I am currently pregnant with my first child (boy) and due to give birth in two months. I come from Pakistan and my husband is German. My mother tongue is Urdu whilst my husband’s is German. English is the common language at home with my husband and also the community language as we live in London.
I have been learning German for the past few years and my current level is intermediate. I understand German better than I can speak (whilst I can understand a lot when I hear native speakers, I can only hold simple conversations in German myself). I will be at home taking care of our son for the first year whilst my husband works full time. He works long hours during the week so will mostly be home late in the evenings after our son has probably gone to bed. Weekends are the only time he will be able to speak German to our son.
We would like our son to be fluent in Urdu, German and English. For Urdu, I am only planning to teach him how to speak and not read and write. It’s more important that he is fully fluent in both German and English. I am wondering what is the best way to structure the languages we speak at home?
My main dilemma is that currently we plan to stay in London but may potentially move to Germany in a few years. If we end up staying in London when our son starts nursery/school, then we have not decided whether we will be sending him to a normal British school (where English is the dominant language) or a German school (where all subjects will be taught in German).
Given this situation, how would you recommend we structure the languages we speak at home that would work if we stay in London or move to Germany?
I would really appreciate your advice in this matter and look forward to hear from you
Congratulations on the new addition to the family! Thank you for your question about which languages you should speak with your son to make sure he grows up becoming trilingual in Urdu, German and English, independent of where you decide to live in the UK or Germany.
To start with the obvious choice, you will be speaking Urdu with your son to pass on your mother tongue to him. You do not mention if you have family members of other Urdu-speakers who your son can also spend time with to increase the amount of exposure to the language. If you are the sole source of Urdu, the importance of being consistent in using the language with you son is crucial. If he gets used to speaking English with you, it may become more difficult for you to keep the Urdu going with him.
Due to your husband’s work, your son’s exposure to German will be restricted to the weekends. Even then, the amount of time when your son will be spending alone time with his father will most likely to be limited, so it would be important to increase the German exposure if possible.
Since you understand German, what your husband could do is to stick to German independent of whether he is speaking with you or your son. It is fine for you to answer in English, if you do not feel comfortable to use German. It may initially feel strange to communicate in different languages, but you can get used to it. What will happen is that your German skills will improve as well!
If you stay in the UK and find a suitable German school, this would be an excellent way to ensure that your son becomes fluent in German. Should you choose and English school, then the importance of the German exposure at home will be crucial. You would be in a situation where you need to maintain two minority languages at home while your son is immersed in English at school, from the surroundings and the media.
Should you decide to move to Germany, I would suggest the reverse if possible, i.e. choose a good English school for your son. Depending on your son’s level of German fluency when you move, you can choose which language you speak together. If your son is still learning German, you can continue the same way as described above – again, this would also be beneficial for your own German skills.
If your son is already chatting away in German when you move, you could decide to make English the home language for when you are all together. Should you decide to go for a German school, then this would definitely be the choice to make sure to maintain your son’s English skills.
Wishing you a successful trilingual family journey!