Question

Dear Multilingual Parenting team,

This is a trilingual situation: My husband (native American/good Greek speaker) and I (native German/very good Greek and English speaker) currently live in Greece with our 19 month old son and are planning on moving to Germany in about 2 months. I speak German to him, while my husband speaks English and the rest of the environment (Grandmothers, caretaker twice a week) speaks Greek. My husband and I communicate mainly in English, less in Greek, and he doesn’t understand German. Our son seems to understand all of us quite well, but doesn’t say very many words yet.

I have two questions regarding our move. Firstly, I’d like for him to continue being exposed to Greek, so I am considering switching to Greek once we are there. We will also travel to Greece frequently, but other than us there will be no exposure to Greek and I feel it would be culturally a great loss if he wasn’t raised with Greek. Other than again being in a situation where I communicate in a foreign language in public (which isn’t always pleasant as I often feel rude for not including the present company) I feel confident doing it. Is there a possibility of confusing him? I guess there is no danger of him not picking up German. Which leads to my other question: I have found a nice bilingual daycare for him (English-German) which I like because it is a continuation of the multilingual environment he is being raised in and his peers there will have similar backgrounds. But would it maybe be more advisable to put him in a purely German daycare so he is more exposed to German? My husband will continue speaking English to him, Grandfather and friends will mainly speak German (other than when they speak to my husband, who is going to start learning German there).

I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and opinions and want to express my gratitude for your blog and newsletter: It makes me feel very good that there are so many others in similar situations out there!

Thanks and best regards,
Ira

Answer

Dear Ira,

I understand you’d like to create a multicultural environment for your son by talking Greek to him once you move to Germany. You seem very confident and aware of what this switch and talking Greek-only with your son may entail. This is very important as there can be several issues along the way, and the more determined, confident and convinced you, your husband, your son and your social and family environment are, the better the chances are for you to raise your son successfully with Greek, German and English.

I’d like to point out several aspects you may want to consider.
When switching from German to Greek-only with your son, you ask if he’ll be confused. It all depends on his character and how he responds to this kind of change. He has surely heard you talk Greek already, so, if he will hear you talk Greek “only” in one-on-one situations once you live in Germany, it may take him some time to accept it but it’s not something completely new for him. If you want him to have a smoother transition language-wise, I’d advice to introduce Greek-only gradually. Maybe by starting to talk Greek to him at specific moments of the day (for example while having lunch or playing with him) or during the weekends (maybe including your husband?), and then see how he reacts.

As you are a multilingual parent, I have a few questions about you switching to Greek only.
– Do you think that you will feel comfortable to talk Greek with your son when your German family and friends are with you?
– Will you then switch to German when you talk to them? Which language will you talk for example if you’re all sitting around a table?
– Will your German family and friends be supportive and accept that you’re not talking German with your son? I ask this because you may prefer talking German with them.
– Later on, how will you feel when you hear other German parents talk German to their children at school and you keep on talking Greek?

As multilingual parents we often like to switch and talk all “our” languages but we also want to belong to social groups, and using the same language helps to “fit in” easier. This applies to adults and, of course, to our children too. It may be that if you are the only person talking Greek to your son, he will feel excluded, “different” and one reaction could be that he refuses to talk Greek. Especially when he has no need to talk Greek, because you talk German too and nobody else in his daily life talks Greek. You may want to consider talking German with your son in specific contexts: at school, with his friends etc. This will drastically reduce his exposure time though. One option may be that you and your husband agree to talk Greek as family language. This would make it more valuable for your son and keep the input a bit higher. – Your husband can still talk English to him and you German and Greek.
You may also need to find a way to increase the weekly Greek input if you want your son to be fluent.

This is my next question: what are the language goals you want for your son? Would you like him to be able to talk to family, friends in Greek? Would you like him to be able to read Greek? If yes, who will teach him to read and write in Greek? The higher your expectations are for your son to be fluent and proficient in Greek, the more you’ll need to work on it. – Are you sure there is no Greek family where you’re going to live? You will need some support from other speakers, your son’s peers, maybe even teachers to keep Greek interesting and necessary for your son.

Also, your son knows that you’re perfectly able to speak also the local language and he will wonder why you choose to talk Greek. Aside from that, he will want to fit in with his peers and maybe even prefer talking German once he goes to school. As he will also keep on speaking English, I’d advise to send him to the school you mention. Not only will he have daily German and English input, but he will also find children with a similar cultural and linguistic background.

I’d advise you to make a language plan for the next 3 years and see how it works, how your son and your environment respond. And you, your husband and your extended family will need to agree on the changes too, because you’ll need their support with this.
This all may sound a bit discouraging, but this is not my intention at all! I’d like to offer you my full support and help with this.

With very kind regards, alles Gute und bis bald,
Ute

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