Bilingual is Better

Mother Daughter

I am Polish, my husband is German and we live in the Netherlands. I was raised in a multilingual family — my mother speaks English and my father speaks French and they both speak Polish and German. With our children, we have naturally assumed the OPOL approach in which I speak Polish with them and my husband speaks German.

I read a lot about bilingualism. All the books warned that it is normal for children to rebel against parents and their languages (especially when the parents are multilingual themselves) and this is why it is important to find monolingual peers for the children to play and practice the language with.

I was worried because it seemed to me that maintaining my children’s Polish would prove incredibly difficult, if not impossible. Why would they bother with Polish (which is not even seen as a language worth learning and speaking) when mom speaks almost perfect German? Finding Polish speakers who didn’t speak Dutch has been difficult, especially now that I have three children. Am I fighting a battle that is already lost?

I don’t think so. In Poland, my parents didn’t have other German-speaking children to play with me, and the only thing they did was speak German with me every Sunday, until my brother was born. Later, I had German at school, and then chose to study it at University. It was, of course, a decision based on practicality (or should I say laziness) rather than interest, but I found studying German fun.

I am very grateful to my parents for sticking to speaking German with me even though there were times when I hated it. They were very consistent and it paid off. Now, as I am raising multilingual children myself, I realize that even though peers are important, the parents have a huge impact on their children as well.

I think I am extremely lucky to come from a family with a long-term tradition of multilingualism. The children will see that their beloved grandparents are multilingual and will notice the benefits that come from it. Based on that, they hopefully will be more inclined to learn Polish.

I also speak Dutch, the majority language, and I think this is a benefit, rather than a disadvantage. By learning it, I am showing my children that I care about one of their languages — and an important part of their identity, and maybe, just maybe, this will motivate them to speak Polish with me. I know there will be times when they will rebel and refuse to speak it. But I think my story shows that the parents’ bilingualism is an asset rather than a problem.

I believe multilingualism is a way of life, and if the children learn to accept all languages, perhaps it will motivate them to learn and accept thire parents’ language as well.

IMG_0089Olga Mecking is a Polish woman living in the Netherlands with her German husband. Together, they raise three trilingual children. Olga is also a trainer in intercultural communication, translator and blogger at The European Mama, which is a blog about multilingualism, expat life and parenting.You can find Olga over at her blog, her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter.

{Image by rolands.lakis}

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