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Monday, 17 September 2012

4 unexpected and sometimes hilarious benefits of raising a multilingual child


I hope you have all read Ana Flores’ blog post that she wrote for Babble. In it, she described all the important benefits that stem from raising a bilingual child. The reasons she listed was: Opening up a world of opportunities, the fact that you might regret it if you don’t pass on your language to your child , comfort for the parent that gets to speak his or her own language, as well as connection with the extended family. And I can’t help but agree with these valid points.

I like how this post is different to all other posts that describe benefits of being bi-or multilingual, more personal, and less scientific, and it also mentions things that you don’t really think about, like the regret factor.
And I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I came up with my own 4 benefits to raising a multilingual child. Some of these reasons are pretty hilarious. Here we go:

1)      If you’re lucky enough to speak an exotic language (such as Polish in the Netherlands), and your child says something particularly embarrassing, nobody is going to understand her!  I experienced this first hand, when I took Klara to see a doctor, and she mentioned very loudly that she wanted to go pee pee - in Polish. While such kind of situations will happen eventually, I am glad that I might be spared at least some of them.

2)      Suddenly, all your family will start thinking about language. This happened to my mother-in-law, who wanted to explain to Klara the concept of “Löwenzahn”, German for “dandelion”. The English word for this flower means the same things like it does in German: “lion’s tooth”. So my mother in law tried to explain. She roared like a lion, and pointed to her teeth. Well, while this is not at all how children learn language, it was funny to see her at least giving the issue of language some thought.

3)      Not only does my child know nursery rhymes and songs in all three languages, she also knows many versions of songs like: “The wheels on a bus”, or “Frere Jacque”. Not that she needs to know this right now- especially the English songs, and I’m still not sure how I feel about singing songs in other languages than Polish with her, but it’s funny. Also, sometimes she makes her own little mash-ups, combining all songs in all languages, and that is just sooo cute!

4)     You have one more thing to brag about your child: Your three-year old counts to ten? Mine knows how to do it in three languages. I understand that she can recite poems. But only in one language! What’s your child’s superpower? I know, this one is more for fun. I don’t think monolingual (or basically other people’s) children are worse (or better) than mine. Still, I am very proud of my children- like all moms, I think.   

What would you want to add to this list? Are there any unexpected or funny benefits to raising a bi-or multilingual child? 



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9 comments:

  1. #1 is just going to get more and more useful as your girls get older, let me tell you. I have had multiple occasions to be glad that my four year old speaks English with me when she says things like "Why does that lady have spots?" (age spots) or, today, "Why does that man have a big tummy?" English is pretty common here, of course, but you still have at least a fighting chance that the older lady sitting a few seats away from you on the bus will not know any English or not understand it from the lips of a small child... I remind my daughter to refrain from unkind personal comments (a difficult concept) without the embarrassment of her having been understood. Czech in America (or UK when we lived there) definitely fits the "exotic" bill and is very useful for private communication in public areas. :)

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    1. Yes, I agree- Klara is still little, but as she will speak more and more, she will have even more possibilities to say something embarassing, and then I might have a chance that she'll say that in Polish. Also, I love the idea of having a secret language with my child!

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  2. Heh :) A friend once told me a story of how her multilingual son scared an older lady on a bus - she had a nice ball in her hands, for her grandchild probably, and the little guy wanted it! So he started saying the Polish "daj, daj" over and over. This happened in the US. What did the lady think he was saying to her? "Die, die!" LOL

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    1. Hahahaha! This is hilarious! For those of you who don't speak POlish, "daj, daj, daj" means more or less the same as "gimme, gimme, gimme!". Thanks for sharing!

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  3. My sister did a similar thing. She was three and wanted just to caress a little baby in a pram and said "eiei" while approaching her hand to the baby. The terrified mother pulled back the baby. What happened: "eiei" is what you say in german to children while caressing (a pet, a child etc.) in order to make them understand to make it gently. "eiei" that you pronounce "aiai", in italian means to hurt someone ("aiai", or "fare aia"). The mother obviously thought that my sister wanted to harm her baby...

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  4. These multilingual misunderstandings are hilarious!

    I also loved being able to experience my toddlers' tantrums in a way that most people around us couldn't understand ;-)

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    1. Yes, that definitely helps! Although then-as I found out the hard way- locals might be much more likely to judge you because you're a foreigner. That situation gave me the idea to start this blog, but it wasn't in any way pleasant. Still, yes, I also love to epxlain why Klara behaved in a certain way, or what she said- so far I am the only one who can understand her best.

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  5. Great post! I also love the idea of having a secret language with my daughter. I sometimes have to catch myself from trying to use my secret language with my husband when I want to say something privately around other people. Hopefully one day I can do this with my little girl.

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    1. Yes, I totally love the idea of a secret language. I always speak Polish with my children and I don't care that others don't understand what I say to my daughter- for me it is a private matter even without us being multilingual- I think this only makes it more visible.

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