Today’s guest writer is Marieke Romano-van den Hoek, a 33-year-old mother-of-two, who blogs at Speaking More Languages, where she shares her family’s experiences of bilingual upbringing. Marieke lives in Holland with her Italian husband and they raise their children (1,5 and 3,5 years) bilingually in Dutch and Italian. Marieke has a great passion for languages: she speaks Dutch, English, French, Spanish, Italian and German – all on different levels. She studied International Business Communication in Holland, participated in the Erasmus program in Spain and wrote her master thesis in Italy. This is also where she met her current husband – and how the story began.
– The page is yours, Marieke!
3 lessons blogging taught me about bilingualism
Earlier this year I started blogging about our experiences with bilingual upbringing. I write about our day to day life and the language development of my children (aged one and three), who we raise both in Dutch and Italian. In my articles, I try to link questions, doubts or observations I make to scientific articles and research where applicable and possible. Also, I hope to show others what it’s really like to grow up bilingually (and biculturally), because I found websites about bilingual upbringing, but hardly any which I could relate to.
Since I started, I already learned some valuable lessons:
1 – Follow your intuition
When I was pregnant with our first child, we briefly talked about how we would raise her in terms of language and culture. We live in Holland and my husband is Italian. We had never heard of majority language or methods like OPOL (one parent, one language) and mL@H (minority language at home). We just thought: we’d like our children to be able to speak both our languages, so let’s each speak our own language and see how that goes.
After my first posts and doing some research, I found out that we had apparently been using the OPOL strategy, but flexibly. As our daughter is growing up, we have recognised that she has a majority language (Dutch) and a minority language (Italian). We now try to balance the languages so that I speak more Italian with her at home. It felt good to change strategy, so we did, and it seems to be working well – at least for now 🙂
2 – Put yourself in the other person’s shoes
I write my blog in Dutch (my native language), but also in English and Italian so my family and other families in a similar situation to ours could read my blog. This has given me the opportunity to understand a little bit what it means to do everything in a language that’s not your native one. I enjoy it a lot, as languages are my passion, but sometimes I also get insecure about the grammar or spelling, especially in Italian.
At the beginning, I asked my husband to correct my articles and found out that he had to correct more of my Italian than I have to correct his Dutch. And this is just a blog, I can only imagine what it means to use a language that is not your native one in your everyday life. This is so valuable, because it increases my respect for him and everybody else who is living in a foreign country.
3 – Writing helps to straighten things out
To me it’s very valuable to share my experiences with others, also because I can view my own experiences and decisions from another perspective. It helps me understand what I find important in life and helps me to be confident about my decisions. It’s almost like looking at somebody else’s life and thinking: “wow, they’re doing a good job!” – it makes me proud!
Even if you don’t like to share your experiences with the whole world, just writing things down for yourself can be very valuable. In the end, bilingual parenting is a lot like monolingual parenting, or parenting in general. Nobody really knows how to do it right, but as long as our children grow up healthily and happily; we must be doing something right!
Marieke Romano-van den Hoek
Thank you for your inspiring article, Marieke! I am happy that you have found a family language strategy that works for you and wish you all the best on your bilingual family journey. With regards to “nobody really knows how to do it right”, I would actually disagree, as millions of parents are doing it exactly right and are successfully raising their children to speak the family languages. It is just that there are several different ways of doing it right. Each family has its own unique circumstances and it is a question of finding what works, just like you have done, and adjust the strategy whenever necessary.