Google+ Raising a Trilingual Child


Monday, August 17, 2015

Question about language choice asked by British-Chinese parent living in Czech Republic.

British Chinese and Czech family living in Czech republic asks a question about language choice. Parents would like to raise a trilingual child that speaks English, Chinese (Cantonese) and Czech. 

Hi :)

I'm expecting my first little girl in a week! I have intentions to raise her trilingual, except I have no idea how to go about it :(

Basically, my husband's Czech and will speak to her in Czech. We live in Prague, Czech Republic, so Czech's the community language. The Czech grandparents will obviously also speak Czech to the baby, and this set of grandparents will probably have more contact with my baby.

My husband and I speak English to each other. I'm native in English and my husband's near-native. I don't really speak any Czech.

I'm British Chinese - and therein lies the problem! Technically Cantonese is my mother tongue. I say technically, because I emigrated to England when I was 8 and my parents abandoned Chinese education for me and my sister altogether. As a little kid, you don't honestly care. So now, English has become my mother tongue - I'm native in English, but I honestly can't say the same for my Cantonese. My Cantonese is certainly fluent, but it needs warming up and my English is far more natural.

I can tell Cantonese is deeply ingrained in me though, because it takes only 30min of speaking in pure Cantonese before I start mixing my languages and accidentally speaking Cantonese to my Czech husband! When I first visited Hong Kong again after 8 years, I found myself able to think in Cantonese after being there for only 2 weeks, even though up till then my thought processes had been purely in English. So, in short, my Cantonese is rusty, but it's by no means bad.

Problem - we live in the Czech Republic. Between Czech, Cantonese, and English, you can imagine English is the most important and more useful language. I'd rather my little girl spoke native English than native Cantonese.

So, 1. I don't want to speak exclusively Cantonese, purely because English is more natural to me, and, 2. As I said, English is the more important language and my baby will mostly get native English from me.

I'm considering switching between Cantonese and English - like one day in one language and the next day in the other. Knowing me, I'll mix English with Cantonese even if I tried my best not to, but I don't mind so much if she's not at native level for Cantonese.

But I honestly don't know how best to go about this. I've heard so often that you shouldn't mix language when it comes from the same person. I'm afraid if I spoke exclusively Cantonese to her (something I feel would be near impossible), then her English will suffer, especially since we're not in an English-speaking country. However, if I do not teach her Cantonese, then no one will. Cantonese is not a common language in the Czech Republic, it is extremely difficult to find any Cantonese speakers, thus there is no natural Cantonese environment to expose my little girl to to help her pick it up more naturally outside of the home. And I'm afraid that if I started Cantonese too late - like when my girl would be 3-4 years old - she would reject the language precisely because it is not used in a natural environment.

Of course I'll ask my own parents to speak to her in Cantonese, but my parents live in England, and I'm as yet unsure how often we'd even be able to see them :(

And I don't want my daughter to end up monolingual... It's be a real pity. Our priority is definitely Czech and English. I understand Cantonese is not terribly useful, but I wanna give it a go. I think I'd regret it if I didn't at least try.

But... what's the best way to go about this? And is it all right to mix languages?



Hi Iris!

Congratulations on your pregnancy! It is wonderful that you'd like to raise a trilingual baby. I believe it is easily achievable, if your husband joins your efforts and if you consider a little change in your language strategy.

I know you said you would like to speak both English and Cantonese by alternating days. This is a great idea and you should go for it if the reasons for doing it go beyond concerns regarding your child’s English proficiency level. Otherwise I would suggest to consider speaking predominantly Cantonese to your child for at least the first year or two of his life and limit English to once a week activities. As you said, if you won't teach your baby Cantonese , nobody will.

This set up will help your child to receive maximum input in the minority language and will also help you to set your brain to function in Cantonese. After such a long break in using it you might not always have Cantonese words appearing in your head right when you need them. If you keep looking for a way to say things in your mother tongue and repeat the phrases in the right language you will eventually get the language fluency back.

Also your child's exposure to English will not be limited to your weekly activities with him. He will be exposed to English passively by observing you conversing with your husband. Your child will learn quite a bit with this kind of exposure. Read my article about passive language learning.

Your husband could also stimulate your child's English learning by periodically engaging in conversations with the baby. There are many opportunities for a child to learn and practice English outside the house throughout the life. Studying English as a foreign language at school is one of them. If you engage with extra colloquium activities with your child during that time, you will be able to stimulate his language development.

You don’t need to be concerned that your child picks up the language with an accent. There are non-native speakers who are successfully passing their second language onto their children relying on audio and video resources in that language. Besides, you speak English without an accent and you will be a great model to your child, when after establishing your child's Cantonese , you adjust you language strategy to include even more English in your daily life.

If I understand right, your parents speak English to you. I believe it might be hard for them to start speaking Cantonese to you and your child. I would discuss with your parents about a possibility for them to speak Cantonese to their soon to be trilingual grandchild. Best would be to start using video calling with grandparents and practice speaking Cantonese exclusively, so everyone can get used to this new arrangement.

The following articles will help you to plan your multilingual family journey. Read them, if you haven’t.
Raising a Bilingual Child: setting your priorities from the start.

Raising a Bilingual Child. How to Start So You Don't Feel Giving It Up Halfway Through.

Good luck with your little one! Let me know if you have more questions.


Are you bringing up a bilingual or multilingual child or are you a parent to be and have a question? 

Read other parents questions and my answers in Multilingual Family Q&A Series

Feel free to contact me.

For privacy protection I can change your name and omit some personal details, if you wish. 

Are you a multilingual family and looking for a playdate in your language? Click here to find it now!

You might also like:

Here you can find Kids radio in your language!  

Q&A: Parents heritage languages are different from community language. How to support the trilingual child's minority languages and keep them in balance.

Bilingualism and speech delay. How can you help? 

Language strategies for parents of bilingual / multilingual child.

Multilingual Family Interview: When your home languages are different from community language. Resources for Teaching Phonics and Reading to Children.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Bilingual Children Travelling to Minority Language Country. Diary. DAY 3


Today is on the list:  Best place for adults and kids to visit in St-Petersburg  --- When music unites the cultures  --- Birthday party - how bilingual kids feel encountering other kids speaking their minority language.

( For those of you , who are just joining in: I am travelling alone with two 3 and 5 years old kids to our family minority language home country - Russia. This is a continuation. Read about bilingual kids travel day one  and day two.

The day was beautiful we choose to spend it outside and went to see the birthplace of St-Petersburg - Peter and Paul fortress.

Remembering my childhood and how much fun I had climbing on the cannons, I brought my kids to do the same on the grounds of the fortress and on the road to our next destination - the artillery museum.

Here are the pictures I have taken inside the fortress:

Rocket at front of the Museum of Space Exploration and Rocket Technology in Peter and Paul Fortress, St Petersburg, Russia 

There are many many more interesting museums on the grounds of the fortress. Here are some of them

View on the Peter and Paul Cathedral from Fortress wall.

Russian howitzer on the ground of Peter and Paul Fortress

15 -17 century cannons near Artillery Museum

Reading reading everywhere!
This is one of the reasons why you should start teaching your children letters early. Kids try to read signs around them all the time!  See post about teaching children to read.

Ice cream break! 
This was the first one for my kids to try. There was a choice of many different shapes and tastes. I bought  for my kids the taste of my childhood. Working hard in passing on my heritage ;)

In the artillery museum we saw the famous “Katyusha” ( rocket launcher used during the WWII). My trilingual children know the Russian song by the same name very well. They also know the song of Italian partisans "Fischia il vento" with different words by Felice Cascione but with the same music by M. Blanter.

At some point my son started to sing the Italian song and Russians around had a puzzled look on the faces. Every Russian knows the Katyusha tune, but they could not figure out what words , as it seemed, a Russian boy was singing. BTW it was in the bathroom... Fun times!

Here are both songs audio and text:

Катюша ( Katyusha)

Lyrics: M. Isakovsky

Расцветали яблони и груши,
Поплыли туманы над рекой.
Выходила на берег Катюша,
На высокий берег на крутой.

Выходила, песню заводила
Про степного сизого орла,
Про того, которого любила,
Про того, чьи письма берегла.

Ой, ты, песня, песенка девичья,
Ты лети за ясным солнцем вслед
И бойцу на дальнем пограничье
От Катюши передай привет.

Пусть он вспомнит девушку простую,
Пусть услышит, как она поет,
Пусть он землю бережет родную,
А любовь Катюша сбережет.
Fischia il vento

Lyrics: Felice Cascione

Fischia il vento, infuria la bufera,
scarpe rotte eppur bisogna andar,
a conquistare la rossa primavera
dove sorge il sol dell’ avvenir.

Ogni contrada è patria del ribelle,
ogni donna a lui dona un sospir,
nella notte lo guidano le stelle
forte il cuore e il braccio nel colpir.

Se ci coglie la crudele morte,
dura vendetta verrà dal partigian;
ormai sicura è già la dura sorte
del fascista vile traditor.

Cessa il vento, calma è la bufera,
torna a casa il fiero partigian,
sventolando la rossa sua bandiera;
vittoriosi e alfin liberi siam.

Finally evening was approaching and we had friend's kid's birthday party to go to. When I told my daughter let’s go she said: “Мама я могу только на тебе или на такси.” “Mama, I can do it either on you or in a taxi.” I was impressed with my great walker's ability of grasping the concept of taking a Taxi considering that she has not taken any before!

More sweets to taste - Birthday cake!

During the Birthday party my kids played with others as if they were natives. Nobody could tell that Russian is their second language. I guess the fact that they speak it to each other makes all the difference in their ability to use it in a free play. (Read about Multilingual siblings language choice).
Perhaps the only thing is giving them out - they are loud as all Italians are :)

A great company of friends is what kids and adults need :) We came back home way after midnight ...

More to come soon!

Want to hear how our trip has begun? Read:

Bilingual Children Travelling to Minority Language Country - DAY ONE.

Bilingual Children Travelling to Minority Language Country - DAY TWO.

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Best Kids' Books in Russian

Kids Radio Stations from different countries in different languages

Monday, August 3, 2015

Bilingual Children Travelling to Minority Language Country. Diary. DAY 2

Day Two.

Brief description: How playgrounds in Russia look like. Great book for your independent reader and  for reading to your child (available in Russian and English). St-Petersburg's Circus - a must see when you are there!

(For those of you , who are just joining in: I am travelling alone with two 3 and 5 years old kids to our family minority language home country - Russia. This is a continuation. Read about Bilingual Children Travelling to Minority Language Country - DAY ONE. )

Kids are kids. No matter where they are they like to go to playgrounds. We could not pass on one in St-Petersburg!

Kids were so excited to learn that the playground has actually a theme. This one has pictures of all the characters from a Russian book written by Alexander Volkov  "The Wizard of the Emerald City"  ( Александр Волков “Волшебник изумрудного города”) , a book that was initially a translation of Bauman’s “The Wonderful Wizard of OZ” and then turned into an independent piece of work. We finished reading the last book of the series just before leaving for Russia.

BTW, both of my kids just love all the books about Magic Land and Emerald City (“Волшебной стране" и "Изумрудном городе”). If you have not read them, do so, below you will find a reference to books in Russian and English.  I promise your kids will be asking you to keep on reading, a book after a book :)

Here is the list of Alexander Volkov’s books in Russian placed in order. I also write the titles in English, if you are interested to read them in that language as well.

Список книг Волкова про Волшебную страну по порядку:
Волшебник Изумрудного города

Урфин Джюс и его деревянные солдаты

Семь подземных королей

Огненный бог Марранов

Жёлтый Туман

Тайна заброшенного замка 

Here is a great website, where you can read all books about Emerald City online for free ( in Russian): 

Читать “Волшебник изумрудного города” онлайн.

Books in English:

Tales of Magic Land 1: The Wizard of the Emerald City and Urfin Jus and his Wooden Soldiers

Tales of Magic Land 2: The Seven Underground Kings and The Fiery God of the Marrans

Tales of Magic Land 3: The Yellow Fog and The Mystery of the Deserted Castle

Finally here are some pictures from our playground visit.

playground St Petersburg Russia

The evening was filled with new exciting emotions - we went to the world famous St-Petersburg Circus! (Шапито в Автово)

To say it was an AMAZING show on water is to say nothing. The performers were outstanding! Truly great show for both kids and adults!
Circus Avtovo St Petersburg Russia stage decoration
When I read that show is on water I was concerned, if there will be animals. They were there! A crocodile, two pitons, white doves, dogs, seals.

Unfortunately taking pictures during the show was not allowed. Check the website for more details. It will give you some hint what this show is all about (really a hint, as those few pictures are not from the best circus acts either) :

It was a memorable experience for my kids and for me. Besides the performance, I will keep in my memory the kids faces full of excitement and joy.

More to come soon!

Click to read DAY ONE -  Bilingual Children Travelling to Minority Language Country - DAY ONE.

You might also like reading:

Check out Kids' Radio Stations from around the world!

Watch Russian cartoons online.

Best children's books to read in Russian.

Meet other parents and multilinguals through reading their life stories! 

Would like to teach your child to read in your language? - Find the answers on what language you should start with and how to do it (click here)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Bilingual Children Travelling to Minority Language Country. Diary. DAY 1

I am travelling alone with two 3 and 5 years old fully bilingual kids to our family minority language home country - Russia. Sounds interesting? Keep on reading!

Day One.

Here you will find: One parent travelling with two children. Airport and air plane experience. Significance of the trip.

Almost 3.5 hour flight went well. The kids were extremely well behaved (Surprise!). They even were able to negotiate on who takes the window seat without letting the entire airplane know about their discussion.

The moment we approached the boarding area my son commented about people: “mama, they all speak Russian!” and I realised that here is the start point for learning about Russians and Russian culture. The kids were studying peoples faces and were paying attention to other people’s conversations.

The next early encounter with Russia was in the air - kids reaction to the airline food. Russian black bread, butter, cheese … and pasta and chicken dish, which my kids picked.

I was curious to see how my Italian kiddos will react to pasta. The very hungry kids finished all the chicken, but the little one left the pasta and ate all our white bread instead. My sweet tooth girl did not want to eat a cake either.

We landed.

Did you know that such a simple thing like “venik” (a short brush of bound straw) can make a kid happy?

Русский веник

This was one of the most exciting moment for me and my kids. The older child noticed "venik" at the back of a bus that we took to get from our plane to a terminal. His eyes were shiny from happiness. He said “ Mom, this is a "venik"!“ (“Мама, это ВЕНИК! “) .

Right at this moment I understood the great significance of our trip - it is a real life encounter with everything they read about and talked about all those past years.

This first trip to Russia is much much more than just a visit of friends and family. 

Read next post:  Bilingual children Travelling to Minority language Country.Diary. DAY 2.

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Listen to kids' Radio in English , Russian , German , Spanish, French, Polish, Serbian , Slovak , Dutch, Lithuanian, Turkish, Czech, Norwegian, Italian, Greek, Albanian , Hungarian 

Watch Russian cartoons online. 

Best children's books to read in Russian.

Image source: wikipedia

Friday, July 24, 2015

Good Reads: Great Russian book to introduce a famous Russian poet - Lermontov. Age 10 +

I find it somewhat challenging to introduce Russian classic poets, whose language is hard to understand without additional explanation not only for children but also for some adults.
Bookstore in the old Singer building
I have been on a look out for books that have nice illustrations to go along with the text to make them more accessible. And here I was, in a bookstore that is in the old Singer building right in the heart of St-Petersburg Russia, reaching for a book by Mikhail Lermontov. The second I flipped through its pages I knew - this is the one! My two bilingual kids, who just turned 4 and 6 year old, listen very attentively to me reading it and asked questions. Surely some of the poems are still too early for them to read, but the book has many shorter poems that small children can appreciate. I would say this book is best for children age 10 and older.

Mikhail Lermontov is a famous Russian poet and writer , who was born more than 200 years ago and died in a duel at the age of 26. His poetry is filled with poetic images and many of his poems became beautiful songs.

Here are some of them, you can listen them on Youtube:

Казачья колыбельная песня
Выхожу один я на дорогу
Нет, не тебя так пылко я люблю
Отчего ( Мне грустно )
и другие

This book is called “Poems of all times” (“Стихи на все времена” ) - a collection of poems by Lermontov that every Russian child reads during the school studies. You will find all his famous poems there: Бородино, Три пальмы, Песня про царя Ивана Васильевича …, Родина, И скучно и грустно, Мцыри, Смерть поэта и многие другие.

The beautiful watercolor illustrations by Nikolaev ( Юрий Николаев) attract readers and help them feel the magic of Lermontov’s poetry.

If you have already read this book and looking for something else to read, check out  
the list of Russian language children's books and cartoons 
List of children's books in Polish language - Lista książek po Polsku dla dzieci
or stop by to see what other international families and friends of Multicultural Kid Blogs have to recommend in the Read Around the World Summer Reading Series.  This is the second summer, when bloggers from all over the world share their recommendations of great multicultural books for the entire family!

Good reading time!

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7 principles to keep in mind while teaching your child to read.

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Can babies distinguish foreign languages?


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Good Reads: Great conversation starter - folktale from New Guinea “The Turtle and the Island”. Age 4 and up.

What do you and your children know about Papua New Guinea?

The book “The turtle and the island” is a folktale that tells us in a very poetic way how the island of New Guinea was born and who were the first people living there. It is a great book for young independent readers and can be read to children from age of 4.

I found this folktale available in Russian and English languages. Have you seen/read it in other languages? If yes, in which one?

Book In Russian:

We read the story in Russian. The book is called "Остров и черепаха". It is very well told by Anastasia Brodotskaya (Анастасия Бродоцкая) and accompanied with beautiful illustrations by David Haykin ( Давид Хайкин).

Book In English:

The story “The Island and the turtle” was published in English by Barbara Ker Wilson (Author) and Frané Lessac (Illustrator).

Use this book to start a conversation with your child. Here are some topics you could expand on: You could talk about how islands are formed, introduce more geography, discuss turtles and ocean, talk about biodiversity … and the list does not end here!

If you have already read this folktale, check out the list of Russian language children's books and cartoons  or stop by to see what other international families and friends of Multicultural Kid Blogs have to recommend in the Read Around the World Summer Reading Series.  This is the second summer, when bloggers from all over the world share their recommendations of great multicultural books for the entire family!

Good reading time to everyone!

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FREE audiobooks and stories in English. 19 great websites !

List of Kids' Radio Stations from countries around the world

Did you know that by singing songs and nursery rhymes you prepare your child to learning to read?

Have you ever wondered how one can become a multilingual? - learn more from this great Life story: A Journey to Multilingualism.

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7 facts that can determine the language spoken between multilingual siblings.

What language should I speak to my child in public? - Multilingual parent dilemma. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Good Reads: “Masha & Oika” by Sofia Prokofieva. Two little girls that your children can relate to and learn from. Short stories in Russian for children from 0-5.

Masha and Oika are the two little girls that are very similar in character and behaviour to our children. One girl, Masha, likes to do everything by herself , the other one - does not and always complains saying “Oi”. In fact, because of that everyone stopped calling her with her real name - Zoika and started calling her Oika.

These two girls, just like any children, have animal friends. In our kids case those are their plush toys.

These short stories will help your children to learn what is good and what is bad, to say goodbye to a pacifier, to learn how to be polite and to stop being resistant to washing their hair.

“Masha & Oika” (Маша и Ойка) by Sofia Prokofieva (София Прокофьева) is a must have in your preschooler’s library and is a great book for children from 0 to 5 years old.

Here is the list of the stories that are included in the book “Masha & Oika” by Sofia Prokofieva

This Russian book “Masha and Oika” is also available to listen to online:

Слушать Машу и Ойку онлайн.

Cодержание книги Софии Прокофьевой “Маша и Ойка” :

Сказка про Ойку-плаксу
Сказка о ленивых ногах
Сказка про соску
Сказка о мокрых штанишках
Сказка о первых ягодах
Сказка о высунутом язычке
Сказка про грубое слово «уходи»
Сказка про волшебные перышки
Сказка про маленький дубок
Сказка про воронье гнездо
Сказка о том, как Мышонок попал в беду
Сказка про холодную воду
Сказка про хитрую ловушку
Сказка про честные ушки
Сказка про волшебную корзиночку
Сказка про дырявый кармашек
Cказка про игрушечный городок
Сказка про непослушные ручки и ножки
Сказка про башмачки
Сказка о том, как зайцы испугали Серого Волка
Сказка про молоток и гвозди
Сказка про часы с кукушкой.

If you have already read this great book by Sofia Prokofieva, check out the list of Russian language children's books and cartoons  or stop by to see what other international families and friends of Multicultural Kid Blogs have to recommend in the Read Around the World Summer Reading Series.  This is the second summer, when bloggers from all over the world share their recommendations of great multicultural books for the entire family!

Good reading time to everyone!

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Best website with FREE audiobooks and stories in English 

PROS and CONS of raising a Trilingual child. 

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Life Story: Emigrating at age 8. Challenges of preserving the home country culture and language. What can be passed onto the new generation?

Are you an expat parent? Are you wondering how your child feels about your language and your culture? Karolina's life story will give you insights on what it was for her to emigrate at age 8 and  grow up with two languages and two cultures. She talks about her personal benefit of bilingualism and  her goals for raising  her multilingual daughter.

I was born in Poland. I grew up hearing my grandmother and her mom speak German to each other whenever they didn’t want the rest of the family to understand what they were discussing. I was aware that my mother had some level of Russian familiarity on account of it having been a required foreign language in school when she was growing up. But I didn’t start learning my second language – English – until I emigrated to the United States at the age of 8.
Once immersed in the American public school system, surrounded by native English speakers, I picked up the language in no time. Rather than being held back a grade, as was common practice for non-native English speakers entering the school system, I finished second and third grade in the same academic year.

But alas, contrary to what my relatives convinced me of, it was not as simple as merely adding a second language and carrying on with the first language as if nothing happened. Something did happen – my first language, Polish, was being replaced by English. It took me literally decades to finally come to terms with the fact that I lost something of my mother tongue by emigrating.

On the surface, I thought I had an easy adjustment. I was young when I arrived, I was immersed in the mainstream language right away, and my parents maintained the minority language at home. I maintained my Polish literacy (albeit at an elementary level) by writing letters to my grandmother and cousin. But on my visits back to Poland, I noticed I wasn’t familiar with the most recent slang, or that I couldn’t explain various aspects of my conversation topics on account of them being far more advanced than the second-grade Polish education I was working with.

For years, I did not associate my weaning native language skills with my scuffles with my parents. After all, all adolescents argue with their parents, right? However, I was cognizant enough to always keep in the back of my mind that on top of a generational gap, my parents and I also had a cultural gap.

I attributed my perceptions of my relatives’ comments to their personality traits. Usually, this meant that I saw them in a negative light – as rude, mean, or just plain insensitive. I had no idea that I was translating my American-learned value system into a Polish culture that operated within a very different set of values. Over the years, I’d ask my mother to explain to me why someone said something that I found offensive. With time, I started to question if this was just the way Polish people were, or if it was something unique to my family. It hadn’t occurred to me that my gap in understanding the Polish culture was a direct result of the way I became bilingual.

My parents and I settled in an area of the United States that did not have a large Polish diaspora community. At first, we attended a Polish parish, but within a couple of years, we moved too far to continue regular attendance at this church. It probably didn’t occur to my parents that they were cutting me off from a very critical language resource by limiting my Polish exposure to only the home. It was merely a matter of what was practical. No other Polish resources were available to us when I was growing up. There was no internet yet, and we couldn’t afford Polish language television. I had a subscription to a Polish children’s magazine for a time, but no contact with anyone outside of my family who spoke Polish.

As I matured, the topics of interest for me also matured, but my Polish vocabulary didn’t have a chance to keep up. There were things I didn’t feel comfortable discussing with my parents, and since there was no one else I could discuss them with in Polish, they just weren’t discussed in Polish at all. And soon, I noticed I was no longer thinking in Polish.

When I first noticed that I thought to myself in English, I tried to make it a point to consciously switch back whenever I caught myself. I felt guilty for letting my Polish slip like that. My parents couldn’t relate to what I was going through linguistically, since their Polish solidly remained their true mother tongue. I remember one incident where I was trying to say something to my dad about a lightbulb and I couldn’t remember the Polish word for “lightbulb”. I stuttered, trying to think of it, I may have even said the word in English in hopes of him helping me out. Instead, he got angry at me, not believing that I could’ve forgotten such an easy word. He thought I was lying.

Relationship with my mother.

My relationship with my mother also suffered because of the language disconnect. Even though we always spoke Polish in the home, there were less and less things I could discuss with her if for no other reason than that it was awkwardly peppered with a lot of code-switching (followed by feelings of guilt). Not only that, but Polish grammar has two ways of addressing a person, depending on the formality of the occasion and intimacy of the interlocutors. Many languages have a similar dichotomy: Spanish tu/Usted, French tu/vous, German Du/Sie. I grew up using the formal third person verb conjugation when addressing my mom. I didn’t have the benefit of hearing that this apparently changes at some point in a parent-child relationship.

I started to feel silly using the formal with my mom, yet it felt downright inconceivable to use the informal. And so I developed my own strategy for overcoming this obstacle. Since code-switching had already become part of my repertoire by this time, and my mom had also started using some English words in conversations with me, I simply utilized the universal English “you” in place of its equivalent in Polish. So for instance, instead of asking my mom the formal way, “Co mama chce na prezent?” or the equally unacceptable informal, “Co chcesz na prezent?” more and more of my sentences started to be bilingual when addressing my mom, resulting in the following compromise for the above question: “Co do you want na prezent?” (“What do you want for a gift?”)

Then one day when I was in my 20s, my mother told me about a conversation she had with her own mother, and how my grandmother was upset that my mom had started to use the informal with her. So I asked my mom when it was appropriate to make the switch. Was I old enough, perhaps? My mom didn’t even flinch. She had no problem with me addressing her in the informal. But I did. Since I didn’t speak Polish with anyone other than my parents, and every few years my grandparents and aunts when I’d visit Poland, I only ever used the formal in my spoken Polish. I heard myself say the informal to my elders and I cringed. It sounded wrong. Rude.

It took me many years to force myself to get used to it. The advent of modern technology helped. It was much easier to test the waters by addressing my mom as “you” in emails, and later in texts. Even to this day, I am consciously aware of saying “you” to my mom. But since after years of trying this out on her, my mom has yet to complain, I know I’m safe to continue.

However, as cumbersome as my weakening Polish skills have been to my relationship with my mom and with my family and understanding Polish culture and nuances in general, there is another detrimental result of my not having grown up “truly bilingual”. Growing up, I heard what an advantage it is in the work world to know multiple languages. The largely monolingual society I lived in seemed to also consider it something of a bonus, a sought-after resume-builder. But since I hadn’t yet figured out that there are levels of multilingualism, I considered myself bilingual, period (and later trilingual when I took 5 years of Spanish, including an immersion program, and eventually married a native Spanish-speaker). I proudly put Polish and Spanish on my resume, but when it came down to it, I didn’t actually have what it took to do the job. My English is way better than my Spanish and even Polish by leaps and bounds. Not only has nearly all of my formal education been in English, but all of my peer interactions from a young age have been in English as well. The truth is, I can’t translate between the languages except at a quite basic level, and any job that would require language skills requires far more than that.

While I consider myself multilingual and multiliterate, I am finally able to make peace with the fact that I’m not equally proficient in all three languages. I’ve made the journey from Pole to Polish-American.

Benefits of bilingualism.

So what good have my language skills been then?

They have enabled me to see the world from a very open-minded perspective. I’m aware of how differently speakers of different languages see the world, and this has helped form who I am today. It has encouraged me to seek out non-native English speakers for friends, and it provided me with a decade of fulfilling work teaching adults English as a second language.

It has given me the ability to enjoy cultural events, music, food, traditions, not only from the cultures associated with my languages, but from various other cultures as well. It allowed me to see marrying someone of a different cultural and linguistic upbringing as a no-brainer. It is in being different from the mainstream that I see comradery with other multilinguals. I feel more comfortable surrounded by people from various backgrounds than I do surrounded by all Poles.

Being multilingual has given me the ticket to considering myself a global citizen. My idea of “us versus them” is very different from most monolinguals. “We” are people who want to work together to build a better tomorrow, and “they” are those who are too wrapped up in their own monolithic identities to see past people’s differences and embrace a universal selfhood.

My goals for raising a multilingual child. 

So I stand at a cross road when considering my goals for raising my daughter multilingual. Many parents desire full fluency in both languages for their kids. Had this been my parents’ goal for me, I would’ve reaped the benefits in many ways. But since I am no longer as emotionally vested in my first language as I was when it was still my native tongue, I have a much more laid back approach to language learning now. I want to provide the exposure for her inside and outside the home, so that she can enjoy the language in what she reads, what programs she watches, what music she listens to, and her choice of friends. I do not see language learning as a chore or a parental duty. I see it as a natural extension of who my husband and I are – we are a multilingual family. It couldn’t have been any other way.

My daughter does have an advantage over me in the way she’s growing up multilingual. I have a clear-cut language goal for her (though not a strict one), and I have the benefit of knowing that it takes more than mere at-home exposure to provide optimal opportunities for fluency.

I’ve made peace with my level of multilingualism, though I still have an emotional reaction to certain songs and poems in Polish, so perhaps it is still my “mother” tongue. But everyone knows that the baby chick eventually leaves its momma’s nest. Polish may have provided me with roots, but my wings are intertwined with a heavy dose of English and a decorative patch of Spanish. Perhaps what’s most important to know cannot be conveyed in language of any kind. After all, silence is golden. Milczenie jest złote.

Karolina and her husband Oscar live in the United States and enjoy communicating with their toddler daughter Natalia in Polish, English, Spanish, and American Sign Language, which they are learning together as a family.


Are you interested to participate in the Life Story series and write about your experience as a bilingual or multilingual child and/or a parent?  Would you like to take part in the Multilingual Family Interview series ? You can contact me here.

Are you a multilingual family and looking for a playdate in your language or another family to chat with? Click here to find it now!

You might also like reading:

Best kids radio stations from around the world

7 facts that can determine the language spoken between multilingual siblings. 

Would like to teach your child English phonics? Check this interview for the resources: When your home languages are different from community language.  

Life Story: Trilingual mama - trilingual kid. Why would it be any other way? 

How to Raise a Bilingual / Multilingual child. Where to start?

What language should I speak to my child in public? - Multilingual parent dilemma. 

Raising a Bilingual Child : Setting Your Priorities From The Start. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Raising a Bilingual Child : Setting Your Priorities From The Start.

You are a happy parent. You have a precious baby that you decided to raise bilingually or even multilingually.

It is time for your family and, if you are a minority language speaking parent, for you personally to set the priorities. Set them right from the start, as the way you start could affect your success in passing your mother tongue (or the targeted language) onto your child. You should really think through it and act on what I say, if you wish a high level of proficiency in your language for the child. You might have a feeling that your child will have a plenty of time for language learning and that he/she is still just a baby. Yes, the latter is true, but not the former as the time will pass by so fast that you won’t even notice when it’s time for your child to go to school where he/she will inevitably detach from you and your language daily influence.

How do you figure out what’s important? How do you prioritize the language learning?

Direct interaction with your child.

By spending more time directly interacting with your child you at the same time give the priority to the language learning.

A child starts learning language still in the womb and keeps on learning day after day, word by word. He learns even when he is not talking back to you, when he is 1,2,3 month old.

The first months is when YOU need to do all the talking. I know that could feel weird as nobody answers you. Your baby is just a passive listener, BUT he is also a very fast learner.

Children need to hear you to speak to them, interact with them. They need to hear words several times in order to acquire them.

The words are rolling on and on, like a snowball that gets bigger and bigger as you roll it across a snowy lawn.

Use any opportunities to talk to your baby. Play with your baby, read to your baby, just be with him/her and SPEAK SPEAK SPEAK to him/her. Every simple thing you do, such as singing a lullaby helps you to prepare your baby for the future literacy.

Do you know what is the best way to start building your child’s vocabulary? - take him for a stroll and talk and explain to him everything you see.

Here are other changes and decision you may need to make.

I know many of us feel, especially with the birth of a new family, that everything should be perfect. The house, the family.

You try to do your best in being parents, a husband, a wife.

The first three years of your child’s life are the most important for the language development (and not only!) . Your child needs you during these years the most. Especially if you are the parent , who is passing on a second language.

Your child’s need in your support is proportional to the child’s growth rate. The faster he grows the more he needs you. He learns about the new and exciting world around him and becomes more independent. Overtime your child will start to slowly detach from you and grow into an independent human being day by day giving you more time for yourself. But this stage of life comes later. Right now you need to make more time for your baby. But how? Where can you find time? How to make the time for a child in our busy life?


When your baby is up, it’s “his time”. Talk and involve your baby into activities when he is less tired and more alert. And do whatever you need to do around the house or outside, when the baby is tired or asleep. That way you can get the maximum results from those hours of learning.

A quick observation based on my kids: the more they were learning the better they were sleeping; thus, giving me more time to take care of other things around the house.

If you can, try to live near your workplace to cut on the commute time and be home early for your little one.

If you need help - find a babysitter or daycare provider speaking your language.


Three course meal is great, but do you really need it now? There are many dishes that are very healthy, easy to cook and , what is very important here, they are fast to prepare! When your child is older, he/she will help you to prepare those big meals, just wait a little. He will learn new words and practice speaking simply by doing it with you.


Mix and match the responsibilities. Encourage your half to pitch in more. Take turns cooking. Or cook and freeze meals to free up time.

When your child is ready to eat adults like food , make a dish that everyone can eat. This could be a good remedy for picky eaters as well.

Think what you spend a lot of time on and how you can reorganize your life to have this activity during your child’s rest hours.

Delegate! Hire help!

Groceries. How about a home delivery? Check online and local stores for this possibility. Yes, it costs extra money, but think about it as a little investment into your child’s future. It’s better, if you spend time together now than pay language teachers later.

Cleaning. If you feel overwhelmed, hire someone to clean your house. It does not have to be every week. If you are on a tight budget having a cleaning service for 3 hours every other week will do the magic and will help you keep the house under control. Look at it as a very good investment in your child's bilingual education.

If your relatives / friends offered you help to run some errands -- take it.

Talk to your husband / wife / partner , find a solution to optimize your life to be there for your soon to be bilingual baby for these precious three years. Your child grows and changes, he will be more independent soon, but the first three years of his life are when he learns the most and masters the languages.

And when the question comes:

Should I read to my child or clean the house?

I answer: Read!

What would YOU answer?

I am pretty much the only language source for my kids and I know for sure my kids won’t be speaking my language this fluently as they are without myself setting the priorities and putting the kids language learning needs before my own and without support of my lovely husband.

Do you have something to add? Please do so in the comments below! And Thank You!

You might also like reading:

How To Raise a Bilingual / Multilingual child? Where to start?

Choosing the best language strategy for your family.

Pros and Cons of Raising a Trilingual Child.

What language should I speak to my child in public? - Multilingual parent dilemma.

Can babies distinguish foreign languages?

Are you a multilingual family and looking for a playdate in your language or another family to chat with? Click here to find it now!

Bilingual Multilingual families Find a playdate in your language

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Child's exposure to more than one language helps to build strong communication skills.

I really feel the need to share exciting results of the recent research conducted by psychologists of University of Chicago.

Not only bilingual children, but also children, who are exposed to more than one language, have better social communication skills.

I hope this news will encourage parents to keep on speaking their mother tongue around their children and to their children, even if they feel close to giving it up.

Read more about the research here.

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