Google+ Raising a Trilingual Child: Life Story: Trilingual mama - trilingual kid. Why would it be any other way?

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

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

(Please contact me, if you are interested to participate in the Life story series and write about your experience as a bilingual or multilingual child and/or a parent).

Trilingual "apple" does not fall far from a trilingual "tree".

Nathalie’s parents raised their kids trilingual long before nowadays multilingual parenting book plethora and well before anyone can google everything.  They did think there was a choice!  And now the story repeats  -  Nathalie is raising her son trilingual and can’t see any other way. 

 Nathalie with Daniël (then 4 months old)
My name is Nathalie (39) and I’m  of a German and a Dutch nationality. After being born in Germany, I traveled around the world with my parents and two siblings. I currently live in Madrid, Spain. I work in a bilingual (Dutch-Spanish) primary school where I teach the toddlers and first grade. 
I am a mother of a nearly two year old boy, Daniël, who is half Dutch half English.  I am a self-proclaimed expert in both multilingualism and moving houses thanks to my upbringing.


I was raised as a trilingual child, and I'm now myself raising a second generation trilingual child, be it with other languages. Many people around us seem to think it is harsh on our child to expose him to not only two, but three languages. Others seem to think we are over challenging the little boy, just for bragging purposes. Neither could be further from the truth. As in my own upbringing, I feel there is no choice than to raise Daniël trilingual, simply because we cannot just ignore one of the three languages.

I was born in Aachen, Germany to a German father and a Dutch mother who spoke English to each other because they didn’t speak the others' language. I suppose neither of them were willing to give up their mother tongue when it came to raising us.
Camping in Kenya

Once my father had finished university he was offered a job that would imply moving all over the world for the next 20 years. The first stop was Nairobi, Kenya where my sister and I were sent to a local (English) school. At home we spoke German to my dad, Dutch to my mother and English at school.

smiling-trilingual-sisters
Nathalie with her sister
As my grandparents were mortified not seeing their grandchildren growing up, my parents often recorded cassette tapes of us speaking and singing for them to listen to, which they sent to them. These tapes have become the most valuable and interesting testimonies of our language development. By the age of 3 and 5 my sister and I had formed the most complicated sentence structures applying the various grammatical rules of English, Dutch and German, using all three languages in any given sentence-depending on which parent we were talking to, the language the last song had been sung in or in whatever language a word came to mind first.
To outsiders this must have been a perfect verification against raising children in more than one language. Mind you, at the time you couldn’t google if what you were doing was right. My parents raised us trilingual with no clue as to what they were doing.

Trilingual-sisters-with-their-father-Venezuela
Venezuela
The second country (after a break in Holland) was Venezuela. We went to an American school and I think by that time my dad had learned Dutch which became the language spoken at home. I don’t actually know based on what my parents decided to leave out German-possibly it was us, the children who decided we wouldn’t speak German anymore. (I just asked my dad why we started speaking Dutch at home, and even he has no clue). As we were in a Spanish speaking country we also got Spanish lessons at school, and I suppose we learned the basics, but in leaving Venezuela, we left behind our fourth language-Spanish.

The next country was India (again after a little break in Holland) The American school had not really been what my parents had hoped for so we went to a local German school. By now (8 and 10 years old) we were obviously perfectly capable of separating the three languages we spoke and were fluent (but not native) in all three languages. The family continued to speak Dutch at home and we spoke German at school and English when out in Bombay.

Trilingual-children-near-car-Bombay-India
Bombay, India
After India we moved back to Holland where my parents were confronted with various options as to where and in what language we would continue our schooling.  At the time our school language and home language were both good but not perfect, and the choice had to be made not knowing what country the future would bring. The choice (for which I am to this day still grateful) was the European school in Mol, Belgium. The European school gave us the possibility of being educated in all three of our languages. Be it that we had to chose which language would be our first, second and third. In the end, we went to the German section.

When it came to going to university I myself chose to go to a Dutch one, as we were living in Holland. It was at university where I became aware that I was pretty non-native in all three the languages which was quite a shocking realization to me. There I was thinking I was a right genius while getting back papers with more red than you could possibly imagine (and comments like: "This is a primary school mistake". Bit by bit my German and English disappeared to the background as I was living and studying in Holland.

I stayed in Holland till my 30th and then started to get itchy-feet and so I decided to make a plunge to Madrid-Spain. It was here that I realised how much I had missed speaking different languages - all of a sudden I would hardly ever speak Dutch. To be honest, I felt negatively towards the Dutch language, wanted nothing to do with it. I very much enjoyed speaking English most of the time and realised that my identity was actually directly linked to the Dutch language.  English became my first language again as I became an English teacher while I was struggling to learn my fourth language-Spanish.

Now (8 years later) I am still in Madrid, working at a bilingual school (Dutch-Spanish) watching “my” little bilingual toddlers learning to speak their second - and sometimes third language.

My partner is English, and I'm half Dutch-half German. We have a 1.5 year old son Daniël (imagine the struggle to find a name that sounds ok in four languages!) who is being raised trilingual as well. His dad speaks to him in English, I speak Dutch and at a day-care he learns Spanish.

When Daniël was born, we knew we had no choice but to raise him trilingual. The fact of living in Spain, being born to an Englishman and going to do his primary school in Dutch and Spanish, there was no way to chose for a monolingual or bilingual education. Therefore,  just like myself,  Daniël will grow up being non-native in all languages, but sounding like a genius to monolingual people.

I have no regrets about him growing up trilingual, and must admit that it fills me with pride that he understands basic concepts of all three languages. I have no doubt that he will, just like me, be endlessly grateful for the present of multiple languages.


You might also like reading:

Can babies distinguish foreign languages?  

Life story: A Journey to Multilingualism.  

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Does passive language learning work?

1 comment:

  1. This is such an amazing story! And gives a very interesting perspective on multilingualism as a family tradition. Thank you!

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