Tips for Multilingual Families: Q&A with Kietzee Expert

15 December 2022 | Before Your Baby is Born | By Lisa H

In this article, Kietzee expert Afi Huguette Kreyling gives us her best tips for multilingual families that are wondering about the best way to raise their kid(s).

Huguette is a mom of two, a speech therapist and teacher, who also founded Miniglotte, a start-up empowering, educating and inspiring multilingual families. Huguette grew up in Togo and France and now lives with her multilingual family in Munich.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. When and why did you first get interested in multilingual education and how did your desire to empower multilingual families develop? 

My name is Afi Huguette Kreyling. I’m a teacher, a speech therapist and a mom. I’m French, and I’ve been living in Munich for over a decade. My passion for languages started at a really young age. 

When we moved to Germany, I couldn’t speak a word of German, and I have really vivid memories of me trying to communicate with other children on the playground. Needless to say, I understood the importance of languages very early in life. 

I grew up in a multilingual household, but as we moved to Germany, my parents had to make the choice to stop speaking Ewe (our native language) to me. They were worried multilingualism would be too overwhelming and hinder my German language acquisition and consequently, negatively affect my academic and professional future. The prejudice towards foreigners not learning German didn’t help.

The desire to empower parents to transmit their native language and raise their children multilingually and multiculturally is rooted in my personal experience as a child, as a professional and also as a mother.

What are your tips for getting started on this journey as a multilingual family? What are the best practices to follow and why?

The first question I always ask families who contact me is “Why do you want to raise your child multilingually?” There is no right or wrong answer, but it is important to recognize the different causes of motivation so you can set the right expectations and identify the best strategy. Focusing on « the why » will keep you motivated when things don’t go as planned.

When it comes to the right strategy, there are many to choose from. It is important to find one that suits the family’s needs to be able to stay consistent because consistency is the key to success. 

One of the most popular strategies is OPOL, "One Parent, One Language", but it’s not the only one. There is also “One language at home, one language outside,” which is a good strategy when both parents (or other family members) speak the same minority language at home. 

Or the “time and place” strategy, which is when you speak different languages at different times and places. This is a great strategy when there are more than two languages in the family. 

Strategies are not rigid, and you can adapt them to your family's objectives, but once you have found the right one for you, it’s recommended to remain consistent.

How to manage social situations is also a topic parents want to talk about. It obviously depends on factors like the structure of the family or the chosen strategies. But when parents ask me if they should still use their language in social situations even if others don’t understand, my answer is always YES!

When should (expecting) parents start implementing these concepts?

The moment parents know they want to start this journey, is the right time to start. 

A recurring assumption is that as long as the child has not started speaking, there is no need to implement any strategy. This is false. 

Even when they are not speaking, children are aware of everything we say.

During the preverbal stage, babies understand conversational rules and in the very early months of their lives, they can already identify the variations between noises and speech sounds. So the earlier the better. It doesn’t only give the whole family time to test out and get used to the chosen strategies but also to make changes if needed.

What are some of the benefits and also challenges in raising a child with two or more languages? What “rules” should be followed to make this a benefit rather than a hassle?

Raising a child with two or more languages can have many benefits, many supported by science. For one, it can improve the child's ability to learn and process information, and can also increase their cognitive abilities and problem-solving skills. 

Additionally, it can help your child better understand and appreciate different cultures and can also provide them with more job opportunities in the future.

Parents transmitting their native language, especially if it’s different from the majority language, often feel emotionally closer to their child and share a stronger bond. 

Unfortunately, there are also many old myths that sometimes make it difficult to start this journey, like multilingual education is a leading cause of speech delay, which is wrong.

To make the experience of raising a child with multiple languages a positive one, it's important to follow a few key “rules”:

  • Be consistent: Consistency is key when it comes to raising a child with multiple languages. It is essential to provide children with regular opportunities to practice and use the languages we want to pass on.

  • Be patient: Raising a child with multiple languages will take time and effort, and you need to be patient in the process. Parents should be prepared for occasional setbacks and challenges, and don't be discouraged if their child doesn't pick up the offered language as quickly as they would like.

  • Make it fun: Learning a language should be enjoyable for your child. Try to make “language-learning” activities fun and engaging, and provide your child with plenty of opportunities to use their new language skills in real-life situations.

  • Seek support: If you're having difficulties or need advice on raising your child with multiple languages, don't hesitate to seek support from other parents, teachers, or language experts.

In the end, your multilingual child will be grateful to you forever, and you are giving them one of the greatest gifts.

When introducing media (books, TV, songs etc.), what language should they be in?

While raising a multilingual child, media (books, TV, songs) offer a great support. When introducing new media, it is generally good to start with the languages that the child is currently learning. 

If their child is, for example, learning two languages, it's important to expose them to media in these two languages, if possible. This will help them develop a strong foundation in both languages and understand the different cultures associated with each one of them.

Parents can offer media in the language their child has expressed the most interest in but also choose to introduce media in a language they want to promote more.

Ultimately, the best language for introducing media will depend on the child's individual needs, interests, and the parent's intention. It's important for parents to pay attention to their child's preferences and to provide them with a variety of language experiences in the languages they are transmitting.

Would you like personalized information around raising a child with multiple languages? Huguette will 1-on-1 consultation for bilingual and multilingual families starting in mid-January 2023. The online consultations will be offered in English, German or French. To set up a consultation session or a free exploration session to see how she can best help you, please write to her at [email protected] or visit www.miniglotte.com. Mention "Kietzee."


Bonus Q&A

Want to hear more hands-on tips for multilingual families? Kietzee Club members get access to the bonus Q&A content from a conversation between Huguette and our Kietzee Club families.

If the parents speak two languages that are different from the local language, what rules should be followed? Also, what are your recommendations around introducing a common language for the family (for example, a Polish-Romanian couple living in Germany speaking English together at the dinner table)?

In this case, there are a few rules to follow.

  1. Use the languages consistently and regularly. It's important for the child to hear all languages spoken frequently so that they can learn them.

  2. Provide a rich language environment for the child. This means exposing them to a variety of language experiences in all four languages, such as reading books, watching TV shows and movies, and interacting with people who speak the languages.

  3. Be patient and supportive. This might sound trivial, but it is critical. There will be a few hiccups and hard moments. It's essential for parents to be patient and supportive as their child, and the rest of the family work through these challenges.

  4. Encourage your child to use the languages. Children are more willing to use the language that they are most comfortable with. It's important for parents to encourage the child to use other languages too and to provide opportunities for them to do so.

When it comes to the choice of a family's common language(s), it really depends on the family's goals, expectations, their level of proficiency and how comfortable they are speaking these languages. 

Situations like dinner time or playing a board game with the whole family are great moments to practice but also significant bonding moments. The language(s) chosen for those moments should allow everyone to fully express themselves and feel included.

If the local language is not spoken at home, can parents expect the child to pick up the language easily just from Kita/school or should they teach them the local language beforehand?

If the majority language is not spoken at home, it is still possible for the child to pick up the language easily from school. Children are often really good at learning languages, and they will be able to learn the majority language just by listening to their teachers and classmates and by participating in language-based activities. Many parents have been discouraged from using their family language and asked to switch to the majority language so that “the child can learn it faster”, which is inaccurate advice.

However, it is a good idea for parents to speak the majority language to the child beforehand when possible. That is not to say that the child will necessarily fall behind if they don’t speak the majority language at home but it can give the child a head start and help them feel more confident and comfortable when they begin learning the language at school. 

The general advice is to speak the language you feel most comfortable with, not because your child will pick up your mistakes or accent, but because language is so much more than words. With the language we speak, we transmit emotions, values, and culture.

Overall, it's important for parents to support their child's language learning process at home and outside.

Thanks, Huguette, for sharing your insights with us!

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