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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Raising multilingual children: hard or challenging?

I’ve already tackled a similar topic in one of my posts in which I compared multilingual children with very gifted children, which is much more challenging (or difficult) for the parents since they have to find special schools or programmes to accommodate their children’s talents. The same is the case with multilingual children.

This post, however, was born out of a conversation with my parents-in-law, who often express their concern that Klara’s German will not be enough and that they would prefer the children’s father (their own son) to understand all the languages the girls speak. And even though they are now convinced and impressed by Klara’s linguistic aptitude and the level of her German, they are not 100% supportive.

When we came back to speak about this topic, I said that while they worry so much about German, this is not the language to worry about and that I will have to work harder than everybody in the family to make my children speak, read and write Polish. To this, my father-in-law answered: “Parenting is hard. And I mean this in a positive sense, take it as a challenge. I then started wondering whether raising multilingual children is challenging or simply hard and difficult.

Some of you might agree with my father-in-law. After all, if you call something “challenging” rather than “difficult”, you make it sound so much nicer. Even though personally, I don’t agree with this view, there is at least a degree of truth. I guess, like so much in life, it all depends on the definitions.

For me, “challenging” means difficult, but fun at the same time. It is something that keeps your brain working, inspires you and allows you to gain new knowledge and new insights into yourself and life in general. In my case, raising my children, and particularly raising them multilingually, has proven to be just that. It is such a great joy and I can’t even begin to express how lucky I am to have my two clever, funny girls. In fact, I haven’t had so much fun for a long time.

On the other hand, “hard” means “dull”, “boring”, “exhausting” and basically the opposite of fun, but incredibly difficult at the same time. There are things about being a parent that are just that- hard, like dealing with temper tantrums. In this case, what my father-in-law did, was basically the equivalent of saying: “I see your backpack is already full, so let me put some more stones in it, so that it will be a greater challenge for you”. This is what I find the hardest to deal with: I don’t mind people (even family members) voicing their opinions but they can’t expect me to act on them.

The joys and the benefits of raising multilingual children are definitely outweighing the hardships of having to deal with unsupportive family members. But it is also difficult even without that so I totally don’t understand why I have to fight for my right for my children speaking my own language on top of all the responsibilities that come with raising children.

Are your family members supportive? If so, in what ways?

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  1. How would your in-laws feel if they were in your parents' position (the family whose language is less "desirable")? What if their son had married an Englishwoman, lived in England (or pick any nationality and country) and her parents were trying to convince him not to speak German to the grandchildren - how would your in-laws feel then? Would they not suddenly feel the urgency of passing on a parent's own native language, when it is THEIR language? Or would they enjoy having to speak Dutch or English to their own grandchildren?

    Or does that line of reasoning not work with your in-laws? Every time either side of our family voices anything similar to the above, I remind them of what it would feel like to be on the other side. It seems to keep things in perspective. :)

    The main thing is that your husband is supportive. You'll be back home soon enough and you can do as you please, so it doesn't so much matter (though it does grate on the nerves) what the grandparents think. If your husband's parents are just putting voice to concerns that your husband himself has, though, then that is another issue. One you can address with your husband directly, not with his parents.

    You're still staying with them right now, right? Good luck! Mine are coming this weekend and I will be needing it as well... :)

    1. I can totally relate to their situation, but then, as far as I see, they shouldn't worry about their children's German because we made sure it is supported at their school where they will get additional courses in German. We will not have so much luck with Polish. The children won't lose their German. They however, might lose their Polish because I and my family are the only ones who speak it, and my parents also speak good German. So yes, it will take more effort than for example German. What y parents-in-law don't understand is that now is my time for teaching them Polish, as in the Netherlands children go to school at 4 years of age, and later it might be too late. And that they simply should give me more space and interfere less because, to simply out it, I've been reading about this for more than a year and have the science to support what I am doing why they mostly rely on their fears and worries of a language they don't understand and won't make the effort to learn. I get your analogy, except Polish is not a language with a high esteem abroad, and this works against me rather than for me- and Polish will have competition from a new language as English which they will learn at age 6. Enough ranting for now :) Yes, my husband is supportive and he is ready to learn Polish to raise the esteem of this language in our children's eyes. My parents are not only supportive but they always marvel at how well my girls tackle all the languages, but of course it helps that they are multilinguals themselves. And yes, I while we'll be staying here for a while, we'll soon be home where I can do whatever I want. Thanks for your support and of course I wish you good luck with your parents-in-law's visit.

  2. I know Polish is less valued, for the same reason no one understands why we bother teaching our children Slovak. That's why I chose English as a hypothetical majority language, because frankly in UK or US nobody cares if you speak some other language, even a world language like German. German is thus less valued there, too. I was wondering if they would understand your point if you asked how THEY would appreciate you not teaching their language because it is not "important" to the other side of the family. To me, it is enough to say, "You wouldn't want us to do that to you (not teach your language), so I'm not going to do it to my parents." It doesn't matter that your parents speak German, unless the in-laws think they themselves wouldn't mind having to communicate in a foreign language (like English or Dutch) to the grandchildren. Which I doubt. Basically I can't stand double standards so it isn't acceptable to say that one side of the family is more important or worthy of having a language passed on than another, therefore anything you (in-laws) would want from someone else, you have to be willing to undergo yourself. I'm not explaining this very well but then it is very late...

    I would also make the point that chill out people (rephrased in a way that is more polite to husband's parents of course...), we are bending over backwards to support the children's German so it is not in danger.

    Also children from a purely German family living in the Netherlands would also not have perfect German, because they are living abroad.

    Also your oldest is what, three? Children don't speak very well at that age even if they only hear one language all the time, so it is impossible to say now that her speech is not up to standard. Once you have one child speaking well you will be able to point to that and say stop worrying so much. Until then it's a waiting game, a very annoying one, because I've been through it too.

    And the main thing, your husband is on board and you live far away (somewhat) from the in-laws. And your parents are helpful and complimentary. These are very important points! You may not ever convince your in-laws that what you are doing is worthwhile (if they are not the type to put themselves in someone else's shoes), but at least in a few years they should start seeing that at least your "extra" language hasn't RUINED the girls forever. (I'm pretty sure that's what my in-laws think - our parenting may not have any particular value in their eyes, but at least we haven't RUINED the first child with our foreign ways, because she is quite nice so far...). And sometimes that's the best you can hope for.

    Pevné nervy hlavně :)

    1. Melissa, you are right. I usually get so worked up on this, because it seems that I have to deal with their lack of support for the children's Polish on top of the usual parents-in-laws problems (we always did that, why wouldn't you, etc.), and it's extremely frustrating. And yes, while they need to chill on this topic, so do I. This post was a very spontaneous one, and I still feel that way but I realize that it could be much worse. The children enjoy their company, that's nice. So I'll stop ranting right now and focus on the good stuff: my husband is supportive. My parents are, too. We live far away in another country and I could probably deal with seeing my in-laws once in a while. Also, supportive and helpful comments like yours totally get me going. Thank you very much!

  3. Hi. I uderstand your in-law difficulties. My own mother is the reason my children who are half Hispanic dont speak Spanish and cant communicate with my mother-in-law well. My mom is an english-only speaker and when my oldest child was a toddler learning spanish, my mom made several rude comments to me and my daughter. When my daughter asked my mom for leche, my mom replied "we call it milk around here." I regret letting her disapproval stop me from teaching my children their fathers first language. She is now five and wants to learn it. I need the courage to start again and deal with my moms manipulating ways.

    1. Hello, thank you for commenting and sharing your story. I wish you strenght with teaching Spanish to your child- it is never too late! Besides, my blog has moved and you can now find the same post here: http://www.europeanmama.com/raising-multilingual-children-hard-or-challenging/! Thank you!


Hello, my blog has moved and if you want to leave me a comment, please go to www.europeanmama.com! Thank you!

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