Google+ Raising a Trilingual Child: Life story: A Journey to Multilingualism.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Life story:
A Journey to Multilingualism.

How can a person become bilingual, trilingual or multilingual?

This is an amazing story how a little American girl became first bilingual in English and French, then trilingual by adding German. Now she is mastering her fourth and fifth languages: Japanese and Hebrew. 
This "language spree" started thanks to her parents.

Young Woman at home
My name is Amalia and I am an Economics doctoral student from the US.  The area where I live is quite international, so I have had the opportunity to hear many languages here.  I spent three years in Germany and two years in France when I was young, and I have remained attached to those cultures.  Since I haven't been able to travel a lot recently, I've been trying to learn Japanese by reading books.  I'm reading a very helpful book of short stories where the translations of most words are written underneath the text.  I'm curious to find out about other people's experiences teaching their children multiple languages, and I'm looking forward to reading more about this on this blog.  


Eiffel tower symbol of France
My parents were always interested in foreign languages, and my mother started teaching me French when I was about one year old.  She used a lot of  music, for example songs by the singer Georges Brassens, and traditional French folk songs.  When I was 5 my father took a sabbatical year in Paris and I went to kindergarten there.  It was a wonderful and interesting experience.  The French kindergarten was very academic -- the teachers treated us like adults in some ways -- but also creative.  Children had already learned to read in nursery school, at the age of three or four (maybe that is why so many little French kids wear glasses).  We had to write dictees, where the teacher reads a story out loud and you have to write it down, getting points for using the right spelling.  But we also did a lot of art and played games. 

Bonn XMas Market
After a year in the US my family moved to Bonn, at the time the capital of West Germany, for two years.  Since my parents only knew a little German they couldn't teach it to me before going there.  I had a few lessons with a German exchange student but still understood almost nothing when we came to Germany.  The first week we were there, my mom took me to a pony-riding camp, where I spent a few days just listening to the other children, and gradually I could pick out some words.  Since we were playing games, it was easy to figure out what they were saying from the context.   I remember how exciting it was when the meaning of a new word became clear.  When school started, my German was still broken but I could communicate a little bit.  The school I went to had many immigrant students and everyone was used to welcoming those who didn't know German.  My classmates were not surprised to meet someone who didn't know their language and in fact were very curious and accepting of newcomers.  After school I attended an intensive German class, offered by the school for free, with some other foreign children.  By the first month or so I was pretty fluent.  Because we had a very inspiring teacher I became interested in learning as much vocabulary as possible and started to read a lot of German books.

Bonn Rhine RiverWhen we returned to the US, I had a German accent in English and made mistakes in English grammar, though these quickly went away.  Even though I always spoke English with my parents in Germany, I was so integrated into German life that I kept a diary and thought in German.  In the US I kept up my German by writing letters to my friends and reading literature.  Of course, my German accent became worse over time and the grammar didn't come as naturally to me -- now I have to stop and think if I should use the dative or the accusative, or if a word is masculine, feminine or neutral.  I haven't kept up with colloquial expressions and would probably sound old-fashioned if I went back now.  

Japanese BooksBecause I had enjoyed learning French and German so much, I wanted to continue to learn other languages as I got older.  I studied Japanese with a private tutor and spent a year in a Hebrew day school.  Learning languages without being immersed in them has required much more work and concentration.  As an adult studying a language in a class, I have to use mnemonics to remember new words and have to consciously figure out grammatical structure.  It is a more intellectual process.  I would like to spend more time in these countries in order to get a better feeling for the subtle nuances of the languages.     

In many situations I have found it helpful to be multilingual.  Having an understanding of how expressions can vary across languages has helped me communicate better in English with foreigners here in the US.   I can usually get their meaning, even when they use a colorful metaphor that exists only in their mother tongue.  When traveling, I think it is important to make an effort to speak at least a few words in the local language, and learning languages at an early age has probably made it easier for me to do this.   And it is fun when you have several languages in common with someone and can switch back and forth depending on which language you think best expresses what you want to say.

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.

You might also like reading:
Language Strategies 

Planting a language tree. Does passive language learning work?  

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

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

No comments:

Post a Comment