end of the day it is the closest language to me emotionally. On the other hand English is not our mother tongue… all this tends to reinforce my idea of speaking our own language with the kids, and really make the effort to at least get a passive understanding of each other’s language. I am not really concerned about my children learning English, since they would be in an English school. Actually I learned English in the school in Spain and I manage now to use it as a working language, so I better concentrate in making sure that our children are fluent in Spanish and Farsi. But while keeping Spanish as a minority language could eventually be easier, I am not very sure about Farsi. Fortunately, we both have very strong links with our families, so we would have them partially living with us during the year. It is encouraging that Genesta and her partner, even though non native Spanish speakers, manage to teach their children Spanish. Any tips? Thanks a lot for your story!
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For the story about how one family dealt with minimizing English at home, even though it was the common language between the parents, you could read the book “growing up with three languages.” It’s available on Amazon. The mom speaks Chinese, the father speaks French, the parents speak English with each other and the kids attend English schools. Even so, they managed to make it work. But the mom is really committed, very intentional about ensuring progress in the two minority languages. She also made the decision to delay preschool for her kids until age 4 so that they would minimize English exposure until the kids were older (they ended up being exposed to English by babysitters, the community at large, etc. so they did not enter preschool at a disadvantage). I think that’s a great idea. English is all around and will end up becoming the dominate language no matter what. You may as well give the other languages a head start! Depending on the work schedules of mom and dad, this may not be possible for all families, but if getting a firm foundation in the parents’ languages is a priority, it might be worth one or both parents rearranging their schedules so that one parent can stay home with the kids in the early years. Reading to your kids in your mother tongues is really important and will even help their eventual reading in English! I would suggest you alternate Farsi and Spanish story nights. Congratulations on your upcoming marriage and best wishes in your multilingual endeavors!