Every morning is a bit different in my house, but a few things remain the same. My son only hears Chinese in the mornings and afternoons at school. Then, in the evenings his brain is tickled with Arabic from his babysitter. Whether you’re teaching your child a second or third language yourself or by way of a language tutor or babysitter, then your child has a slightly different take on the world than most.
If you’re raising a bilingual kid, then you’ve likely heard these statements from your budding linguist.
“What language will I learn today?”
The first time my son asked me this question I was speechless. For some odd reason I thought he was too little to really know that I spoke a different language, his teacher spoke another one, and even still his babysitter spoke a third. But, even at three years old, he was well aware that there was a big difference. Now, he asks everyday, including weekends what language he will learn or hear. To my surprise, on the weekends when he usually hears only English, he seems a bit disappointed. So, in true language madness fashion, I added in some fun Arabic tutoring in the weekend mix.
“What language do you speak?”
For multilingual kids, they often have to transition between languages throughout the day depending on who they are with or around. When my son is at school, he knows he has to work his Chinese magic. And, at home, he knows I only speak English. But, for him, it is a bit tricky when it comes to meeting new people. At his last doctor’s appointment, he made a point to ask the doctor what language he spoke, just to know what language to expect to hear and what to respond back with. The doctor, of course, looked a bit puzzled by his question, but for my son it was critical information to know.
“…..what language was that in?”
I find myself saying this more and more nowadays. When my son is excited he may blurt out something in Chinese or if I ask him a question he may respond in Arabic. Other times I overhear him singing a song or playing with his toys and the flow of words I hear don’t sound like English. I’ve grown accustom to it, but when family members visit, they always comment, “What is he saying?” To which I respond, ask him what language it is because I’m not too sure!
“Can you say that in English please?”
Last week my son met with a math tutor (believe it or not, it was his request!) to go over simple counting and strengthen his pre-math skills. Her first question was simple, “How many cars you have?” As she pointed to the cars, he quickly counted them and proudly said “Wǔ”. She paused and he did too. He reflected a moment and adjusted his response for her to better understand (so he thought) and repeated, “khamsa”. Now, she was completely overwhelmed! So, I stepped in and said, “Cavanaugh, say it in English please.” It was like a light bulb went off in his head and he corrected himself and told her, “I have five cars.” She did ask him how many cars he had, but she didn’t specify what language he should respond in. Lucky for her she got a quick lesson in counting in Chinese and Arabic!
When you’re raising a bilingual child, everyday can be an adventure in language learning, especially if you don’t speak the target language. Lately, I have been keeping a running list of questions and funny things my son says just as a reminder of how to improve our communication with others going forward. Now, I know I need to prep him beforehand and let him know what language he may be hearing and what language he may be asked to respond in. It’s small things like these that my monolingual parents didn’t have to think about when I was growing up, but now as a monolingual mom raising a trilingual kid, I have to be fully aware of!
What other questions or comments do you often hear from others when they find out you are raising a multilingual child? Share your stories with us here or on Facebook!