Friday 4 April 2014

Nurturing Multilingualism

Bringing up my children as multilingual is something I am passionate about. Coming from a Polish family where only  English was spoken at home I, unfortunately, have experienced first hand the feeling of such a lost opportunity. Growing up I could not get away from the fact I came from a Polish background. Just one look at my name and it was obvious to anyone that I have eastern European roots. 

Once, the penny dropped and people realised it was, in fact, a Polish name the questions started;
'Are your parents Polish?' Yes.
'Do they speak Polish?'  Yes, it was their first language.
'So, you can speak Polish then.' Umm, no.
It was more of a matter of fact statement than a question but, nevertheless, I was met with a look of disbelief when I gave my response. 

No, I do not speak Polish. I mean, I can say a few basic words and phrases, afterall, I went to Saturday Polish school for a few months when I was five years old, but it was far away from our house so I soon had to give it up. Being the eldest of six children, my parents wanted our first language to be English and by the time the youngest arrived I was already nine years old and by the time my youngest brother learned to speak I would have been 11 or 12 and it was too late for me to become bilingual then, wasn't it?

Well, not necessarily. Recent research has, in fact, shown that there might not be a critical period for second language learning. Dr Grosjean's excellent article sums up the recent research findings,( which have shown that teenagers can be better language learner's than young children. The only thing which might distinguish a highly proficient later second language learner from an early second language learner might be difficulties acquiring native-like accent.

I do, however, have an interest in foreign languages and language learning, unlike my siblings. At school I studied French, German, Italian and Latin and I later took French and Italian at A level. I've had a go at learning Polish here and there when I've had the time (which is not too often lately!). More recently, after meeting my husband, I began to learn Turkish and have also picked up a few words and phrases in Kurmanji and Zazaki, both Kurdish languages.

Now I am doing a PhD in bilingualism (bilingual children with autism to be more precise). I know of the benefits of being bilingual and these have made me strive to make sure my children have the opportunity I have missed. My husband and I would like our children to be able to speak at least English and Turkish (I hope they will have some understanding of Zazaki in the future but this is not a priority for the time being) but, living in England, the Turkish is not so easy to acquire. We are surrounded by English everywhere and it seems such a struggle to get the children in an environment where Turkish is spoken even a few times a week. Wherever we go, evidently English still prevails! Therefore, I am constantly trying to think of ways to help nurture my children's Turkish language learning.

Today, while at university, I stumbled across a fantastic blog called and found a great article about helping your child to become bilingual:
Do take a look as there are some brilliant tips and strategies there which I will definitely be attempting to apply to my own life!



  1. My husband has never tried to teach our kids his first languages - they only know English - it is such a shame!

  2. That is a shame. I also have trouble getting my husband to talk Turkish to our kids. Do you know your husband's first language at all? If so, maybe you could try talking to them and your husband in this language. It might persuade him to speak it more at home. Though I know how hard it can be to get into this habit.

  3. I am learning Swahili and slowly my children are picking so much up mashallah. I know how to speak basic too mashaAllah and my husband tends to teach them phrases here and there that tend to stick. I think whilst they are young they can pick up languages so easily. Their brain is like a sponge.

    1. That's great Sanaa. Kids definitely do seem to pick up languages easily. You're doing the right thing by teaching them young :) Inshallah they will learn Swahili.


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