I Am Multilingual. What Is the Best Way to Go About Speaking Two Languages With My Child?

by Corey · 1 comment

I am a Capeverdian-Italian living in Holland with a Dutch husband and our 10 month-old son, Alexander.

I have lived in different countries, speak 6 languages fluently and feel emotionally and culturally attached to 4 of them. During my pregnancy, I had a hard time deciding which language to speak to our child, but finally decided to go for the ones that define me as a person: Capeverdian and Italian.  My husband speaks Dutch to our son.

My question is: since I am speaking two languages to my son, what is the best way to go about it? My “method” is the following: I speak Italian most of the time, and Capverdian in a few, well defined occasions that re-occur daily, so he has enough input in both languages and so to limit any eventual confusion.

However, I am unsure what to do when I am with the Capeverdian side of the family: should I switch to Capeverdian or continue to speak Italian in order not to break the “method”?  Is this a good way to bring up your child as a trilingual, when 2 languages are coming from the same person? Are there other things I am not considering?

Cheers,
Fatima

Dear Fatima,

The best “method”, to use your word, to raise a child multilingually is the one that comes naturally to the child’s caregivers. In your case, using Capeverdean and Italian in different situations is natural to you.

This is what multilinguals do with their languages, they use them for different purposes. Children don’t get confused to be nurtured in what comes naturally to their parents, language uses included.

People who are natively multilingual like (I presume) you are, and your son will be, do not need to start behaving like monolinguals in order to raise children.  When your son in turn becomes a parent, you may not find it natural to force him to use a single language with his children, so there’s no reason you should have to make that choice yourself.

The so-called “one person-one language” policy that you may have heard about does not and cannot apply to multilingual parents.

When you are together with other Capeverdean speakers, again do what you feel is natural. There is no problem using Capeverdean with your son then, because he already knows that you speak it and that you speak it to him. It will only show him that this language can also be used in this particular situation.

Languages and policies are not set in stone, because they exist to serve people. Nobody decides your “method” for you, in other words.

Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.

Madalena

Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, PhD, University of Manchester, UK, is a multilingual parent, educator and scholar, and the author of Multilinguals are...?, a book on myths and misconceptions about multilingualism. Her blog Being Multilingual deals with multilingualism at home, in school and in clinic. Her contact, and details on her work, are at: beingmultilingual.com. You can also find a long list of her Ask An Expert answers in Multilingual Living Magazine.

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