How to raise multilingual kids

Our multicultural society and growing globalization are probably the main reason that more and more children are growing up bilingual or multilingual. We recognize the importance of languages ​​in today’s networked world and the added value of having them dominated. But multilingualism has advantages not only at work, but also when traveling. In order to fully discover a new country or a foreign culture, it needs the exchange with locals. Multilingualism not only improves the job prospects of our children. Recent research has shown that bilingual children are more tolerant and cosmopolitan.

So far everything is only positive. But what about the bilingual or multilingual education specifically in the families and what problems can be encountered?

With us, the family language is French and I speak Swiss with my children in my native language. When we decided to move to Barcelona 3 years ago, a third language was added. My ten-year-old daughter learned Spanish very quickly and soon communicated fluently with her new friends. Her little brother, however, began mixing all three languages: “Je veux lo mismo auto!” Okey, I thought, now it’s time to study the subject a bit more closely. During my research, I quickly realized that multilingual education is often treated as a very exotic topic and that good information is missing.

So I turned to Mag. Zwetelina Ortega. She is a linguist and one of the few experts in the field of multilingual education and the founder of Linguamulti Consulting and Training Center in Vienna. In the interview, she tells me what are the biggest challenges in multilingual education and how parents can best promote their children’s language.

What should one consider as a parent when raising one’s children in two or more languages?

For bilingual or multilingual families, each parent should consistently speak their language with the child. This is called “one person, one language”. This method brings the best results from my experience. But the most important thing is that you stay consistent. I give you an example of a family that lives in Austria. The father speaks German and the mother French. The natural environment language is German and will most likely be the child’s first language. The mother should therefore consistently speak French with the child, so that she also takes her mother tongue and learns.

You should also be careful to use this method from birth, so that the bilingual or multilingualism of course plays into the family.

What should be done if a child does not want to learn the language of a parent? If, as in the above example, it does not want to adopt the language of the mother (in this case French)?

This can happen that a child does not want or does not see the meaning and then answers in the other language. However, one should continue to speak consistently and not be seduced, to switch to the other language.

It is best to cheer up the child, to praise it and to motivate playfully. So, over time, it will associate and accept the language with the person. In no case should you force the child or correct too much, because it answers nothing wrong, but just in another language. From experience, however, I can say that there are always phases in which the child speaks more or less one language or another language.

Even for non-native speakers, there are opportunities to get used to his children early on in another language such. B with a foreign-language nanny or playgroups. What are the results and worth the effort?

Bilingual playgroups or a nanny who speaks English are a great way to give the child first access to another language. But you should be aware that this can not be compared to a child who speaks several languages ​​in the family.

In order to learn a wider language, it needs a lot of application and often the child needs a comprehensible reason. The language is emotionally connected with a person and therefore the English-speaking nanny is usually not enough.

But you can also learn a language at a very high level outside the family. It takes a consistent application mostly over several years.

Should a parent have a perfect command of a language in order to teach them to the children?

For example, if you’re good at the environment, but you’re less proficient in your language of origin, then there’s no problem with teaching your child the language of origin. Most of the time it is a very emotional language and the child feels the reason. But you have to make an effort and consistently pull through this.

Zwetelina Ortega is a linguist, author and an expert on multilingualism. She is a lecturer at the Department of Romance Studies at the University of Vienna and the managing director of the Association “Business for Integration”. She organized the multilingual speech contest “Sag’s multi!”. Currently she leads the consulting centre Linguamulti which she founded. The center provides consulting and workshops for multilingual education for parents, nurserie and primary schools. Ortega was raised trilingual with Bulgarian, Spanish, and German. In these three languages she also educates her own children.

For further information you can contact Ms. Ortega through the link below.

Consultations are also possible via Skype.