Raising multilingual children, part 2

[ 0 ] 06/09/2023 |

Hi everyone, I hope you’re well. It’s been a couple of years since I wrote two blog posts; one about our journey raising multilingual children and another one on how it was OK that I didn’t speak my husband’s language when we moved to Norway from Malta (I’m Greek, he’s Norwegian)
Many things have changed since then as the kids have grown. They’re 10 and almost 7, and I also understand now some Norwegian. What I thought you might find useful and hopefully encouraging, especially if you have younger children than ours, is how our kids managed to keep up with their three, main, family languages which they still use on a daily basis, and how a 4th one, Swedish (which my husband speaks fluently), has been introduced at a specific time and place (mainly Thailand) for our younger one as well.

The 1st blog post was dated till about the time our daughter was 2 years old, and in there, I go into detail about our son’s language development. At that time, our girl didn’t really speak, as in making coherent sentences, using a couple of words. She did have great comprehension in all her three languages from early on, and to our surprise, she understood much of what we were saying in English as well, even though we didn’t speak to her directly using that language and she was born in Norway. When she did speak in Norwegian and Greek, she could make perfect, small sentences. As she kept on growing up, and because it turned out she loves engaging in conversations, listening, and talking a lot vs our son who’s more physical and won’t sit and talk for hours like she does. She has a rich vocabulary in both Greek and Norwegian, and she has definitely caught up with her brother in Greek (I cannot tell about Norwegian).

When it comes to English, which is the common family language (none of us are native speakers but we’re fluent), we knew that she understood what we and friends said, but she never actively used it till about a year ago, when she was 6+. She would simply participate by speaking either in Greek or Norwegian. At that time we went back to Thailand for two months during the European winter, and the kids went for one month to a Swedish school (3rd time for our son and 1st for our daughter; Swedish and Norwegian are very close as languages and with a bit of an effort, they understand each other, plus our Norwegian school approved our application to do so). The last time we went there was before the pandemic so back to the time when she didn’t speak much yet. This time, she wanted to play engaging verbally with the other kids, and some of our friends and their kids are native English speakers whereas others are like us, mixed families, and their kids speak English + other languages. Guess what, she started to speak English :). She also actively tried to understand Swedish and communicate with Swedish kids both prior to going to school and then, of course, after. Swedish was more of a struggle for her, but it will also come sooner or later (we now also have a Greek-Swedish-Finnish baby cousin from my sister đŸ™‚ ). Everything is developing well, we keep on reading books, engaging in meaningful conversations daily, playing, video chatting with friends and family, and trying to travel as often as possible.

Our son on the other hand is using English more and more lately, and where he doesn’t have the vocabulary yet for what he wants to express to me in Greek, he may swift to English. Norwegian is his strongest language. He can communicate effectively with Swedish speakers. And I’m very happy to see that he can play all sorts of games in Greek when we go back to my country, he can talk with relatives and friends, he has -and can make new- friends, he keeps on developing strong bonds with the Greek family, and… even read a bit my language!

Some years ago, he showed an interest in learning how to read and write in Greek. We bought him the books that kids use when they start school in Greece, but he got bored quickly and we stopped. I didn’t want to put any pressure on him, he was learning already how to read and write in Norwegian and English at his school, and I wanted him to have a positive language-learning experience. He needed a good balance of doing sports and being active outdoors. I continued, of course, to read to him fairy tales in Greek, as much as he wanted, so he had contact, if only visually, with the Greek alphabet through the book pages (books with white backgrounds and big, clear fonts are amazing for language learning purposes). Besides fairy tales, he really liked a specific ABC learning book in Greek which turned out to be a great tool; within each spread a letter of the alphabet is highlighted through funny rhymes, the book is interactive, and we laughed a lot every time we read it. The truth is that I didn’t realize that he was absorbing and learning the alphabet at the same time we were reading this book. The game, the pleasure of it, and of course the motivation proved once again to be everything!

I connect our experience with books and that one in particular with the following event that happened in the summer of 2022, and I mention it because I was also very impressed at how some things can be achieved so effortlessly and how everything can go smoothly when it’s the right time for each child. Our son had just finished the 3rd grade that year (he had just turned 9). During that summer in Greece, he apparently noticed that he was lagging behind in games with the other children of his age because he could not read in Greek. An author friend, as luck would have it, gifted us a Brainbox game (I’m not sure if it’s an international brand, but even if it’s not, there are tons of games of that sort) which is a card game where you’re supposed to memorize images and the other person is asking you questions. He loved the game, but the questions were written in Greek.

While he had, at times, in the past made some attempts on his own to decipher letters and read short sentences, drawing from his memory what little we had worked on together with the alphabet—sometimes because his little sister also showed an interest as she copied letters in a notebook in Greek on her own initiative – he always gave up. With the Brainbox though he said to me at one point: “I think I can read this card!” and he actually managed to read almost everything! This was also the first time he read something complete in Greek and he did it all by himself. How do we keep on encouraging him now? We keep on reading books, we have downloaded messenger for him where we added just family members from Greece to chat with them (so he tries to read and write and is motivated because he loves them), and we have started reading comics (big capital letters are used in our editions, everyday vocabulary used, and they’re fun đŸ™‚ ). There’s also a table game in Greek (but I believe it exists in many languages) that we love called “Mysteries in Beijing” where you’re trying to solve mysteries and you need to read cards (very creative and different types of cards and ways to read and decipher the messages).

That’s all for now, thank you for reading.

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