Monday, January 19, 2009

Meeting a mirror multilingual family

This weekend we went to the birthday party of a charming Italian boy who lives in our neighborhood. The parents are both Italian and they have been living in Paris for a decade. Italian is spoken at home, and French at school. The boy is perfectly bilingual and shows no French accent when speaking Italian (the family frequently travels to Italy for holidays or long weekends).

At the gathering we met several other fellow Italian women, one married to a French man, another to an Indian man and... even one to a Flemish! We were exstatic to have found a mirror family! The mother is Italian and the father is Flemish. They have two lovely girls, younger than my kids (6 months and 2 and 1/2). The main difference (linguistically speaking!) is that they speak Italian at home! Italian is indeed their family language. The father speaks Dutch with the girls, but only in one-to-one situations. So far they haven't had any problems and their first girl seem to be fluent in both Italian, French and Dutch (they also travel regularly to Belgium and Italy). What triggered the choice of their family language was that the father already spoke Italian when they met and they lived in Italy for a few years.

The Italian-Indian family was also very intriguing. Their three gorgeous kids (aged 9, 7 and 2) speak fluently Italian, French and Marati, the father's language. The father is also fluent in Italian, which ends up again being the family language. The kids pick up on Marati on summer trips to India.

Languages and cultural affiliation took up much of the conversation that afternoon; there was an ease in recognizing each other, we all shared, as parents of multilingual kids, the same pride and concerns. The kids all played harmoniously and happily, speaking...all of their languages!

6 comments:

Martin said...

And there are more! We are living in the western suburbs of Paris, my wife is Italian and I am Dutch, so we have the same three languages at home. We have three children, 6 years old, 2.5 years and 10 months. We speak our own language at home, even to each other. My wife and I used to speak English to each other, but after our oldest, Sophia, was about 6 months old, we decided to switch to Italian/Dutch. We really think this helped a lot in the language development of Sophia. It helps of course if you understand your partner's language :)

Sophia now speaks most of the time Italian at home, but with me also frequently in Dutch and even to her brother and sister she sometimes talks Dutch. What helped enormously for her development of Dutch is that she has been going to the Dutch school for three years now (currently on Wednesday morning, from 9 to 12).

French is slowly becoming her most important language, even if we manage to keep it out of our house most of the time.

The second one, Tiberio, doesn't talk very well, but what he says is most of the time in the correct language. He is much more open, esp. to Dutch, than Sophia was at his age.

And the youngest says fluently tatata in all the languages :).

Clo said...

Dag and Welcome to MTK, Martin! thanks for your interesting description. I would be very interested in hearing more about the school Sofia is attending (I think I know which one it is and we are planning the same for our kids). Would you mind emailing me at multitonguekids@yahoo.com? Danku!

Clo said...

Dag and Welcome to MTK, Martin! thanks for your interesting description. I would be very interested in hearing more about the school Sofia is attending (I think I know which one it is and we are planning the same for our kids). Would you mind emailing me at multitonguekids@yahoo.com? Danku!

santi d said...

Gosh Clo ... part of the long comment I left before was supposed to be posted here. LOL.

How nice to be able to mingle Iwith other multilingual family. Like I wrote in my prev comment, I just realize how important it is to be in a multilingual family environment. We're feeling much better now. Although I speak bad German and French, each time I'm picking up Joseph from school, I feel that I belong to this community, as the locker room is filled with at least two languages. LOL.


If both father and mother speak each other's language fluently, a family language approach might be possible. However, it never crossed our minds to have a single language at home, as husband's Indonesian is bad, my French sucks. This leaves us to continue having 4 languages when we're together. So far things are going well.

Gosh ... I've been giving long comments.

Lilian said...

How awesome!!

Dahim said...

Hi there!
we love your blog. Thanks so much for sharing that exciting adventure that is your multi-tongue family journey. I happen to be the french-moroccan father of a french-lithuanian little girl born in Denmark. Mom and dad speak english, mom speaks lithuanian to "babyte", I speak french to "mon petit bebe" and our little -almost- 3-year old is doing fine with french, lithuanian, danish and now a bit of english. When I found your blog, it kind of materialized that thought that we cannot be the only weird "4-language" family around (although it seems to be the case in the part of DK we live in). Our friends around have at most 2 languages to deal with, that of the parents and that of the host country (not mentionning english which is lingua franca). Anyway please do keep posting, and we will keep reading and commenting, as often as possible. It is inspiring and very positive for the future of our kids. This next generation of human beings is full of promises!