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Saturday, 27 October 2012

Want to talk to children about multilingualism? Tell them a story!


I am a great fan of all kinds of stories. I have never been so good at telling them but I love reading books, short stories, or anything with a narrative. When we moved to our new house, I wrote a little story for Klara to help her settle in her new place. I wanted to write more stories, but I am better at reading stories than writing or telling them.

This time, however, Klara couldn’t go to sleep. She’s at a place she knows and loves and yet she is homesick, and needs my company when falling asleep. So instead of our usual songs, I told her stories. This was one of them.

A long, long time ago, there was a big (not a little girl, mind you, she’s a big girl) girl called Klara. Klara lived with her mama and papa and her little sister Julia in a house in Riswijk, the Netherlands. Klara knew other Dutch children, but she wasn’t like them: Klara spoke three languages, while these children could speak only one.

Each of the parents used their own language when speaking to her. Klara’s mama was Polish, and she spoke Polish with Klara. Her father was German, and that’s the language he used. At Klara’s daycare, the nannies and other children spoke Dutch.

Because of this, Klara got to travel a lot, and to meet many interesting people from all around the world even tough she’s only three. However, not everybody was just as excited about her ability to speak many languages as her parents were.

Some people told her that she didn’t need all these languages. For example, Klara could already speak Dutch, and some people said that’s all she needed in the Netherlands! Others understood that she spoke German. They said: “It’s so similar to Dutch, and Germany is our neighbour, and German is a useful language. But why Polish? We don’t understand it. Nobody speaks it. Why would you?”

Klara then was sad that she got ridiculed because of her Polish, and she even refused to speak Polish with her mother and only answered German or Dutch. She wanted to be a part of the group, and she wanted to feel welcome.

Klara’s mother never stopped using Polish with her daughter. And one day, they went to see Klara’s grandparents and her uncle in Poland. There, Klara saw that Polish is useful because that way, she could communicate with her grandparents. She then started using more and more Polish.

THE END.

This is such a simple story, and it’s inspired by my own experiences, even though many of these things never happened- but they could and they might. But my point is that it’s not so difficult! And maybe you could try writing your own little story for your child? The cool thing about stories is that they are so adaptable, and you can write whatever fits your life best.

Is your daughter a princess? Tell her that real princesses have to speak many languages, and that princesses of old often married men from other countries. Was your child told that in the Netherlands, only Dutch can be spoken? Tell her a story of a child whose multilingualism gives them possibilities that the other children don’t have. Have you, as a parent been told to speak a foreign language with your child? Tell her a story of a sad parent who wanted to express her love for her child, but can't because she can only say: "I love you" in her own language?

Or, if you want to go all metaphoric, tell your children a story of a child who discovers many fascinating worlds because he has magic keys (languages) that allow him to open the doors leading there. The possibilities are endless.

Have you tried doing this? Maybe you can try and then share your stories in the comments?



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5 comments:

  1. It is so sad to hear that kids are ridiculed or questioned for using their mother's language if it is not the mainstream one. Those who do this, I guess, have absolutely no idea about what language really is about, that it is not only a means of getting information across to someone, it is part of your personality. I could not imagine speaking in English to my daughter, even though I am as fluent in it as I am in my native Hungarian. However, there are shades and nuances and jokes and emotions that I cannot express as well in English as in Hungarian. Asking someone to shed their native language at home is like asking them to get rid of their skin - why, we have bought clothes to warm and protect us, we don't really need it do we? Arrgh. Sorry for the long rant! Rita

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    1. It is very sad indeed, but unfortunately it happens. Yes, I think those who ridicule people speaking other languages have never been in this situation themselves so they have no idea what it feels like. Yes, the reasons you give for speaking Hungarian are the same I have for speaking Polish with my children. I love your analogy about clothes- very accurate!

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    2. In fact, I loved it so much that I allowed myself to share it with my facebook friends and followers- this part: "Asking someone to shed their native language at home is like asking them to get rid of their skin - why, we have bought clothes to warm and protect us, we don't really need it do we?". Thank you!

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  2. You are very welcome, LoL :)

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  3. That's so great! We make up stories to help our daughter learn and develop virtues. And in her stories it's a Turtle who can speak Turtle language and some other languages :)

    Varya from MKB

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