Tag Archives: Linguistics

8 things to say to a bilingual

Bildschirmfoto 2012-08-27 um 11.53.00This post is somehow a response in a dialogical way, to the brilliant post by Rita Rosenback “7 things you should not say to a bilingual child“.

I did experience some of the 7 things she listed up and I totally agree with her that “children can be (very) sensitive about almost anything to do with themselves”, no matter if monolingual, bilingual, multilingual. It’s just a fact. I think that also young adults and some adults feel annoyed by the kind of questions she mentions. Therefore I decided to figure out questions that would not bother a bilingual or multilingual, indipendently if it’s a child or an adult.

1. “Did you live in all the places you know the language from?”

Multilinguals are often also multicultural and they usually grow up very open minded. Therefore questions like “Where do you come from?” seem too restrictive and some consider them really alienating. Multilinguals often possess more than one passport and have lived in more than one place. Or at least they visit their passport countries on a regular basis. But they don’t need to have lived in all the places they know the language from. – “Did you live in all the places you know the language from?” always gives us the possibility to either answer it by a simple “yes” or “no”, or to start a broader discussion about where the languages are spoken around the world, how many people talk them or why we didn’t or did live in the places they’re the national language.

2. “How would you say [fill in the blank] in [one of the languages the person talks]?”

People often are very curious to hear a child (or a grown up!) talking the other languages. Especially if it are more “exotic” ones for them. It’s not unusual to be asked to tell something in that other language. The only thing others don’t consider is that it’s difficult to “just say something in the other language”. What exactly do thy want to hear? Therefore, suggesting a sentence like “Hello, how are you?” or “Hi, my name is X and I come from Y” or a more complex one, helps the multilingual to not just be struck dump… – The positive side effect of this kind of questions is that we can point out the syntactical, lexical, phonetical differences among the languages we know. And this is something most bilinguals or multilinguals like doing.

3. “It’s amazing how you can switch from one language to the other!”

I know that this might sound a bit too much, but many multilingual children get to hear that they surely are not as proficient in language A as in language B (and C, D etc.) and that their tendency to switch from one language to the other is a sign of weakness or that they don’t master the languages yet. – Against all those clichés or false myths: code switching is actually a sign of great mastery of both languages, people should recognize it as a sign of mastery!

4. “You’re such a great example to (other) children!”

When children grow up multilingual they usually not only switch languages frequently but they also change from one cultural group to the other, adapting and embracing diversity. This is a very positive side effect and it is worth to be recognized because it gives those children a very open mindset. They usually don’t judge others by the language they speak or by the culture they come from, they tend to be much more curious and accepting. And this is, in this time of increasingly more global living families, an important asset that should be praised. – The same applies, of course, to adults!

5. “When did you learn all those languages?”

This is actually a question I’ve been asked a few times and I really liked it for two reasons: first, because I felt like the other person is really interested in the languages I speak, and second, because it gave me the possibility to tell more about myself. The conversation was not as superficial as it sometimes can be with monolinguals, or multilinguals who speak other languages than ourselves. In fact, one person who asked me this was a multilingual herself and we ended up talking about how difficult or easy it is to learn certain languages at some point of our life, and about when to start to learn an imparented language or when even it would be appropriate not to.

6. “Which language was easier to learn for you and why, except for those you learned naturally?”

This is a very intelligent question and it reflects that the other person is aware of the different level of difficulty in learning a language. Some are completely different from the mothertongue or one of the “family-tongues” (i.e. languages spoken within one family) but this doesn’t mean that they are more difficult to learn. Sometimes it’s even easier to learn a language from a completely different language-family than one that is imparented with one we already know.

And the second part of the question shows that the person is aware of the different ways someone can acquire (=naturally learning) and learn (=at school) a language.

7. “Do you speak all those languages on a regular basis?”

Being bilingual or multilingual is hard work. Keeping up with all the languages we learned and using them actively on a regular basis is not very easy. First, our parents need to provide inputs for us in all the languages we’re supposed to become proficient for social, emotional or very practical reasons. And then, once we’re adults, we need to find people who speak all our languages in order to keep them active and we need to find situations where to practice those languages. This is the challenge of a lifetime for people who want to stay bilingual or multilingual. – Personally, I couldn’t imagine to live in a strictly monolingual culture, it would be too hard for me to give up one of my languages…

8. “Do you have one (or more) dominant languages?”

This kind of question is obviously not very common. Surely nobody would ask this to a child. It is a question that linguists or people who know about linguistics would ask. We all have one or more dominant languages, also depending on the social context we’re living in: if we need more than one language in order to interact with our environment, those will probably be our most dominant languages. We still know the others too, but if we don’t practice them regularly, they’ll become more passive, secondary. – By asking this kind of question, people can get an idea about our linguistic situation and our preferences.

And what really should be avoided….

Even though I usually avoid telling what not to do and prefer giving positive advice about what to do, there are some really inappropriate things people can say to a bilingual or multilingual person that I would shortly mention here.

First of all, one should always avoid to be judgmental.

Rita mentioned several questions that could be interpreted in different ways, depending on who asks them: “you have hardly any accent”, for example. Some people might really be honestly thinking that you don’t have any accent, i.e. you really speak like a native. Others would say this just because they really think you have one… – But accents are not a sign of weakness or of not being proficient in a language. They just are our very personal “finger-print” and surely shouldn’t be criticized.

In general, a bilingual or multilingual person shouldn’t be corrected in the presence of others. Rita mentioned “You said that wrong!” as one of the many things one should avoid saying to a bilingual child and I can only agree. This shouldn’t be said to anyone. If someone really makes a mistake, remodelling is the key: “You mean [and say the sentence in the correct way, or like you think it should be said…]”.

One other thing that should be avoided is to compare to siblings, friends, partners, spouses etc.. We all pick up languages and speak them in our own very personal way. We all have preferences when it comes to languages and this is as natural as having an accent or having blond or brown hair etc..

One last thing: never ask which language they prefer the most. Every time people asked me this, I felt like they asked me to decide if I loved my father or my mother the most. This is just impossible!

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One year expatsincebirth

Bildschirmfoto 2013-08-15 um 11.28.06

Yes, today is my blogs’ first anniversary! It’s been exactly a year since I published my first post and I have to say that I really enjoyed writing every single post.

I’ve started blogging one year ago because I had written about many topics just “for me” and wanted to share them somewhere. To write a book about them seemed very appealing but then I realized that I covered so many different topics, that it would have been like a jack of all trades device. A friend gave me the idea to try to write a blog. But it was a few months later, when another friend told me the same, that I really started blogging. It was during our holiday in Switzerland that I choose the name and the main cathegories I would write about.

Selecting a name for my blog didn’t take that much time. My status as an expat-since-birth did pretty much sum up the topics. I did evaluate the different definitions of Third Culture Kids, Adult Third Culture Kids, Global Nomads etc.  in a post called “expat definition maze” but couldn’t find really a cathegory I could fit in, so I created my own one: expatsincebirth.

About multilingualism:

The knowledge I acquired during my studies about bilingualism and multilingualism brought me to write several posts about these topics in the cathegory being multilingual. As a multilingual person, my home are my languages and when I got children, I had to choose which language to speak to them in our multilingual family. With the  “secret language among (my) twins” I introduced the complex linguistic situation within our family. After pointing our the different definitions of OPOL I wrote about OPOL among multilingual siblings.

I find it pretty interesting that multilingual siblings don’t necessarily have the same language preference and that the initial language plan we usually make when our children are still babies, can change for several reasons when they get older.

There are many myths about bilingualism. I didn’t want to list them all up. There are already many posts and literature about this. But one in particular did intrigue me. It’s about multilinguals having multiple personalities. I’m still collecting answers about this in order to write a paper about it. – You’re very welcome to leave a comment on my post about this.

And then there is the myth about code switching being a sign of weakness. Well, it is not, on the contrary: Don’t worry if your child does code-switching!

Those who know me, know that I’m firmly convinced that reading is very important. And it is even more important for multilingual children to read in the different languages they grow up with. For those who don’t like to read, I wrote a post about how to make our children like poetry (and songs!).

Learning new languages for expats is not always that easy. But there are some tips that can help. I did point out the five more important ones that worked for me and added another post with tips how to encourage children to learn the local language.

There are many reasons to become multilingual at any stage. We don’t have to start at a young age to become multilingual. I shared my multilingual journey and pointed out that the most important thing is to be willing to learn new languages: “When there’s a will, there’s a way to become multilingual“.

About parenting:

In my posts about parenting I tried to give some practical advices. Some more will follow but up to now I gave some advices for when the children have the flu and I shared a first-aid experience I had this summer with one of my daughters, trying to remind other parents about refreshing their First Aid skills regularly.

In the colder period of the year Indoor activities for children become more important and role plays can be fun also for the older ones.

I’m not an over protective parent and like the  Love and Logic approach in parenting which consists also in doing lot of questioning in order to make the children take their own decisions from a very early stage. Also helping less helps our children more than we sometimes think, and it helps us too to realize how independent they can be (even as toddlers).

I’m very interested in e-safety for parents and children and the resources that are available about this topic. I published a few posts about  “How to reduce screen time for children” and about “mobile phones for children“.

The importance to spend one-on-one time with our children and how to manage if you have more than one child is very important in my daily life with my kids. “How to make children listen to us and how to listen to them” and “communicating is listening with empathy” are two posts where I point out the importance of effective communication with our children.

I got a bit annoyed by posts called “What not to say…” and decided to post some about “What to say”: “to parents of a child with a disability” and to a “mum of twins” because I prefer positive reinforcement.

I didn’t write a lot about twins yet, but I’m preparing a whole series about twins “from baby to teen”. The first post about this is called “Twins at school: once separated always separated?

When we spend holidays with our children we sometimes don’t really get to enjoy them as much as we would like. By giving them some chores we can easily get some holiday feeling too.

In order to lead a happier life, despite of all the movings, the changes and having many tasks around our kids, families and work, I wrote a post about the fact that our happiness depends on our selves: if we decide to be happy and take action we will succeed.

As I’m raising my children in a multicultural context and see many different parenting styles every day and I’m really fascinated in the different parenting styles across cultures I wanted to find some answers to the question “Do you think the cultures you’ve been in touch with did influence you in your parenting style?“. I’m still collecting feedbacks which I will publish in a paper. You’re very welcome to leave a comment on the post.

About expat life

I did publish several posts about expat life in general and some specific ones about the Netherlands and Switzerland. I will add some more about Germany and Italy, and maybe some other countries.

About ATCK’s raising TCK’s

Lately I got involved in several discussions about ATCK’s and TCK’s and joined several TCK groups online. I’m planning to write a small book about this and am preparing a questionnaire for ATCK’s (Adult Third Culture Kids) that I’ll soon publish on my blog.

I found out that TCK’s (and expats, global nomads etc.) often “tend to “start cutting bonds around 3 years into a friendship”” and that three is a magic number for TCK’s. Other topics in this cathegory are the good-byes, the ways “people call you“, the impossible question about “where is home” that TCK’s don’t like to be asked and “what kind of memories our kids will share with us“.

If you are interested to participate in my ATCK survey, please leave a message in the responses of my post “Are you an ATCK raising TCK’s” and I’ll get in touch with you.


The most satisfying aspect of running the blog in this first year has been interacting with bloggers and parents from around the world. I found many like minded persons and am having really interesting conversations with people around the globe that I’m really grateful to have found this bloggosphere.

 I’ve joined several groups on the internet and met some of them also in real life. The Multicultural Kid Blogs group on Facebook did even start a own blog that I strongly recommend. Then there are the fb groups Mum knows Mum, Third Culture Kids Netherlands, Expats in The Hague which meet regularly and Third Culture Kids Everywhere etc. that all give me very interesting ideas and inputs for posts.

I would like to thank all my followers for joining my blog and for leaving very interesting comments! The almost immediate response to my writings is amazing and all your feedbacks are very precious to me.

Van harte bedankt – Vielen herzlichen Dank – Con un grazie di cuore –

With a heartfelt thank you – Merci de tout coeur – Gracias de todo corazon!

When there’s a will there’s a way to become a multilingual

If you really want to become a multilingual, you will succeed. You probably know about the girl (Mabou Loiseau) who speaks 7 languages. This case did provoke all sorts of reactions from linguists, parents etc. who were questioning the way this child is acquiring all those languages and if this is “healthy” for her or not. I don’t think that I’m entitled to judge if this child is happy or not, but she surely is enthusiastic about learning the languages, otherwise she would refuse to do so. Like lovinglanguage said in a comment to my former post “How many languages are too many for a child?” : “children will [always!] question the utility of the language immediately”. In fact, teaching children “a bunch of languages is great, but recognizing that they will resist is a dose of reality”. I totally agree with this and can confirm by my own experience, that if a child doesn’t see the utility of a language, he will stop talking it. Therefore the “necessity of the languages [need to be] brutally clear” at any time.

I found this video about the twenty year old Alex Rawlings, explaining how and why he learned 11 languages. – I hope you’ll get inspired too!

“How many languages are too many for a child?” (InCultureParent)

Have you ever wondered about what is the maximum of languages a child can take? A mother did raise this question on InCultureParent and you can find the answer of Dr. Gupta here.

The most important aspects to consider are: is your child going to need all these languages on a daily (or at least weekly!) basis? And: do you have enough time to guarantee a regular input in those languages?

Independently on how old the children are, it’s very important to find peers for them who talk the same languages. What exactly are the reasons for children to “have” to acquire more than two or three languages? First there are the languages of their parents or care givers and then the one of their social environment. Adding a fourth, fifth or sixth on a regular basis is often not very natural (and spontaneous) if there is not a social, emotional need.

Parents who want their children to acquire some more languages have to be aware of the fact that not only it is really hard work, but the child will always reach the point of questioning the utility of these languages in his life. Parents need to consider if there is a group of persons (their child likes!) who will talk these languages to their child on a very regular basis. And they have to realize that not all of those languages will be acquired equally. The children will always have one, two or three languages that they “prefer” for several reasons and the other languages will be less dominant.

But the very interesting thing is, that as soon as the linguistic situation changes – for example due to a moving or due to new friends speaking the language – a former receding language can become dominant.

I would like to add another aspect to this question: does the degree of relationship between the languages influence the number of languages a child can/should be exposed to? For example, if the languages are related like French-Italian-Spanish (and other romance languages): does this ease the multilingualism in a child ? And would this make it easier for the child to add other languages, in this example, like German, Dutch, English? Is it easier for a child to acquire many imparented languages ?

This post has been reposted by circletimestudio.com .