I wish someone had told me…

by | May 29, 2013 | Being the parent in a multilingual family, Challenges, Family life, Practical advice | 6 comments

I wish someone had told me…

I am very happy with how my daughters have grown up to speak several languages, but there are still a few things I would have liked to have known when they were growing up.

The speed at which language develops can vary considerably between siblings

My elder daughter Minna started to speak very early and also translated words at a very young age. In contrast, her younger sister Daniela took a lot more time to start speaking – well, she spoke a lot actually, but the rest of the family didn’t know her language. At three years of age she understood both Swedish and Punjabi very well, but she gave us answers in a language only known to herself, and it didn’t resemble any of the other languages spoken in the family. This led to frustrating situations for her when she would understand what we said to her, but we didn’t know what she wanted to communicate to us. Subsequently we didn’t react the way she wanted us to. – I wish someone had told me that it will all sort itself out and she will grow up to be a happy bilingual.

Get a second opinion if you are told that speaking more than one language at home is detrimental to your child’s development

Due to Daniela being a late speaker, we were recommended to take her to a speech therapist, which I did. After a fairly basic analysis, I was told in no uncertain terms that our family’s use of several languages was the cause for the delay in Daniela’s speaking. We should also change to only speak one language at home. There was no chance we could or would have taken the advice, as it would have been too hard and upsetting to change the way we spoke as a family, but it did put some doubt in my mind. – I wish someone had told me to get a second opinion from a speech therapist with experience of bilingual children.

A child learns a new language really quickly when immersed in it

When we moved to England, Daniela didn’t know any English at all. She was six years old and spoke Swedish and Punjabi. I do remember worrying about her going to school in England, and I will never forget the moment, about a month before we moved, when she asked me: “Mum, what will I do if I don’t know what the teacher asks me to do?” I felt like a really bad mother, putting my child in such a difficult position. All I could do was to promise I would be there with her if she needed me. During the three first weeks at school, Daniela didn’t really know what was going on, but somehow it didn’t bother her – she seemed to enjoy going to school and never said she didn’t want to go. From the fourth week she was able to describe her day in more detail and after three months she started to speak English. – I wish someone had told me that children have an amazing capacity to quickly learn a new language when immersed in it.

May the peace and power be with you.


© Rita Rosenback 2013

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  1. Paul

    Hi Rita, I’m KPI 9 and was really pleased to find your blog. I’ve just had twins 3 months ago. I moved to Spain 6 months (and don’t speak Spanish yet), my partner is Bulgarian (and speaks English, Spanish and Bulgarian (+ a bit of Russian and Japanese!) and my two step-kids speak Spanish and English. I’d like the twins to speak English, Spanish and Bulgarian (just for starters) and would be interested to know what all of the issues are. Hopefully I’ll bump into you at a KPI event and we can have a chat. x

    • Rita Rosenback

      Hi Paul – great to hear from you and your fabulously multilingual family! I am just in the process of writing my book on the topic of multilingual parenting. With your family language setup your twins can well become trilingual from the start. I presume your plan is to stay in Spain and if so, then you should concentrate on English and Bulgarian to start with – the twins will learn Spanish, either from their siblings or when they start nursery. In a scenario where more than one language is involved, consistency is crucial – you all need to choose a language you speak to the twins, which might be mum – Bulgarian, dad – English, elder children – Spanish (or English). This will lead to situations where one of you might not understand what is being said, so this is one thing you need to consider and decide that you are ok about. Another thing is exposure – to acquire a language naturally, a child needs to be exposed to it at least 20-30% of its waking time, so you will need to look into whether this can be achieved. You will also need to think about what you are going to speak when you are all together. It is not always straightforward, but the rewards are great if you can stick to it!
      Yes, it would be lovely to catch up with you – you can reach me via FB.
      All the best to you and your family!

  2. Stephen Greene

    I’m really glad I read this again as my son is going through a similar stage to you second daughter in point 1. Yesterday he was desperately trying to tell me and my wife something and I just had to tell him I hadn’t got a clue what he was talking about. I turned to my wife and she whispered exactly the same thing to me. Lots of frustration at the moment, but it’s good to know it’ll sort itself out eventually.

    • Rita Rosenback

      Thank you, I am happy that my post was able to alleviate your worries a little. I feel for you, as I do remember having fleeting moments of self-doubt, thinking we might have got it all wrong and my daughter wasn’t getting the support she needed in her language development. It was a wonderful feeling when suddenly all pieces fell into place and she started speaking in both languages before the age of four. She is now a confident multilingual, happy to use all her languages: English, Swedish, Punjabi and German.

  3. Ana L. Flores (@laflowers)

    It’s amazing how many speech specialists still recommend children with speech delays drop a second language. It’s one of the biggest myths and one we work so hard at dispelling. Glad to hear she’s a confident multilingual despite the obstacles!

    • Rita Rosenback

      I know – just the other day I had an email from a mother who had been recommended to drop one of the family languages as her son was (according to the paediatrician) not progressing “as expected” in his language development… and the son is only two years old! It is so sad that parents give up on a language due to wrong advice!



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