Q&A: How to introduce my native language to my bilingual school-age children?

by | Jun 25, 2015 | Coaches, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family, School-aged children | 0 comments



let me introduce myself to guide you to my request/question. My name is Rita, born in Slovak republic from a Hungarian mother and a Palestinian father. I lived all my childhood in the United Arab Emirates where Arabic and English are the languages used. At home we used to speak in Arabic, even with my mom, as we made her talk in Arabic as we saw all people around doing it. So, at home basic language Arabic but sometimes Hungarian was used as my parents met in Budapest and my dad made his university studies in Hungarian. We used Hungarian as a private language when we went out living in Dubai so people won’t understand our private conversation.

So, later on we moved to Slovakia again (mother and sisters only) to continue studying. From there I moved to Spain in 2001 aged 21 and since then I live here. I got married to a Spanish man and had 2 kids (now aged 6 and 8) I’ve learnt so good Spanish that now I think in Spanish and dream in Spanish too. Unfortunately the language spoken at home has become the Spanish (with some Catalan as we live in Cataluña). We got divorced 5 years ago, but I still continue talk to my kids only in Spanish.

I speak 7 languages. I don’t really know which is my native language. Maybe it’s Arabic, but we speak the Palestinian dialect (which is not the official Arabic). I know the official Arabic as my school study was in Arabic.

I have no family in Spain, my mom died years ago and my dad lives in Lebanon. We write to each other in Arabic/English. I really want to teach my kids one of my native languages, but honestly I don’t know if I should use Arabic (which dialect?) or English, which is NOT my native language but I have a quite good level and I know it’s more commonly used.

I decided to go and visit my family in Lebanon this summer. We will stay one month and my main goal is that my kids live in an Arabic language experience and for me it will be the motivation to start with it – and continue as we come back.

I feel ashamed knowing 7 languages and my kids only Spanish/Catalane, but honestly I don’t feel sure about how to do it!

I hope my story explanation was clear. Thank you for your time and attention!
Rita Rahme from Spain


Hi Rita,

This really will depend on what you want the children to be able to do. If speaking with family is important, Arabic and Spanish may be the way to go. English is always useful, so not a bad choice either. As for which dialect of Arabic, again it would come down to what you want them to be able to do. If it’s speak with family, Palestinian; if it’s attend a university abroad in an Arabic speaking country, maybe more “official”. Arabic changes everywhere you go, so it’s really more about communication needs than what’s considered official or not. I’d say the easiest language not to speak at home would be the community language of the country you’re living in as the children will learn that anyway.

As your children are older now it’s important to understand that it would be very difficult to switch to another language with them since they’re over the age of 6. They’re already used to speaking one language with you and you’d need to devote significant time and effort to build up their language ability to a level high enough that you could interact and have conversations. If you are working or studying full-time, this would be very, very hard. A better approach would probably be to just start introducing them to one of your other languages through stories, games, and music several hours a week. Start slow and then add on more time or more complicated language as the children progress. Your choice to spend time abroad is also a good one. If you move to one of the countries of the languages you speak and then switch to that full-time, you would have a much more likely chance of success as well.

Good luck!

Nick Jaworski

Nick Jaworski


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