Google+ Raising a Trilingual Child: Life Story: A Story of a Bilingual Child. Where the passion for language learning can lead you to.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Life Story: A Story of a Bilingual Child. Where the passion for language learning can lead you to.

by Filipa
From Europe and South America to Australia: Our multicultural journey.

I was raised bilingually in Portuguese and French. I was born in Portugal and, when I was 18-months old, my parents permanently moved to France. We used to speak Portuguese at home only unless we had French guests with us.

Preserving the minority language.

With my sister we used to spend all our summer holidays in Portugal with our family. Our parents would join us for the second month. We were lucky to benefit from a full immersion and no-one to talk to in French besides each other

The fact that we spoke Portuguese at home in France allowed us to communicate with our cousins and friends without any issues. I met so many children who could understand Portuguese but could not speak a word of it and were therefore unable to converse with their grandparents.

Unfortunately, we did not attend a Portuguese school but my parents made sure that our babysitters were Portuguese and most of our friends spoke Portuguese too.

Our grandparents stayed with me and my sister for a couple of years as I started first grade. We used to sing Portuguese songs all the time and watch movies. When my grandparents went back to Lisbon, we would call them every week.

When I became a teenager I felt that something was missing and I could not appreciate my culture to the full extent. So I taught myself how to read in Portuguese. I remember I asked my mother to buy me a good but easy book for me to start my reading. She got me a romance novel! Well at least the story was easy to follow but I was not learning much about the culture and grammatical rules. After that, I went myself to the nearest bookstore and bought a collection of classic authors. I still have those books and I love them.

I think the only way to fully appreciate a culture is when you can read books in the original language. I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read his books in French, Spanish and English. I did not feel the same for each language. The Spanish version for me is the best. I wish I could read them in more languages!


Funny misunderstandings.

We had funny moments! The best memories of my childhood were these holidays spent in Portugal. When I did not know a word, my brain would switch to the French mode and I would translate it literally. Like the time I was speaking with my aunties of star signs. I was saying that my dad’s star sign was Cancer. In Portuguese the correct word for the Cancer star sign is ‘crab’. Cancer is for the illness! I can still see the puzzled look on their faces trying to figure out what I meant. Then they realized my mistake and we had a good laugh!

Nowadays I do not get to speak Portuguese very often. I speak Spanish with my husband and South American friends, French with my children and English when I work or when I interact with people from other cultures.

So when I skype my family in Portugal or go for a visit, I need a few hours to switch to a 100% Portuguese mode because I tend to speak ‘Portunhol’ (Portugues-Espanhol).

What languages and cultures mean to me.

I am passionate about multiculturalism. By the time I finished high school , I had studied 7 years of English, 5 years of German and 3 years of Spanish. I guess it is easier when you live in Europe with nearly all the countries speaking a different language.

When I started Law School I gave up German but I carried on reading in English and Spanish. Funnily I was determined to study International Law but we only had to study any foreign language for 1 semester only, very ironic for an international career!

I interrupted my Law School studies for a couple of years to look after my father who was ill and work full time. I still had 4 years to go to become a lawyer and in the meantime I changed my mind and switched to International Trade. This gave me the opportunity to practise my languages: English in the morning with Australia and Asia, Spanish and Portuguese in the afternoon with South America.

I have backpacked a fair bit in Europe and Australia. I love meeting new people and learn about their customs, stories, legends, the way they live. I try not to judge with my Westerner’s eyes and instead learn as much as I can by talking to people.

Moving to Australia, starting a family and raising trilingual children.

I moved to Australia ten and half years ago, when I came over to study a Master of International Trade. I was determined to immigrate as I fell in love with the country back when I was ten years old while watching a documentary about Ayers Rock and the Aboriginal culture. In 2000, I spent a couple of months in Sydney to gain work experience, it was just before the Olympics and the whole country was in a happy and excited mood! Before going back home I decided to visit the East Coast and the Centre part of the country. I really wanted to see Ayers Rock and as I expected I loved it. So peaceful and rich in stories.

When I came back for the university I chose to study in Perth. During the uni breaks, I took my backpack and travelled up and down the West Coast and in Tasmania.

I did get my degree and something that I did not expect: Love. I met my husband-to-be in a methodology class for international students. The irony is that he is Peruvian and has one of the most common French surnames ‘Durand’ this is like ‘Smith’ in UK! Now I am a mother of two beautiful trilingual toddlers (French, Spanish, English). I work from home, I own and manage an online bookstore specialised in International books for children, it is called Le Toboggan. It has always been a struggle to find good children’s books in French and Spanish here in Perth. For example, when my sister came over to visit us last year with her family, she brought over 11kgs of books from France that I had purchased online. I thought I could not be the only one in the same situation and my children being my inspiration, I decided to go ahead with the bookshop. I am lucky both my children love books and when my son misbehaves I tell him that he will go to bed without any stories. This is the end of the world for him. I can take anything away but the books. He is three and already knows what he likes or not. He is my toughest critic when it comes to assess the ‘books from mommy’s work’. So far so good, he likes them all and I have a hard time to keep him away from reading the books without my supervision.

I also run French and Spanish workshops for children and I am a consultant in International Trade. As you can see I am very busy but my priority is to emphasize my children’s French and Spanish skills as best as possible before they start schooling. There will be my next story about.

A bientôt.

My husband Albis and I live in Perth, Western Australia. Everyday brings more fun when we hear our children Tiago and Elisa speaking in French, Spanish and English. I love listening to my son literally translating jokes from one language to another. I cannot wait until Elisa is a bit older to hear them sharing a secret code/language in French or Spanish.


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.

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One parent speaks two languages.Raising trilingual child.

Non-native Speaker Raising Bilingual Children. Interview with Christine Jernigan, the author of "Family Language Learning" 

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  1. What an amazing story! Your children are very lucky!
    Best regards from Barcelona!

  2. This is very nice article because we are known that language is a factor for our daily life. Skype is a nice medium to learn any language. Here anyone get online speaker. For French language For Spanish

  3. Hi Filipa loved your story I do see a lot of my own experience in your life being a trilingual kid and now a mom of a hopefully trilingual and if possible quadrilingual baby girl. But may I ask why not teach them Portuguese as well it is such a rich language as you know rich in sounds that help us with other foreign languages (yes one of my initial 3 is portuguese) Hope you reconsider have a wonderful life.
    com os meus melhores cumprimentos :)