The ABCs of Multilingual Parenting: The Letter H

by Corey · 5 comments

H is for Hang in There!

It takes time to raise children in more than one language. As the saying goes: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” And your multilingual empire is going to need some time to develop and grow.

To become a multilingual family, you are all going to have to stick with it through thick and thin, even when the going gets tough.

Here are some tips for what to do when you feel like you are ready to throw in the towel:

  • Step back to 10,000 feet. What does your family look like from a distance? It probably looks pretty darn amazing when viewed from the outside: Look at that amazing multilingual family doing it’s thing!
    It may also look funny with you worrying about every little detail. Step back, take a look at how far you have come and how wonderful your family is. Then step back in and enjoy it!

  • Talk with monolinguals who envy you. There is nothing like talking with friends or acquaintances who think that what you are doing is amazing. Just hearing, “I so much wish that I knew another language” might give you the burst of motivation that you need.
    Make sure to pick out the monolinguals who have that sparkle of honest excitement in their eye when they say how much they envy your family, because that is really what you really need right now. Avoid those who envy you to the point of downgrading what you are doing – they will only make you feel worse!

  • Watch one of your favorite movies in your language. That’s right, pop that DVD into the player, make yourself some comfort food, get cozy on the sofa, snuggle down under a warm blanket, and savor every second of your language being spoken in all of its glory. Make sure everyone knows that this is your time – if they want to speak to you, they have to speak to you in your language. No exceptions!

  • Read a novel in your language. As with watching the movie above, find a good novel in your language and read it s-l-o-w-l-y. Give yourself permission to enjoy every word, sentence and nuance of your language. Taste each and every word; savor each delicious page.

  • Ignore them. If your kids just won’t speak to you in your language, then go ahead and ignore them for a day (unless there is an emergency, of course). Just tell them that you are tired of no one speaking your language and that you are only going to respond when spoken to in your language. Don’t be nasty, just speak mater-of-factly with a gentle smile on your face. And then stick with it. Enjoy the renewed sense of control that this gives you!

These are just a few tips and ideas to help you hang in there for yet another day (week, month, year). Remember that today is just one day out of many. Tomorrow you may feel very different, especially if you give yourself a chance to step back from it all a bit. Multilingual living should be fun, for you and your family! But it takes time to build and grow. Before you know it, your own multilingual empire will be a force to contend with!

We are going through the alphabet one letter at a time, multilingual-style! Join in the fun and add your own ideas, suggestions and tips in the comments below that begin with today’s letter! Check out all of the ABC’s of Multilingual Parenting posts so far!

Corey Heller is the founder of Multilingual Living and the Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of Multilingual Living Magazine. Multilingual Living is the place where she shares her knowledge about raising multilingual and multicultural children. Corey, an American, and her German husband live in Seattle where they raise and homeschool their three children, ages 15, 14 and 12, in German and English.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Maureen April 12, 2011 at 1:22 am

H is for hysterical, as in the hysterical mix of languages that comes out of your little one’s mouth. One of our favorites: Bitte, bitte, please!!! Both in German and English and shouted whenever one of my little ones wanted something. Hysterically cute and a definite crowd pleaser.


2 Antonia April 12, 2011 at 2:07 am

‘H’ is for hard work because it’s not easy bringing up a bi-lingual family though it may seem so to monolingual families looking from the outside.


3 siga April 12, 2011 at 4:11 am

HOME is where the most of linguistic education happens. The school, extra classes, enviroment, …, makes a huge impact, but the fundament starts at home, as need or will, work and game…


4 F.L. Feimo April 13, 2011 at 10:19 pm

It’s really works! Don’t pay any attention to those who believe the native language (they really mean English) may be jeopardized. I have multilingual children, one has about six languages and is certified to interpret/translate three. Glad to share any tips.


5 smashedpea April 14, 2011 at 8:57 am

H is for holdiays – as in use your culture’s holidays to motivate your kids to speak your language.

In our case for example, the German Easter Bunny makes a special trip across the pond and leaves us treats because the kids have been speaking German so well. We have a similar deal with Nikolaus – and the reasons why they come can be adapted to your circumstances/needs.

I think Nikolaus this year might only come, for example, if our eldest who will be in grade 1 then, is continuing to read in German.

So far, this has worked very well for us – and of course, Easter Bunny and/or Nikolaus would never NOT come, but the kids don’t know that, and they often talk about how lucky they are that they speak German and are getting these special visits 🙂


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