One of the cool things about being a blogger is that you get to talk to some really fabulous people. A while ago, I was interviewed by two great bloggers about my multilingualism and raising multilingual children. One was Olena Centeno of Bilingual Kids Rock (check out her other podcasts as well!) and Aneta Nott-Bower of Bilingual House. It was great to get to know these two ladies (Aneta even visited us in the Netherlands). With Olena, I was somewhat nervous and even had to ask her to re-do the interview. Aneta’s blog is in Polish and that was the language of the interview as well. I thought I’d write down the answers (either the real ones or the ones I wished I’d given). I combined the questions into one big interview. Hope you’ll enjoy it!
1) You are bilingual yourself – how did that happen? What is your personal bilingual story? And how many languages do you speak?
I speak 5 languages: Polish- the language I was “born with”. German which I learned at the age of 3, French (not well enough I’m afraid) but my cousins are French and don’t speak Polish. Also, my father speaks perfect French. English which my mom had taught me (she speaks perfect English). Later I had English classes at school and in language centers. And last but not least, Dutch that I learned in language classes while living in the Netherlands. I can speak, read and write in Polish, German and English. My Dutch is fluent and I have no problems communicating and reading, and can write in Dutch if I really have to. I speak rather fluent French, but reading and especially writing is a challenge.
2) Do you feel it is different for you raising bilingual children then for your parents raising you bilingual? What has changed?
Well, one difference was that my parents introduced the languages gradually. First Polish, then German when we were living in Germany, then English. And French was always there but I only started really learning it after I reached a satisfying level of English. And then I learned Dutch as an adult. My children started with two languages from birth (Polish and German), and Dutch was added at 6 months of age after they started daycare. The methods are also different. When we were living in Germany, my parents were using the ml@h (Minority Language At Home) method. They spoke Polish to me at home and German outside. Then, when we went back to Poland, they switched to a time-and-place method (we spoke German at home every Sunday). We’re more of an OPOL (One Parent One Language) family: I only speak Polish and my husband speaks German with the kids.
3) Where do you currently live?
We live in the Netherlands, close to the Hague.
4) Is bilingualism a norm in the Netherlands or it is more of an exception?
Well, I wouldn’t say everyone speaks English, but the majority of Dutch people does. On the surface, there is lots of acceptance of bilingualism, but it all depends on the language: English, French, even German are good languages. Polish, Russian, Turkish, Arabic are not. However, I have personally only heard positive things 9″what language is that? Oh Polish, how cool!”, or even “Wow, she speaks 3 languages fluently!”
5) You family’s language portrait: What languages do you and your spouse speaks, what language do you speak to your husband? What is your environment language?
So I speak Polish, German, English, French and Dutch. My husband speaks German, English, French and Dutch. He also started to learn Polish and understands more than he would like to admit. We speak German with each other and occasionally English when we don’t want the children to understand us. It doesn’t work, of course, but we’re still fooling ourselves. My Dutch is better than his but his French is better than mine.
6) What are your personal reasons for raising your child bilingual?
It’s weird, when I was pregnant I didn’t really give this a lot of thought. I was studying to get my MA degree, on the weekends I would take the train from Hamburg to Delft (where we lived at that time). I was feeling very sick and worried because this was my first pregnancy. So as you can imagine, multilingualism was the last on the list of my concerns. Until my MIL asked me, “what language will you speak to your child?” and I told her it would be Polish, of course. What else? Only later did I realize that I could speak German to my children and in a situation in which I was living in Poland, married to a Polish man, I’d consider raising my kids bilingually, just like I was raised, with Polish and German. Since we live in the Netherlands, and my husband already occupies the German-speaker position, my job is to teach my children Polish. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t speak German and as I say, bilingualism is my language. I would be very sad if I couldn’t give the gift of languages to my kids.
7) How strong is your minority language environment (any playgroups, babysitters, nurseries, friends etc around)?
Not very strong, I’m afraid. So far I’m the only one who speaks Polish every day. I don’t know that many other Polish parents and if I do, it’s hard to set up playdates. There is also a Saturday school, every two weeks in Polish but we prefer to keep the weekends for us. I can already hear that they have a German/Dutch accent in their Polish and they make more mistakes than in other languages but as long as they speak, read and write it, I’m fine with it.
8) Everyone who gets into raising bilingual children heard the advice of having a plan. But you actually said that the plan did not help your family at all? What disadvantages you found about having a plan?
Maybe I’m just not the kind of person who likes planning much. Plans don’t work for me. Short term, definitely. Planning a birthday party. What to pack for a trip. What will we eat. But long-term planning seems overwhelming to me. I do have a goal in mind and am working towards it, but I’m more of a person who checks what resources she has available every single day. For example, sometimes I’m tired and can’t think properly, so then maybe I won’t be able to teach them as much. And sometimes I’m full of energy and then I can do more.
9) “I think that quality time doesn’t always mean talking” you mentioned this in your post 10 Multilingual Parenting Ideas That Got Thrown out of The Window. What other quality time do you have?
Quiet time. It’s the best! I love when I read a book, and one of my kids is working quietly by my side. We’re doing our own thing but together. Sometimes I would look at them and they would look at me and we would smile at each other and go back to our books. It’s the best!
10) Do you use any media to support minority language?
Oh yes! Books are our go-to resource but we use movies, Youtube videos, iPad apps. We’re very technology-friendly.
11) What about literacy? How do you plan to teach them literacy: writing and reading?
Certainly. My eldest has been very interested in learning to read and write since she was 2 years old so that’s when I started teaching her letters. When she went to school at 4 years of age, she already knew the whole alphabet. And then I sat down with her and we started reading a Polish reader book (the same one I had as a child) and she can now read. She’s 5. With my subsequent children, I have less time. My 4 year old went to school without knowing letters but with her there were other things to focus on. And the baby prefers to build things from LEGO blocks or climb on the walls. Each child is different but I definitely want them to read and write in Polish.
12) You have an interesting post about Polish couple on the airplane verbally offended Germans and German language. Do your children feel any of this cultural tension between two nations and how do you deal with it?
No, I don’t think this is the case. However, sooner or later we will have to address this. My eldest is very interested and asks all these questions.
13) What do you find the most challenging in raising a multilingual child?
Interestingly enough, it’s not the making sure that they speak all of these languages. To me, that’s the most normal thing on Earth! It’s the things that come with being a parent: the sleep deprivation, the temper tantrums, the worries, the balance. In that regard, we’re quite a normal family, we just use more words to describe one thing.
14) What routines or everyday activities you do so kids can get more exposure of their minority languages (examples: reading, walks, play, cooking etc).
We read a lot and also the reason I’m teaching them to read in Polish is that they can do it by themselves later on. but whatever we do, it’s exposure to language because I do everything in Polish.
15) You are very busy mom o three children under 5 years old and you are also very active blogger. How do you make sure you have time for bilingualism?
I incorporate Polish into everything. When we talk about their day at school, we talk in Polish. When I make them do chores, I do it in Polish. I think it’s good to make bilingualism natural and a normal part of the every day lives.
16) Olga, you always have wonderful ethnic recipes. What impact do you think food has on your children’ bilingualism?
There’s definitely a connection. My father for example was raised in France and cooked tons of fabulous French recipes, like creme caramel, or duck stew with olives. My mom cooked many Polish dishes, and I do a combination of these two cooking styles (my father made more elaborate, adventurous, experimental meals, while my mom stuck to basics. Both very delicious and very different). I also added many food traditions on my own (for some reason I’m obsessed with Indian food and am still searching for the perfect curry recipe), and we sometimes order take-out or eat out at restaurants, so my children learn new words like sushi, curry or bami goreng.
17) What would be your advice to parents who are looking or already raising a multilingual child?
There’s lots of fear I think among parents of bilingual kids, that if they don’t sacrifice all their free time and all their efforts to bilingualism, it won’t happen. The truth is that yes it takes some effort but I think it’s most important to relax. If a child sees their parents are so stressed about bilingualism, they may refuse to play along.
18) You wrote that you never planned to leave Poland and here you are, with a German husband in the Netherlands. How do you feel?
It’s amazing. I can’t believe how much at home I feel here. It’s just so normal, maybe even more so than in Poland. It’s kind of ironic that sometimes you have to leave your home to find a home.
19) What’s the difference between an expat and an immigrant?
In my belief, there’s no difference whatsoever in the word themselves but more in the associations attached to them. I wrote about this here.
20) Does multilingualism go hand-in-hand with multiculturalism? Tell us for example about your Christmas.
Yes, definitely. We try to make sure all our cultures are accepted in our family and in our food, reading choices, and traditions we try to incorporate all the elements that make our family multicultural. The interesting thing is that at home we didn’t have eat much Polish food when I was a child. Instead, we had French one day and Italian the next day and then something Chinese, and something that my mother just saw on TV. Our Christmas isn’t very Polish either as we don’t make that much food and serve fruitcake on Christmas Eve and blini on Christmas Day.