Multilingual family

7 May

As an academic who studies language and rhetoric, multilingualism is interesting to me. As someone who has lived abroad and speaks 2 languages, language learning is something close to home. Somehow that path that I’ve ended up on has gone from “girl interested in the world” to “teacher of English as a foreign language” to “PhD student studying multilingualism and college composition.”

At home, I’ve gone from monolingual to adult bilingual. I first started learning Russian in 2003 at age 22. I now speak Russian at home with my husband and son and I passively understand Ukrainian. I am excited to be raising a multilingual child, and I definitely have an interest in knowing how other families manage multilingual families.

So when I came across this article today, I found it quite interesting:

Trilingual kids who will never be tongue-tied

It describes a number of families in Brussles who have not one or two languages in their households, but three or more.  Children are remarkably adept at learning languages, and so such language learning is usually met with delight. Actively learning and using multiple languages has positive outcomes for individuals–studies show that bi- or multi-lingualism results in increased mental dexterity and may hold of brain diseases such as dementia.  It will be interesting to see how N. learns language–we tend to speak mostly Russian at home with him, but he is exposed to English everywhere passively (as well as occasionally from me, too–I usually speak in the language that strikes me. Sometimes I go back and forth as well). I realize, too, that he gets some Ukrainian as well and we might be wise to facilitate it. Then he really would be trilingual 🙂

As an academic working with college-level multilingual students, I worry about how my child’s multilingualism will play out in the future. I want him to be literate in both English and Russian, but I don’t know how to encourage that without resentment. He’ll learn English in school, but how to get him to learn Russian reading and writing? I’m only somewhat literate–i.e. I can read and write, but not comfortably and most advanced vocabulary & grammar is beyond me.

For now, I worry most about actually talking to my child. It’s hard to talk to someone who may understand you, but doesn’t talk back–no matter what the language. I want to start baby signs with him soon so that we can have some linguistic interaction, but for now  I must be content with what I do get: shrieks when he’s excited, raspberries when he’s not happy, and giggles that melt my heart. These are sounds universal to any language 🙂

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