We are failing as multilingual parents.

OK a major revelation from me…
We may be bringing up our children multilingually, but the aspirations and reality are often very different.
My children all hit an age time for where they refused to speak German unless it really suited them (when they wanted sweets or chocolate for instance). As a bilingual parent this is a nightmare. We did a lot of soul searching as to where we had gone wrong, but just had to let it ride. My middle daughter Jasmin is almost ten and now starting to answer our German by speaking German herself. She made a friend whose parents speak German and who has a German Au-Pair which helped her confidence a lot. Jasmin has even started to ask “How do you say … in German?”

The highlight of my week was when we saw some Apple Strudel on a stall in town. Jasmin said “Apfelstrudel!” and the Hungarian lady on the stall continued the conversation in German. We ordered and bought what we wanted in German and Jasmin followed our conversation and said Danke and Bitte in the correct places.

She finally wants to speak German! We were in the Polish shop recently and she said goodbye in Polish: Dziękuję

The whole exposure to other languages and cultures we have been doing since she was tiny, is finally paying off.

My eldest son is 17 now and I will finally admit he dropped GCSE languages (huge shame for me to admit this). However, if he hears French he continues in French, he learnt some Dutch with Duolingo, he has an awesome accent and knows more Dutch than me and his dad. He learnt some Polish with UTalk and joins us in Polish conversations. Languages are such a part of his life he actually forgot to put them on his CV!

As a multilingual parent, there are no failures, just learning experiences for you all. No parent does a perfect job, our personal parenting goal is not to make too much of a mess of parenting.

So, I’ve finally admitted I’m not a perfect parent or a perfect multilingual parent either and it’s not going too badly. How is your family language learning journey going?


  • Randolph W. Lievertz, M.D. says:

    I grew up in a bilingual household although my father knew 7 languages my mother only knew 2. I learned some German off & on. What held me back was feeling embarrassed if I made a mistake. Neither parent sat down with me to tell me that mistakes are okay & that is part of learning a language. Also my parents fluency in German was intimidating. As an adult I wish that I had learned enough German at home to be at least semi-fluent. I took 2 years of German in college along with 1 year of French and one term of Spanish plus one year of Linguistics. In my opinion those classes were 18 years to late.

    Parents reassure your children that mistakes are normal and they will learn over time. If your language has genders male/female/neuter don’t worry about gender articles (a, the, adjectives, adverbs) until your child is older unless the gender changes the meaning of the word.

  • Thank you for this Randolf. Your early exposure to languages will have opened your eyes and ears to languages in a way a monolingual household do not get. It also likely started your interest in languages.
    It is never to late to start learning or work on the languages you already started.

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