as i was saying in my profile, i talk about my life in multiple languages. So i decided today to write in the most common one…English.
I think i mentioned previously that we raise our children multilingualy. Three languages to be exact. I speak French, my husband and mother in law Armenian, and as we live in Germany the language of environment is German. This three languages couldn’t be more different. Even though they all are Indo-european languages they have their very own branches. French has Roman origins, German comes from the Germanic branch. As for Armenian, linguists classify it as an independent branch of the Indo-European language family. But i can give you some examples for the differences and where words can be very similar
So you see how different the languages look already, as for the pronunciation German is easier than it looks: no letters are silent, the rules are fairly consistent, and some of the more peculiar vowel sounds (Umlaute, in particular) resemble sounds that are familiar from British English.
For French the most difficult challenges are getting the vowels right, and knowing when not to pronounce certain letters and of course the nasalized vowels can be bit of a challenge too.
Armenian is not closely related to any other Indo-European language though it shows some affinities with Greek and the Indo-Iranian branch. Besides, it has been heavily influenced by Balkan languages and Turkish in its morphology and syntax. In the world it is spoken by 6,5 million people. But you also must differentiate between Western- and Eastern-Armenian. We do speak the Western-Armenian. The Armenian that is spoken by Armenians living in the diaspora.
So if you search for similarities i can only name a few words i know that sound alike. Like door: in German you say „Tür“ and in Armenian you say „Tur“, or „Maschine“ vs. „Mekena“, „Auto“ vs. „Avto“, „Tochter“ vs „dustr“ or in English „daugther“.
I was already raised with 4 languages (French, German, Russian, Latvian). Unfortunately i only learned French and German. But Russian and Latvian where always on my radar and i am able to pronounce them correctly. If i listen very carefully i can follow not to difficult conversations in Russian. And my goal is to learn them within a year, starting now! And Turkish…you will see why in a second!
My husband was raised in Germany and an cultural potpourri with 3 languages (German, Armenian, Turkish). His family is from Istanbul, so Turkish was always a language of his environment. His parents never thought him Turkish but only by hearing he was able to make it his third language. Interesting isn’t it? We are very often in Turkey. I love Istanbul and the prince isles. I can’t really explain how this language sounds to me but i like it. And as my husbands family is from turkey i am keen on learning it.
When i started learning Armenian i had no difficulties with the script system whatsoever, so i learned the alphabet very quickly. My first time in Armenia was very amusing. As my husband can’t read Armenian writing, i was the „reader“ and as i couldn’t understand what i was reading at that time he was the „understander“! Quite a team! My practised ear helped me to recognise the syntax quickly. And with only some words i was at least able of understanding in context. This is 6 years ago, and i can tell you that i am still learning Armenian. With my kids i learned even more Armenian, because they are so detached from practice and exercise and they are bold in the way they speak. This rich language never ceases to amaze me and the culture is so complex in a positive way.
But let’s come back to our children. When i got pregnant it was clear to me that we needed to speak the languages we felt comfortable in. So for me it was French, for my husband Armenian, and German would come naturally because of the environment and of course me and my husband speak German. And to be honest i can’t adore my children in German. I was raised by a French mother.
For my son we had no problem being consequent. By the age of 1 he was already able to switch from one language to the other and had a very rich vocabulary for his age. I spoke French, i read every book in French and i sang a lot of French comptines. Then school started when he was 5. My daughter was already 1 but wasn’t able to speak that fluently in all languages which wasn’t a problem because she understood everything. I had to learn that children are very different in their development. I was lucky i found a French kindergarden. And as my husband wasn’t there to speak Armenian all day we compensated that with my mother in law who saw them regularly.
With my boy in school the German language started to be more important. He began talking to me in German. It is really hard to stay consequent when somebody responds in another language, i struggle every day. And there are days where i speak only German, which is ok because the other languages won’t disappear and i don’t want to stress out and make somebody feel guilty. But we really need to focus, especially because of my younger daughter. She speaks a lot more German than French. And Armenian is going very slowly with her. That’s mainly because our rhythm of life changed. The kids go to school and kindergarden, both have their hobbies and see friends. With one child you manage that without a problem, but with two…and if you manage it there is not a lot of time left. One child is like no child but two children is like a soccer team, if you have active kids like i do… 😛
So you can see the problems…
But here some tips for those who want to raise their children in multiple languages:
Always talk to your children in the languages you feel comfortable in.
Never stress out because you don’t find the right expressions. Look them up. Or try to paraphrase. It is not bad if children see how you handle difficulties with language.
Read, read, read.
Sing! A lot!
Watch TV in your language.
And most important, find an environment where your children can practice the language actively. If you are not talking the language you want your children to learn, the environment is even more important. We are very lucky because of the French kindergarden, and in Germany we have the Armenian churches and culture clubs who organize a lot of events for kids. But if you aren’t that lucky try to find friends that speak the languages your child learns. Friends are a big influence. Because children want to belong somewhere.
If you raise a child multilingualy try to stay strong and think about all sentences twice. If it is to hard, it is probably not the right language.
If you speak more than three languages at home you should use following rule:
One parent = one language. Parents can communicate in different languages amongst themselves.
I know parents that use another rule. If you speak two different languages, and your partner doesn’t you can apply the rule of „2 week languages switch“. You switch the language after 2 weeks. That is also the system our kindergarden uses. It works! But only for two languages. You could also change language within the environment. If you are in Germany you speak in German and if you travel to France you speak French. I personally have no experience with this system.
Never, never blame your child for not responding in your mother or father tongue. Repeat the sentence as a question in the language you wish him to respond. Example: „Mama, heute haben wir Experimente in der Schule gemacht“ -> you respond „Ah bon? Aujourd’hui, vous avez fait des experiences à l’école?“. Negative vibes give unpleasent feelings in the language. That’s counterproductive.
I think it is important that language comes easy, otherwise it feels like drill and i am not sure about the effects on children. But i can tell you that it is self-defeating if you stress out…look…even my husband, who was never taught managed to learn Turkish. So don’t stress, if the language is within your family it will always stay there!
This rules are of course my very own rules. But from experience i can say…they work for me and other parents i know.
Next time i will tell you about education in multicultural environment and i will post some French, Western-Armenian and German books for children and grown ups ;-).
Feel free to comment and ask some questions, i am happy to answer them.
Take also a look at my german post about language and its impact on the brain: