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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What language multilingual family speaks at the table?

Every evening the whole family is gathered at the table. We speak to each other. Kids laugh at their misbehaves.  I am getting stressed that they do not eat and that my son, who is learning to cut food with a knife, periodically waves with it and his sister follows him with a fork.  All things are like in a common family with two or more little children on board. The only difference, we add more turmoil -- we speak three languages at the table.  My children and I speak Russian to each other, my husband speaks Italian with them and English with me. Sometimes we become as laud as Italians in a restaurant, when one table tries to outshout  the others, with the only difference -- we are all seating at the same table -- in our home!

Soon our children, who are 2 and 4 years old, will grow up. The chaotic dinners should get more civilized tone. (I started writing this post some time ago, now the kids are almost 3 and 5 years old and have made significant behavioral progress :) ) Every month we are slowly getting  a chance to discuss topics that are interesting to all four of us. We use our "language scheme" (Father + Child = Italian, Child + Child and Child+Mother = Russian, Father+Mother= English) and it works for us so far. We do not get bothered by not speaking the same language. The questions I have:

Would things stay the same way after a couple of years?
Would we all feel comfortable having a conversation in all three languages at once?

It won't be a problem for me as I speak well our trilingual family languages Italian, English and Russian. It might be a slight problem for my husband. Hopefully his level of Russian will improve together as children master the language.  Everyday he tries more and more to join our conversation in Russian. The children are slowly learning English and, who knows, one day they might actually join our, for now parents only, conversations in English.

I wonder how other multilingual families "language at the table" situation evolved over time. Did you come to the common denominator and stop on one language? Or you still use all the multilingual family languages? Does it bother you not to have one single language at the table? Please leave a comment for me and readers to know what you think.

You might also like reading:

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

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Naming languages with their proper name.

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


  1. We speak spanish and bulgarian at the table, I don't see why one single language would be better. Sometimes I don't understand something, but then I ask, and my daughter explains it to me. It is enriching for everybody in my opinion. Yes, it is a bit chaotic but I don't care :)

  2. My daughter is 3 years old and we live in an English speaking country. At home my husband and I speak Spanish to each other (as we are from Spain) but we speak to our daughter in Catalan (regional language from North East Spain, Catalunya). She used to speak only Catalan, now she is speaking Spaninsh more and more and she speaks Spanish with her dad and Catalan with me, and then she is learning English fast as it is the language spoken in school. Being a 3 year old she doesn't speak as much as other kids in her class who only speak English, I am a little worried that she might be left aside by her classmates, but I think she is going to be in their level pretty soon, so i try not to worry too much and keep on having the two languages at home.
    Speaking more than one language is very good for kids and for their brain development, it's been demonstrated that it helps them in the future when they want to learn a new one.
    Me, I grew up bilingual (calatan and spanish) and now I also speak english and french, and I think my early bilinguism helped on that.

  3. I used to ask myself the same questions. Now, with kids dd 16, ds 11 and dd 4 (the little one has joined our family just 1 year ago) and 4 languages - Chinese Mandarin, Polish, English and Taiwanese our conversations at dinner table sound VERY different to the ones we were having years ago. We live in Taiwan, my dh is Taiwanese and I am Polish. We've always spoke our native languages to kids and English between two of us (although my Chinese is pretty good). Until about two years ago kids used to speak Chinese at the table and I would answer them in English (I told myself I am never going to speak Chinese to the older kids). This way everybody understood everything. Later, maybe a year ago, they switched to English - still fine as all of us speak English quite well. And a few month ago ... they started speaking ONLY Polish at the table. I have to remind them almost daily that they should use English or Chinese so their dad can join the conversation (he understands a bit, probably at the level of a 4 year old). And then there is Taiwanese which is spoken by my dh family, so when we are at the table with them kids listen to that language, the oldest dd can reply in Taiwanese, but ds uses Mandarin.
    And the little one? When she joined our family she spoke ONLY Mandarin, now even if I speak to her in Chinese, she answers me in Polish. My older kids sometimes speak to her in English and then she answers in English. She is learning really fast.
    I don't think you will ever know what languages kids will decide to use, it may be changing just like in our family.

  4. We speak english and spanish, with some words of portuguese and chinese that are the languages we are currently learning. The kids are 3 & 5 yrs and love it.