Tag Archives: multilingual

Is Speaking the ‘Other Parent’s’ Language Important For Multilingual Parenting?

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Do the parents speak each other’s native language?

Does the answer have anything to do with the child’s multilingual development? If yes, how?

sunrise lightI recently reflected on this question a lot.

In many multilingual families with whom I have had the fortune to meet/converse/engage either in person or through the facebook group, the dilemma often arises when one parent doesn’t speak/understand the other language that the other parent wants to cultivate within their child/ren.

Not speaking the language of the ‘other parent’ very often becomes a key challenge in maintaining/developing the particular language in the child.

Take Family G as an example. Mum L speaks Cantonese to child T, and dad D speaks Italian to T, but L & D do not speak each other’s native tongue and they speak English with each other. Imagine the family dinner – whenever there is Cantonese or Italian involved between one parent and T, the other parent inevitably feels a bit left out, no matter how hard they try to be patient for things to be translated. It takes extreme commitment and discipline NOT to switch everything into English just to ‘make things easy’.

I recently became particularly aware that just how lucky my family is, linguistically, in that my husband and I speak each other’s heritage language (French, Mandarin), and we both also speak English. It is the best possible scenario in raising a trilingual child, or any multilingual family, in my humble opinion. It means that I can speak Mandarin with Nina without worrying that Nicolas feels left out, and he can continue the family conversation simply by continuing/switching to French knowing that everyone else understands.

So my feeling and my experience tells me that the success rate of multilingual parenting is positively proportional to the level of all languages used in the household by both parents.

There is no research, however, that backs this up. I have spoken with a few professionals, and tried my good old friend named google, but nothing really came up.

So I want to throw this out to the readers of this blog. Could you tell me:

From your experience, is speaking the other parent’s language important for brining up multilingual children? leave a comment here, or on the facebook group.

Thanks – I am really curious about what you have to say.

A Pair of Fogged Goggles

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goggles 8:30am. I was in the swimming pool, just starting my first lap. Then the goggles started to fog up. At the end of the first lap, I couldn’t see much. I cleared the goggles, went on with my second lap. At the end of the second lap, I couldn’t see much again. At this point it’s becoming clear that it’s a pair of goggles that would fog up easily. I was annoyed. I bought this pair not long ago – after the previous pair serving me for more than 10 years and finally came to the end of its life with broken straps.

I had two options, with the fogged pair of goggles and only 2 laps into my 20-lap goal.

Option one, stop swimming, leave the pool, go out to buy another pair when I get some time and come back to swim another day. Option two, keep swimming, endure the fogged goggles, and see what happens.

I weighed my two options during the third lap. And decided on the option two.

It turned out to be the best decision.

It got me to focus on what really mattered. Not what I thought that mattered.

You see, at that point of time, I was 3 months into swimming regularly again. After three years of neglecting regular and meaningful physical exercise, I was very pleased with the progress I was making. The distance went further – I could swim 1 kilometres in one go instead of 250 metres with lots of (long) breaks in between. Time became shorter – I could finish 1 km around 30 minutes whereas 250 metres used to take me forever. And I become better with freestyle – I now swim 1 km of freestyle with relative ease, whereas every 25 metres of free style used to result in gasping.

So every time I swam I really paid attention to how fast I was going, and how much improvement I made that day in terms of time and distance. I would routinely check the clock on the wall to see how much time I used to finish each lap, and conducted a mental calculation on the improvement, or non-improvement, comparing to the performance the day before. Sometimes I did better, sometimes I did worse. Most of time, I was too busy calculating the time that I couldn’t even figure out if I did better or worse before the next lap started. I was quite happy with my progress, and was becoming a bit obsessed with checking my performance.

Until my goggles started to fog up easily.

I could no longer see clearly the clock on the wall after each lap with fogged goggles. So I just kept going. Instead of calculating the time and improvement/non-improvement, I suddenly had all these time and mental capacity to take notice of the movements of my arms, the force with which my arms hit the water, the trajectory of my arms and legs under water, the breathing in and the breathing out, and the sensation of water flowing against my body when I moved forward. It suddenly became clear to me that I felt something very different.

For the first time in 3 months, I felt I was truly living the moment of swimming, instead of thinking of the swimming.

Not being able to ‘see’ clearly visually, I felt I could ‘see’ much more clearly inside me. 

It was an unexpected and delightful realization. I was in the flow. I felt free.

At the end of the 20 laps, I finally emerged from the water. I cleared my goggles. I glanced over to the direction of the clock on the wall. I almost cried. I hit the best ever personal record! It took me just 27 minutes to finish my laps of 1 kilometres. It may still be a laughable result for some, but it was something truly unimaginable for me only three months ago.

Not being able to see with a pair of fogged goggles turned out to be a blessing. It unexpectedly forced me to focus on what REALLY mattered. It’s not about calculating how much time I spent in each lap. It’s about the breathing, the gesture, the force, the coordination of the arms and legs, and the flow. Once I focused on these that mattered, the improvement of the performance was almost inevitable. The result just followed.

Isn’t it also true in trying to raise a trilingual child? How many times we have focused so much on the number of vocabularies, the amount of books we read in which language, the linguistic game we engaged, the calculation of amount of hours we spent in each language, among other things, that we lost sight of what really mattered – the joy of reading the book, the meaning that our child is trying to convey, the laughter we share, the memories of the silly hide and seek game in the backyard. If we truly live in the moment, focusing on what really matters, enjoying the relationship with our child using the language that we want to cultivate in our child, then the result will just follow – in our case, a trilingual family.

I have decided to keep the pair of fogged goggles, because I only need to see what really matters.

Well, ok, I will get myself a new pair of goggles that do not fog up easily. But I will keep in mind that I only need to see what really matters, with or without goggles.

桃子/Tao Zi, or Tao Zu

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41mRjN7NvRL__SL500_AA300_At the moment, Nina is a big fan of 小桃子, the main character – a baby named Tao Zi – in a cartoon book series, translated from Japanese to Chinese. There are about 10 books in the series – all with 小桃子 doing something very simple but cute in each of them, such as seek-and-hike with a boat/car/plane, share lunch with a lion dad and lion baby, bath with her 3 best friends (gold fish, cactus, angel – I can’t help but adding here that only a Japanese/Asia children’s book would have such beings as best friends for a baby – cactus for goodness sake!), going for a walk and then fall, swing at midnight. Simple stories, simple drawing, each with some very simple words (in Chinese) on each page. Perfect book for Nina’s age. Even I fell in love with 小桃子。

Nina has started to say 桃子 when we read the books together. The interesting thing is the way she pronounces 桃子 – she pronounces it as Tao Zu, instead of Tao Zi the correct pronunciation. It just occurred to me this morning that Tao Zu actually sounds really like how when a non-Chinese adult would try to pronounce the word!

I don’t know if it’s just a natural phase for any child to not have perfect pronunciation at the beginning, in any language regardless whether she’s monolingual or multilingual. Or it’s actually already an evidence that multilingual children would – at some stage – mix languages, even at pronunciation level (note: the mixing itself doesn’t worry me because it would disappear after a while – it’s just a phase, not the end result. I will have a separate post on the  mixing issue).

I’m very curious to see her progress with the pronunciation of 桃子, which hopefully will give some idea as to the real reason behind.