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)|
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.
|Nathalie with her sister|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Life story: A Journey to Multilingualism.
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