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Thursday, 9 August 2012

The mother-daughter multilingual conspiracy

This is another text I translated from Polish. I thought that maybe some of you are in a similar situation, and can relate to this post. If so, let me know! I will totally understand your struggles with family while raising multilingual children, and I want to tell you that you are not alone!

I have to admit that my parents-in-law are very understanding. But even they get their doubts about the way we are raising trilingual children. I think this is more due to a lack of knowledge about multilingualism than to a negative stand on the topic. After all, they know French very well and they have experienced first-hand how much they benefited from speaking a second language. I also think that another reason is that they don't speak Polish. My parents-in-law don't have problems with me being Polish, but they are worried about not understanding or speaking Polish.

One day, an argument on multilingualism ensued. My father-in-law expressed his doubts  whether it is such a good situation when a father doesn't understand his children's language. Of course, he imagined how he, as a father, would feel in such a situation. Not very well, I suppose. 

I am not the only person whose parents-in-law, or other extended family, have their doubts whether the children should be raised multilingually. Eowyn Crisfield, a French-speaking Canadian who lives in the Netherlands mentioned that her American parents-in-law said about her family: „They’re doing this French-Dutch-thing”. They were surprised why on Earth do the children have to speak French and Dutch when they already know English.

Colin Baker, currently my favorite author on multilingualism, addresses this very problem. His advice is to explain that the child will have more benefits from being bilingual, and that the father will most likely manage the fact that he can't understand everything his child says pretty well.

Furthermore, I see from my own experience that in the early years, when the language is simple and used to describe very specific things, fathers can learn a language well enough to understand their children. My husband understands more and more Polish because children's language is simple, and accompanied by gestures and repetitions. To put it in a nutshell, my husband is learning Polish together with Klara. His passive Polish is impressive, he understands everything.

Then, children learn very quickly to differentiate between who speaks what. More and more, Klara addresses her father in German, she starts translating what we say, and it blows my mind! 

I think all daughters have secrets from their fathers. Daughters also keep secrets from their moms. This is normal and totally independent of the fact whether mom and dad speak the same language or not. And I think I like that. If I am lucky, Polish may become our secret language, which would give Klara a motivation to use it. Because, regardless of what my parents-in-law are saying, it is not German that is endangered, it's Polish. And I will have to put a lot of work into making Klara and Julia actively speak it .

Coming back to the father-daughter relationship, Klara has a wonderful relationship with her father. I love watching them when they play or read books together. Also, Klara takes so much after her father, it's amazing!

So, no, it is not a problem when the father doesn't understand his children's language. It is important for the child to understand the language of his or her father. There will be secrets, and there have always been secrets, and usually it doesn't influence the parent-child relationship.

Let your family worry. It's what they are for. And sometimes, living away from extended family may be beneficial-you can do your job without anybody commenting, offering their piece of advice or telling you what they think. Which I wish for anybody in the same situation. 



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3 comments:

  1. Oh, so true! I've had a similar situation years ago - it would be too long to explain here - and I totally agree. I always considered such a trilingual situation where one parent doesn't understand (or barely does understand) the language of the other parent like an opportunity for the father (or the mother) to learn the "other" language together with the child. What I was worried about was, that the worries of the family would be transmitted to the child and that this would cause some problems. But this - fortunately - didn't happen ;-)

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