This post was inspired by Babble’s: “10 parenting ideals that got thrown out of the window”. I’ve divided it into 2 parts because it’s rather long. I’ll post the second part later today. Enjoy!
This happens to every parent. You wanted to breastfeed only to find that your milk didn’t come in. You wanted to co-sleep only to find that your child hates it. Or you hate it. You wanted to only give your child organic homemade food only to find that your child actually eats sweets. And so the list goes. It is just so normal and very human.
The same happens to multilingual parents. It has certainly happened to me. So here’s my confession. I didn’t achieve everything I had planned to before I had children as far as their multilingualism is concerned. Here’s a list of things I either wasn’t able to do or they didn’t happen until much later.
1) Reading from birth
As a certified book addict, I wanted to convey my love of books to my children. I was dead serious on reading to them from the day they were born, to turn them into as enthusiastic readers as I am. And then Klara was born. And you know what? I was busy doing other things. Like recovering from birth. Like dealing with a crying newborn and trying to figure out what she wanted. Like resting. Reading aloud to her just didn’t happen. I tried again later. Again, nothing. As it turns out, I resented it (I’ve always hated reading aloud), and Klara just wasn’t interested. Books are for playing, and not for reading, don’t you know? And mom, please shut up, I’m trying to explore my surroundings here. But we had tons of books waiting for her to be ready, and she played with baby books a lot. She also often saw me on the couch with a book in my hands. Now, she loves it when I read to her, and I enjoy it because we can both chose books that are fun for us and talk about the stories. On the other hand, Julia loved when I read for her, so I did that. She loved being held and cuddled, and reading went greatly with that. So, not all is lost!
2) High-quality time in Polish every day
I was so set on making every day a day full of high quality Polish language input. And then I found that having a child is actually beyond exhausting. There was crying, sleep deprivation, and my deep need for me-time. But whenever I had some or strength, I jumped on the opportunity. I talked to her. I took her with me wherever I went and explained, explained and explained. And I talked, and talked and talked some more. At the end of the day I was even more exhausted and took the next day to relax. Luckily, my husband helped a lot with the quality language input. Also I think that while multilingualism is important, there are other things that are important as well: like letting the children play by themselves. Like being silent for a while and resting. Like just holding your child. Multilingualism is not all. And I think that quality time doesn’t always mean talking. I already see that wherever I spend a lot of time with my children (talking or not), they are more likely to speak Polish.
I was going to be so consistent! I would only speak Polish, sing Polish songs, read Polish books and never talk another language with my children. I would also make sure that everybody else behaves the same. And what happened? I still only speak Polish with my children. But some of their favourite songs are in German/English or Dutch. Some of their favourite books are in German- even though I translate them. I also sometimes have to translate something into German so that the girls can ask their father something. The girls hear me speaking English, Dutch, German and Polish on a daily basis. But I keep thinking that maybe they will see that multilingualism is cool that way.
4) Polish as their primary language
I really thought that Polish will become the girls’ primary language. After all, they spent a lot of time with me at home, and if only I spoke enough Polish, they’d pick it up. And after all, I am their mom, so that would automatically make my language their language? Wrong. It didn’t happen. Instead, German is becoming Klara’s favourite. Maybe it was due to my not being able to provide enough good quality Polish in input. Or maybe because Klara’s daddy’s girl. Or maybe because children just make language choices that are different from ours. Who knows? The important thing to me is that they speak it.
5) Saturday school in Polish and Polish playgroups
I was desperate to find another source of Polish for my children, besides myself. I even became part of a Polish-speaking mom’s group. We met once a month at one of the mom’s places, and it was good. But the children were much younger than Klara, and it was important to me that she had somebody to talk to. And, as it happened, most of the moms went back to Poland, and the group was no more. I then found a Saturday school, and for a while I was convinced that this was the way to go. But well, a Saturday school, as fun as it may seem, is just that: a school that you attend on Saturday. Also, while it is every second Saturday, the children get kicked out if they miss class more than twice. We were pretty sure that with our traveling schedule Klara would surely miss more than two classes, so we decided not to go through with this. If we wanted to, we can still do it later, but since children in the Netherlands start school early- at the age of 4- we thought that maybe we should give her a break. After all, speaking Polish should be fun, not a chore!