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!