Ring, Ring… “Salam alaikoum, labas? Mei’ tskiirt? Is’ tanna?” – “Alhamdulillah, oui ça va. Et les enfants vont bien, was machen sie? kulshi bi’chair?” – “Willst du mit Papa reden, er fragt wie’s euch geht”… (That was a typical phone conversation in our family, including at least 4 different languages).
I am German, my husband is Berber. We live in Morocco and we have friends from all over the world, mashaallah – that means that five languages are constantly on the run here.
I am often asked how we raise our children and in which language we are talking here. Aehm, in fact we are mostly talking our own mixture of German, Berber, French, Arabic and English, – but let’s see how it all began:
When I met my husband we both talked French together; it was the easiest for both of us and until now we mostly communicate in that language. But soon he learned German and I learned Berber and a little Arabic and so we mix whatever comes easiest into our mind.
When our first son was born it was clear that both of us would talk to him in our mother tongue. So I talked German, hubby talked Berber (Tachelheït).
Although the first year we were still living in Germany, our son was already used to hear his father talking in a different language and he was also already used to hear us talking in a third language (French).
When we moved to the Atlas Mountains, the environmental language changed: We lived with my Berber in-laws and now I was the only one talking German with him. It wasn’t always easy for me to be consistent, but despite some feelings of separation or of being looked at, I managed to only talk in my native language with my son and alhamdulillah, he soon began to talk back in either German or Berber, depending with whom he spoke.
Subhanallah, he quickly found out which person means which language and he also found out that mum and dad are communicating together in another language.
When we moved in our own house, I became again the main contact-person for him and German was (and still is) the mainly-spoken and mastered language at home: most of our conversations and nearly all the books and films we have are in German. But because daddy still only speaks Berber with the kids and because we are living in that Berber community with family and friends around, they perfectly communicate in the local language as well, subhanallah.
As the children grow older, they sometimes use now their own unique language-mix as a secret remedy between them. And when we have French friends around, they easily switch into the language and already understand and use it. They do so with English as well, because there is no fear to pronounce new words or to try a new language – their brains curiously soak in everything new, subhanallah.
Sometimes our eldest even asks me to speak French with him, so he can learn more.
And with religious practice and also in school there is Arabic to be learned now as well…
… and maybe someday also some Italian, Spanish, Czech or other, inchaallah…
Alhamdulillah, multilingual-child-raising works and I really want to encourage everyone to practice it, if living in a bilingual marriage or in a different culture!
Children are able to learn from birth on two ore even more languages – and never will one learn a different language as quick as during these early childhood years.
The different languages in the life of a multicultural child are part of her identity and it is important to nurture each of them. Knowing different languages is a lifelong gift and there are so many benefits connected to it such as increased brain fitness and intelligence, openness for other cultures, a wider horizon and most importantly the ability to communicate with an extended family and the world around.
Out of our experience these are a few of the things you have to consider when practicing multilingualism:
- Speak to your child in your own mother tongue from birth on, as feelings, thoughts and words will come out most naturally and most honest, and especially in difficult parenting situations you will feel much more confident when talking your own language.
- Be consistent in doing so even if you are the only one speaking that language; don’t care about being an outsider, being looked at or having no one around who understands. Once your child speaks your language, you will feel blessed.
- Don’t fear that your influence won’t be strong enough. As for example for a father who mostly works outside the home and does not see his child often – it still will work and the child will learn the fathers native language if he stays consistent in talking to her as often as he is available, making time for common experiences, play-time, storytelling or simple everyday-communication.
- Be patient with your child’s speaking abilities, as a multilingual child maybe will begin to talk later than others kids. She first has to sort out all the words and meanings of the different languages in her head, but one day she will use them appropriate and speak each of them correctly, inchaallah – simply believe in your child’s ability.
- Stick with your own language at least until your child is four years old. It is important for the learning process that the child continuously knows who speaks which language. Only when you feel that the child is strong and able to communicate and express herself well in the language you are sharing with her, you may sometimes playfully switch into other languages as well, if you or your child feels so.
- Use books, films, family visits and stories about your own background to strengthen your child’s connection with the culture and language.
Happy Weeks- and Years-end!
Masalama, ’Llah’oun, Salut und bis demnächst, inchaallah!