"Oh, I see, so Dave speaks English to her?"
"No, he speaks Norwegian"
Look of bewilderment.
It's a conversation I've had a hundred times... if not more! When we made the decision to bring our children up trilingual, we were prepared for a lot of odd looks, curious questions and doubting responses. It's an alien concept in the UK, and we knew that some people would think it was brilliant, others would think it was weird, and others would think it was "wrong" (why would you ever speak a language that is not your mother tongue to your own children??)
So I thought I'd write it down, for the wide world to understand... why are we doing it? How are we doing it? Is it working?? And hopefully, break down some of the misconceptions people have about the whole thing. It is a TOTALLY alien concept to the majority of our friends, and we have had some pretty funny questions (from very clever, educated, normal people) that just show how out-of-this-world the concept seems to be...
* So how often do you teach Ava German? (teach Ava German? She's 1 and a half... she is not having "German lessons"... she's just picking it up as we go along!)
* So, does Heidi understand you? (err... Heidi understands no-one at the moment. She is 8 weeks old. She understands facial expressions and tones of voice. She understands German as well as she understands English as well as she understands Mandarin Chinese)
* Will you speak German to Heidi as well? (nope, I'm going to give her sister this amazing head-start in life, and just speak English to Heidi... of COURSE I'll speak German to her too! It would be far too confusing for me not to!)
|Ava having a "German lesson" (not!)|
So here's where the story began... back in 2005 in a little mountain village in Austria. I was a languages student at University on my year abroad, and I had the wonderful opportunity to get to hang out with these kids...
|Me with T and K back in 2006|
Fast forward 3 years and I married a fellow languages student who was half-norwegian (and fluent in English, Norwegian, French and German - sickening, hey?!) Because he understood German, I knew my "bilingual plan" would be supported. Either I would speak German, and Dave English, or he would speak Norwegian, and I would speak English. When I fell pregnant with Ava, I got the go ahead from Dave who decided it would feel most natural for him if he spoke English.
"Speak to your Bump in German" T and K's Mum told me, "and buy in resources... you'll need them"
So I went to town buying "The very hungry caterpillar" and "The Gruffalo" and all my favourite children's books in German and was all geared up, chattering away to my ever growing bump in German, until, when I was 8 months pregnant, Dave dropped the bombshell...
"I've changed my mind. I want to speak Norwegian to the baby"
By this point, there was no going back for me. The Baby's room was full of German storybooks; I'd even started writing in the "Baby Book" in German...
And so we entered the unknown. The world of trilingual children.
Our baby would be spoken to in German by it's Mama, Norwegian by it's Papa and Bestamor (Granny) and English by my family and everyone else.
I'm a fairly confident person. There's not a lot that phases or embarrasses me. But I have to admit, I found the first couple of months of speaking purely German to Ava tough (that is the secret if you really want it to work. You must be ABSOLUTELY consistent with what language you speak... it helps the child distinguish between the languages and prevents confusion). I was very aware of what other people thought. We had prepped our family and close friends. But it was the acquaintances who gave odd looks that threw me. I felt I needed to justify and "explain" myself.
We have made this decision as a family, because we think having the ability to communicate to others in their own language is such a great gift... we want our girls to be world-vision children... not thinking that the world revolves around Great Britain, but seeing the bigger picture. We have done this because we know that learning a language is dead simple when you're one, and ridiculously hard as an adult. We have done it because, after a lot of prayer and questioning our motives, we actually felt it could be a gift that, God-willing, he might use in our girls lives in the future.
|Me having to work hard at learning Norwegian - the girls get it so easy!|
|Celebrating her Norwegian heritage at the London Olympics!|
With Heidi, the trilingualism been a lot easier... Ava is talking in all three languages now, so people have seen that it has worked and therefore they are less questioning. They all know we don't speak English at home, so they haven't been surprised by my German with Heidi.
|Ava 'reading' "Der Lolli" to Heidi|
We love our languages, but we are holding them loosely. If, at any point, we feel that the language is impinging on our relationship with the girls, or feel it is affecting our ability to communicate with them, discipline them, or have those deep-and-meaningfuls with them, its out the window. The languages are not the be all and end all, but what a gift to give them if we can.
Please fire your questions at us!