We’re enjoying a relaxing holiday in Finland at the moment and I took the chance to speak to my younger daughter Daniela about her languages.
Which languages do you know?
– I know English, Swedish, Punjabi, German and a bit of Finnish.
How did you learn all your languages?
– I have always spoken Swedish with you and Punjabi with my dad. I live in England and picked up English as I have gone through the education system. I also learnt German at school. I never got the chance to learn Finnish before we moved to England, but I am now taking Finnish classes at the language centre at my university.
Do you remember how it felt to go to an English school when you didn’t yet know any of the language?
– At the age of six I don’t think I was as worried as I would have been had I been older. The teachers at my school were very helpful and the other children in my class made me feel welcome. I don’t remember it feeling particularly difficult and I looked forward to going to school every day.
Did you learn German purely at school?
– I was learning German for seven years at school and took A level German. I went to Osnabrück for two weeks and stayed with a host family. Doing work experience at the local hospital also gave me an opportunity to practice my German. I did find it easier to pick up German since I know Swedish and there are many similarities between the two languages in terms of grammar and vocabulary.
How do you think your language skills have benefited you so far and what will they do for you in the future?
– First and foremost they have enabled me to get to know the cultures my parents come from. It’s easier to understand other people when you speak the language they feel most comfortable in. It also makes travelling a lot more interesting and enjoyable. Knowing Punjabi particularly will help me when I qualify as a doctor because of the number of Punjabi speakers that live in the UK. I have also been thinking of working in Finland for a period of time, which I can do as there is apparently a shortage of Swedish speaking doctors in Finland.
What would you like to say to parents that are thinking of whether or not to bring up their children to speak more than one language?
– Passing on your language to your child is a great gift. I feel like I picked up so many languages for free. Monolingual people have often said to me that they wish they could speak another language. I think bilinguals take it for granted that they can speak more than one language, but they shouldn’t underestimate what a big difference it makes to someone’s life.
Anything else you would like to add?
– I think people sometimes worry that having more than one language in the family will make it harder to bond as a unit, but I think that having many languages makes a family feel unique and it brings its own joys.
Thank you, Daniela!
I am very glad Daniela had a good experience when she started school, not knowing very well English, since the other children and teachers where supportive. My wife and I (and with the help of my parents) are raising a trilingual 1 year old (in Greek, Russian and English).
I myself was raised bilingual, in English and Greek, and went to a Greek school. Because my Greek father was absent most of the time, I only heard English from my mother. So when I went to school, my Greek was terribly lacking, to the point that the teachers seriously asked my parents “why have you brought him here”!
Indeed the teachers where not supportive, and because at the same time I was deeply introverted, I had major bullying problems during all my years in school. I always felt different, had absolutely no self-confidence and my memories from most school years are deeply negative.
I am not saying that being raised bilingual caused this, but it definitely made the bullying problem worse as my ability to interact with other children was limited. Later, this lack of communication was converted into lack of self-confidence and rooted in my child and teenage years. I finally solved these problems later in my life.
Actually now that I have a son, and we have decided to raise him trilingual, this makes me feel more responsible in being a father for him. I’m the only parent who knows Greek (save grandpa), as my wife is Russian and grandma American. So since the plan at least until now is to go to school in Greece, I feel a huge responsibility to spend hours talking to him in my native language so he does not experience the same troubles I went through.
Thank you very much for your daughter’s interview and for your excellent blog! I can’t wait for your book…
I am sorry to hear about the difficult start at school for you and am happy that you have been able to leave that behind you. Your own experiences will however help you a lot in making sure your children will get the best possible start in their bilingual life and you will know how to best support them.
Thank you for sharing and for your kind feedback and all the best to you and your lovely family!
Hello Rita! I am thrilled to discover your blog and am adding it to my blogroll and a Pinterest board about multilingualism. So many of us “bilingual mommy bloggers” are just starting out that it is so encouraging to read a blog from a mother whose children who have “survived” being raised bilingually and are now confident, articulate young people like Daniela! Thank you so much for sharing, and I look forward to reading through your archives.
I have been conducting interviews of bilingual parents on my blog–perhaps you would be available to answer my questions about your family’s process, successes, and missteps? Here are some examples:
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested!
Thank you for stopping by and I am glad that you like my blog and share it on your blog and board. My aim is indeed to instil confidence in other parents to encourage them to pass on all the family languages to their children. It’s so worth it and I can’t imagine how different our lives would have been if my girls hadn’t learnt all the languages they now speak.
I will send you a direct email with regards to the interview.
All the best!
I enjoyed this interview very much! Raising bilingual children is an exciting journey and it has its challenge. It is wonderful to hear the children’s point of view and have them tell us how they feel about being able to understand and speak more than one language. Thank you for sharing the story. I will feature this post on my FB page.
Thank you, Amanda! I agree, having more than one language in the family certainly has its challenges, but they are far outweighed by the joys and the advantages. It is easy for us parents to speak about how beneficial it is to be bilingual but not always obvious for our children. This is the reason why I wanted my daughter to tell her story: to prove that even though it may feel difficult at times and the children might sometimes even be reluctant to learn, once they grow up, they sure do appreciate their language skills 🙂
Thank you for sharing our story!
Reblogged this on hungarywolf.