A fathers take on bilungual / multilingual upbringing

By: Stefan Korn

We are in a somewhat unique situation (I guess) in that we've got 3 generations in 1 house, cover 3 languages between us and run a language school. Our mix of Spanglemanish (Spanish, German and English) makes for some great conversation in the house and many hilarious moments of being lost in translation. With our latest addition to the family of course the question came up of how we will bring him language wise. My wife has a teaching degree in Spanish and English Philology (language and culture) which I'm hoping will come in really handy when our son goes to school. But when do you start with exposing your children to other languages?

Well ... basically from day they are born (we think). However there is a difference between language learning through a native speaker in the house (parents, grand parents or other relatives) or by sending your kids to a learning centre. We often get requests from parents at our Spanish school wanting to enrol their 1-year old in language classes. To which we say NO as it is almost impossible to do any structured language learning at that age. A good age to start structured learning is probably from 5 years onwards.

If you want to start earlier one thing you can do is to expose your children to another language - but that's better in an unstructured format (not at a school).

For bilingual or multilingual upbringing there are a number of approaches but the most common one seems to be to split up the languages between parents (and grandparents). In our case, my wife speaks Spanish and my parents speak German to our little man. I speak to him in English although kids tend to pick up the local language almost automatically at kindergarten anyway (or so we were told).

Whatever the rule is though, it's best to stick to it. So if Mum only speaks Spanish and Dad only speaks French, stay with it at all times. Children can get confused if the languages change arbitrarily (at least at the beginning) and it can take them longer to start speaking. At the same time, howeverArticle Submission, it is also important not to be pedantic about it. Children won't get confused just because you said a word "IN THE WRONG" language.

Language and culture are linked - so it is also a good idea to expose children to the different cultures that go with the language. Learning in groups with other children in multilingual environments is also great. Kids quickly realise that speaking another language and following the traditions of another culture are not "weird" things that only their family does.

Are there any downsides? From what we can tell there is a tendency for multilingual children to start speaking later in life (compared to children who only grew up with one language). But then they can suddenly start speaking fluently in several languages. So a little patience and perseverance will do the trick. And let's not forget - they are learning two or more languages all at once! What a great moment though to hear them speak in another language at the age of 5 though! Not to mention all the possibilities it opens up for them in life. So I reckon it's well worth it and I feel very lucky to be able to provide a multilingual environment to my son.

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