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Friday, 9 November 2012

This multilingualism thing? I think it’s working!

I have just tackled an amount of laundry that would be enough to kill a mammoth.I have unpacked our bags, and went grocery shopping. I have plans for baking and cooking for later today because this is how I express my happiness at being home at last.

We just came home from Germany where we spent the last 4 weeks. That’s a long time, and for that long time I was miserable: home-sick, worried about my husband’s surgery, Julia’s cold, feeling strange and lonely. Of course, there were positive moments: the one where we took Klara to the swimming pool, and she loved it, and then stated that she wants to go back. The time when we took her to the zoo. The fact that I didn't have any serious conflicts with my parents-in-law, because I stated at the very beginning that I am not able to handle their worries at the moment. And the fact that they expressed their joy and happiness at being able to communicate with their grandchild, when they had worried that there is something wrong with Klara’s speech development.

I expected that, as a multilingual child, Klara might start talking later, but then found out that it is not necessarily the case. I started listening to friends talking about their, also multilingual children, and it seemed to me that Klara was much behind, still using single words where other children talked in 2-word sentences and taking forever to learn new vocabulary.

It didn’t help that everybody around (including my parents-in-law, and some nurses at the consultatiebureu), bothered me with questions like: “Does she speak enough German/Dutch?”, “Shouldn’t she be speaking more and clearer?”, etc. I was worried that Klara is behind her multilingual peers, and couldn’t find anybody to talk to.

For a while, nobody could understand her. Her pronunciation wasn’t clear, and for a long time we were the only ones who could understand her. But when we went to Germany for my husband’s surgery, the in-laws were thrilled to see that they were able to have real conversations with her. They understood her questions and could answer them. She talks in full sentences, even though they are not always grammatically correct (but they often are in German. She calls herself Klara (as in: “Klara does this and Klara does that), but understands when I say “I do this, and you do that”. She sometimes says: “And L. is 3, just like you”- by which she means herself, of course.

It has nothing to do with her intellect- with her vocabulary she can tell stories, she can ask questions (and does she ask questions, oh dear!), she can talk and talk and talk. Her pronunciation is becoming clearer, and more understandable. She knows almost all the letters, can type in “papa”, “tata” and “mama” on the computer, she can recognize her name when it’s written down, and she can count to 20 in all three languages. She addresses everybody in their correct language, and almost didn't mix, except when talking to me (which is understandable because she knows that I speak German as well).

I know other multilingual children who already talk in grammatically complex sentences. I know they can say more things and say it better than Klara can. But we’re making huge progress. And the progress is becoming quicker, as she picks up new words and expressions every day.

I am not saying that that she doesn’t need speech therapy because she might. But we have progress and that is all that counts! I am so relieved and happy. I am not messing with my daughter’s head. I am not turning her into a person who won’t be able to communicate properly in any language. I think I am getting this quite right. I am giving her opportunities to speak all the languages she hears, and I am watching for signs that help might be needed. It’s absolutely frustrating sometimes. But it’s worth it. A thousand times worth it.

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  1. I do not have multi-lingual children (yet) but my second was slow to speak. Only because he didn't need or want to. When given space and time (and opportunity - the older brother was a chatterbox who spoke articulately and with complex sentences and words from very young) my second spoke beautifully. Pressure from in-laws / others is difficult to deal with and early intervention is important if there are issues, but you know your child best and from what I read, you are not one who would neglect the need if you felt it warranted. Congratulations on your efforts (and I hope your husband - and you - are recovering well).

    1. Hello, we are indeed well, thank you so much for asking! Yes, I am very torn between giving her space and time to develop and noticing signs of something bad happening. I strongly believe that Klara needs that- pressure never worked for her, instead it was patience, and calm that did the trick. I just don't understand why my in-laws are pressuring me so much- I am sure they experienced the same things from their parents-in-laws and they know how it felt like. Julia also knows many words already- it's amazing! But then she's the one who doesn't walk by herself at 19 months. With her, we go to therapy (physical), so it's very different with her! I think I have to write a post on how children speak when they have brothers or sisters- exciting!


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