Comments and extra thoughts on being a multilingual parent…

I often talk about the challenges of parenting, especially considering the difficulties placed by language and culture, one of the many issues associated with moving to a different country, every couple of years. That said, I took a look back at the posts published in 2012, mainly on parenting & language, and found one that gave me a very positive feedback, working as a sort of a ‘discussion forum’, that I plan on exploring/expanding some time this year. [Another one of my New Year’s Resolutions… Like everyone else, I know there’ll be a great deal of ‘procrastination’ before I’ll be able to cross tasks off my 2013 to-do list!]

Oh, well, at least, I’m taking the time to revisit thoughts/facts/articles… it’s the first step for the beginning of a good research! 😮

“Are you curious?” We are! 😮

**UPDATE: Follow-up post discussing thoughts on Diversity & Raising Children as Expats

I often talk about the challenges of parenting, especially considering the difficulties placed by language and culture, one of the many issues associated with moving to a different country, every couple of years. That said, I took a look back at the posts published in 2012, mainly on parenting & language, and found one that generated a very instructive feedback; working as a sort of a ‘discussion forum‘, that I plan on exploring/expanding at length, some time this year… [Another one of my New Year’s Resolutions… Like everyone else, I know there’ll be a great deal of ‘procrastination’ before I’ll be able to cross tasks off my 2013 to-do list!]

Oh, well, at least, I’m taking the time to revisit thoughts/facts/articles… it’s the first step for the beginning of a good research! 😮

The post that got me thinking was one related to a simple question: “What type of multilingual parent are you?”, pointed out by the Mumsnet Bloggers Network for 2012; that had been initiated by a clever quote about the experience of raising bi/multilingual children:

“…raising multilingual children is an adventure you share together – one that is a lot of fun, but for which you will need quite a lot of patience. Sometimes, linguistic development will not progress in the way you hoped. That is fine, and everything will eventually work itself out. Sharing my language with my children has been about sharing my heritage more than anything else. It might be difficult at times, but it is a gift that will last a lifetime“.

Last year’s blogpost provoked a very positive reaction, expressed through the number of visitors, and especially, throughout the comments, coming from parents, consultants, educators, expats like ourselves, or simply, other parents who echo our opinions about how challenging, adventurous and/or never-ending this experience should be.

Learning should never stop, and teaching our kids through example is the best way to keep ourselves current! At least, that’s the hope! 😮

Here are some of the comments, and based on their [shared] experiences, it could be YOUR TURN to answer – what type of multilingual parent are you? Or, even better, what type of [multilingual] parent you hope to become?

But first, let me thank all the visitors/readers who shared a comment, or who sent me a message [with your opinion/suggestion] regarding this topic. It makes the blogging experience much richer, more productive, and way more enjoyable! My deepest appreciation to all of you! ♥

VisitorMy husband is a German TCK growing up in Taiwan, and thinks in English most of the time. He is fluent in German and can read fairly well – though he is more comfortable in English. We are living in a Chinese environment and have been since we’ve been married. We had high hopes of me speaking English and him speaking German, but that didn’t work out. I’d say mainly because he didn’t think in German when the oldest was born – he rarely spoke German to anyone. So, remembering to speak it at home was difficult. He did better speaking Chinese to them.  On top of this, his family all speaks English fluently, so there was no pressure on us in that regard as well.
 I do have a question, though that I’m wondering. Will you continue to educate your children in all three languages through middle school and high school or focus more on one language? I’m just really curious about this. You seem to be really doing a great job with them right now so that they master both written and spoken of the three. Great post to ponder on… 

           
Visitor  
In our house we speak English, Spanish and Dutch and the boys seem to know all three languages equally. My five year old is a dynamo with languages. He can switch, translate and think in all three. My two year old understands all three but is not as talkative as my five year old was. We lived in Mozambique with the older one until the age of three and he was able to speak 4 languages when we lived there. It is curious to see how the different children take to the languages differently. I thought for sure my two year old would be the same since we haven’t done anything really different, but I noticed he is taking longer to use his words, although you can see he understands all three. I call Dutch the secret language in my house, because only the boys (not me) speak it. So basically this is how it works: School = English, Language we speak as a family = English, Mommy = Spanglish to the boys (more spanish), Daddy = Dutch to the boys, Empleada/Nanny = always Spanish. The boys will also take Dutch lessons once or twice a week. It is definitely challenging, but so worth it. We don’t really think about it… just the way we live our life.
                        
      
Visitor Enjoyed your post! All the more so since /multilingual-multicultural life – as mentioned by Sakti above – is part and parcel of life in India! I think it is an advantage more than a challenge, an opportunity to broaden horizons!


 
Visitor I am probably not looking at it from a parents’ perspective.  My challenge is to make sure some of our less spoken languages – that includes my mother tongue, that my grandkids can not speak! – do not become extinct!
 

      
VisitorVery interesting. I am from India and we have a different challenge as India has more than 2 dozens of official languages. I studied a different language (Odia) than my mother tongue (Bengali) and now staying in a state, which speak another language (Gujarati). Everybody in India speaks English and Hindi. So my kids (both below 6 years) now have almost learnt to speak and understand all the above languages. Yes it is a challenge.


 

VisitorThanks for the mention of our upcoming session on Emotional Resiliency in Foreign Service Kids that will be held next week (*). Even though you won’t get to see it live, AFSA will upload the video to their website for worldwide viewing. 
I wish I could comment on what kind of bilingual parent I am…. but mine would be more of what I failure I was! When my daughter was 2, we left Portugal, where we had spoken Portuguese in the home when our housekeeper was around. The housekeeper only spoke to my daughter in Portuguese from infancy, so our daughter understood Portuguese as well as English. When we left Portugal, I tried to continue the Portuguese with her, only – at the age of only 2! – she wouldn’t answer me in Portuguese and finally admonished me to “stop speaking like Dolores!” I finally gave up on it.
 

           (*) Please refer to original post for the full text, and more details on the 2012 AFSA initiative.

 
Visitor I’m inspired to speak spanish at home more now. My kids’ dad all speak Spanish and I beg them to speak Spanish to the kids but they haven’t. My mom was raised bilingual, I was until they couldn’t accurately diagnose my infant-aged hearing issues because they couldn’t tell if I didn’t hear them or didn’t understand them so they told my mom to stop speaking Hungarian to me and she did. But she still wishes she’d have kept up with it. Other countries are so great with this and the US doesn’t do enough!
 

           
VisitorThis is so interesting! We also got “moderate parent”. I try to speak spanish to them most of the time but sometimes forget. I also read to them in french and english is the main language in the household. I’m taking them to a spanish speaking playgroup in hopes Evan will be motivated by seeing other little kids speak spanish! Great post!




Updated: Thoughts on ‘what type of multilingual parent are you?’…

I’ve talked before about our family’s cultural settings – husband and wife coming from different (but not exclusive) cultures/languages, raising our 3 TCKs, all now 7 years of age, and under; as well as presented thoughts on the Creative Flow of a TCK. This past April, AFSA hosted a panel discussion on emotional resilience in third-culture kids (TCKs) with a particular focus on the Foreign Service experience, during the first week of April. Experts on the issue of TCKs are expected to discuss the issue, taking questions from the audience – too bad we´re a bit far from DC, but we´re looking forward to reading about the discussion. The main question under discussion will be why some kids adapt very well to life in the Foreign Service while others struggle [check the AFSA website for more information].

“Are you curious?”  We are!

Blog Hop: I’ve talked before about our family’s cultural settings – husband and wife coming from different (but not exclusive) cultures/languages, raising our 3 TCKs, all now 7 years of age, and under; as well as presented thoughts on the Creative Flow of a TCK. This past April, AFSA hosted a panel discussion on emotional resilience in third-culture kids (TCKs) with a particular focus on the Foreign Service experience, during the first week of April. Experts on the issue of TCKs are expected to discuss the issue, taking questions from the audience – too bad we´re a bit far from DC, but we´re looking forward to reading about the discussion. The main question under discussion will be why some kids adapt very well to life in the Foreign Service while others struggle [check the AFSA website for more information].

Phonics & Math: let’s get the family together to help!

From my/our end, we are trying to do our part of the challenging task that is raising worldy third-culture children. And we´re doing it through language. It’s already known that speaking several languages fluently increases job opportunities, makes international travel easier, and enables you to communicate with a lot more people a lot more easily. There are various theories on how to best raise multilingual kids. “One parent, one language” (OPOL for short) is popular, and to some extent that is what we’re doing in our family.

One thing we’ve learned about raising TCKs: reading is a magic tool!

We’ve found out we’re “moderate” multilingual parents… At least, that’s how we tested, according to the Multilingual Living Quiz. Which is the best “group of multilingual parents”? Hard to say, they’re all different, and unique in their own way. There’s no magic formula when it comes to raising children in a multicultural setting. I’m always talking about our multilingual household, the challenges of trying to keep up with Spanish, Portuguese and English, while assisting our 1st grader on his (now!) English homework assignments, as well as with his homeschooling English/Spanish tasks! [Note: our son had started first grade in Brazil, last February, attending a Brazilian Montessori School, and had English classes three times a week. We moved to our current post, La Paz, Bolivia, in August, so, he could begin the American School year, as a first grader…] And our oldest child is just one of the examples: there two more on the line – his younger sisters (now aged 4,5 and almost 2) are a lively part of this multilingual/multicultural environment….

Looking for “help” from flashcards, when it comes to linking the sounds to the words!

Challenging, but exciting. And we’re very satisfied with the outcome: our oldest children are capable of communicating with both sets of grandparents, watching bilingual TV, having play dates both in English and Portuguese, and, offer very positive feedback to their dad when talked to/read to in Spanish. 😮 Recently, I stumbled upon a great quote, about the experience of raising bi/multilingual children: “raising multilingual children is an adventure you share together – one that is a lot of fun, but for which you will need quite a lot of patience. Sometimes, linguistic development will not progress in the way you hoped. That is fine, and everything will eventually work itself out. Sharing my language with my children has been about sharing my heritage more than anything else. It might be difficult at times, but it is a gift that will last a lifetime“. Couldn’t agree more! 😮 

Remembering bed time stories: from mom, in Portuguese… From dad, in English!

Helping our oldest children with their homework in Portuguese, having them practice English phonics with their native-speaker father, seeing the children have routine conversations with their dad in Spanish and English; and reading bed time stories in … who knows what!

We’ve been very fortunate regarding the kids school back in Brazil (they get both Portuguese and English), and we were thankful for the opportunity to use the educational allowance for homeschooling our 1st grader when it came to supplement his English language.

All in all, it’s working, and we’re pleased with the current results. Based on the explanation for each “group of multilingual parenting styles”, the Moderate Parent has found the golden middle way of bilingual parenting. Well-informed about bilingual issues yet know that ultimately they have to make your own rules and decisions that suit your family the best. Have a healthy dose of commitment towards your bilingual endeavour, a reasonable amount of self-confidence in what you are doing, and have no problem in bending the rules when necessary and when it’s in your family’s best interest. the “moderate parents” have chosen a model, are committed to it, and don’t give up easily when troubles arise. Acquainted with worries and problems but can ride through rough times by getting the right support from certain experts, their online group and other bilingual parents.

[Test originally published in Multilingual Living Magazine]

After all that, now it’s your turn to answer: “What type of multilingual parent do you think you are?” Take the quiz and find out! Here are examples of the questions:

“When you are on the playground with your child, you…”

“When your child speaks to you in the “wrong” language, you…”

“When it comes to literature on bilingualism, you…”

“Your reaction to the word “OPOL” is…”

“Your aim is for your child is…”

And there are many more questions/concerns/curiosities… Take your time to check it out!

So, how do you think you did?

Click Here to calculate your score and find out the results! We had a lot of fun (and learned a lot!) doing this little exercise! 😮 thanks for coming along!

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: A ‘Trailing Spouse’ Speaks Out

Like many of us, Jennifer Seminara is another FSO spouse, who worked while her husband was serving overseas in Macedonia, Trinidad and Hungary. She’s been invited by Dave, the husband, to offer her thoughts on what it’s like to be a “trailing spouse.” Not pessimistic, and not overly optimistic. Just very honest, clear, realistic and sweet. My appreciation to Dave and his wife Jennifer for sharing this. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Good reading!

“I really had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to be a Foreign Service (FS) spouse. My boyfriend of five years joined the Foreign Service and asked me to marry him right before he left Chicago for his training in Washington. I didn’t know where he was headed but a life overseas as a diplomat’s wife seemed exciting and I was in.

I was in graduate school at the time, pursuing a master’s degree in public health and had grand ideas about working on public health programs in developing countries. At the time, I didn’t realize how difficult it is for the “trailing spouse” to have a career.

Being a FS spouse can be a great opportunity to stay home and raise children or pursue hobbies. Housing is covered by the U.S. Government, which makes it much easier to get by on one income, especially when living in a country with a low cost of living. Having a career as a FS spouse, however, is not easy for most.
For those that would like to work, Eligible Family Member (EFM) positions are available at most embassies but these administrative and/or low level (and usually low paying) jobs can be difficult to secure since there aren’t enough jobs for everyone who wants one. I worked as the Community Liaison Office Coordinator at two posts; there were also EFM positions for Consular Associates (which requires CON-GEN training) and Office Management Specialists (OMS/administrative assistants) in various departments. My CLO predecessor at our first post described the position as the cruise director for the embassy. There are the more serious and important parts of the job, which include providing information to newly assigned employees and families, advocating for employees and families, advising post management on quality of life and reporting to the Family Liaison Office in Washington, D.C., on education and employment at post, but a large part of the job is to build community spirit and enhance morale. In other words, the CLO plans a lot of parties, happy hours and all kinds of events to help maintain American traditions (super bowl parties, Easter egg hunts, BBQs, trick or treating, visits by Santa, etc.) and tours to help Americans get to know the host culture. I really enjoyed being a CLO but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting to do as a career and the salary I earned was far below what I could have been making in the U.S. in my field. Spouses who would rather work outside of the embassy have limited options. Despite reciprocity agreements, which the U.S. has with a number of countries, it’s difficult for many spouses to secure gainful employment at many posts around the world. Even when spouses have the legal right to work in a country, many lack the local language skills needed to find jobs.

Spouses are entitled to take language training at the Foreign Service Institute but many can’t afford to devote months to classroom study due to financial or family issues and those who do still may not be able to achieve the fluency needed to get jobs. Also, finding a job in many foreign countries is all about networking and who you know, and if you don’t know anyone and can’t speak the local language, you’ll have an uphill climb. And even if you can find a job on the local economy, salaries in many countries can be as low as $500 or $1,000 per month. FS spouses that tend to have the most luck finding work are often in fields where they can find a U.S. job that will allow them to work remotely. Teachers are always in demand, as there are international schools everywhere and you need not know the local language to teach at most of them. Personal trainers can find work in some posts, as can nurses and development workers. For spouses that don’t find jobs, it can be difficult to adapt to life overseas. Foreign Service Officers (FSO’s) have a network of Americans to interact with at the embassy, but the stay at home spouse can feel isolated and bored, especially if they don’t speak the local language well. In a way, they’re the ones who are truly living in the local culture, while their spouses are in an English-speaking, American bubble at work. Up until the 1950s, the wives of FSO’s were given formal evaluations along with their husbands, and spouses who weren’t viewed as being good hostesses – planning and hosting representational events – could negatively impact their husbands’ careers. While that’s now ancient history, some spouses do feel subtle pressure to attend all sorts of cocktail parties and events that might seem glamorous but are actually quite boring. Most trailing spouses are female and posts with large expatriate communities have plenty of groups they can join, and a lot of women manage to forge their own networks easily. But trailing men often have a harder time, because some feel awkward joining female dominated clubs or groups, and men with no jobs tend to feel a loss of identity more acutely than women do. But despite all the personal drawbacks, and career sacrifices, being a FS spouse can also be a lot of fun. Many spouses make really close friends overseas and become part of social circles that are tighter than the ones they had at home. Since all expats are by nature away from their lifelong friends and relatives, everyone has an incentive to be open to meeting new people and making friends.

Last, but definitely not least, is the fact that life overseas can be more exciting than life in the U.S. If you’re an adventurous person who is curious about the world, you’ll enjoy having the opportunity to experience a new culture, not as a tourist but as a local. And if you love to travel, living overseas will open up possibilities that would be impossible when based in the U.S. If you want to live overseas, but aren’t sure if you could do it on your own, doing it as a Foreign Service family is the way to go. You’ll have a U.S. mailing address, so you can order products online to your heart’s content, you’ll have a network of people at the embassy to help you navigate the local culture, and you’ll have free housing and education for your kids. And for those in countries with a low cost of living, you can afford the kind of household staff – cooks, cleaners, nannies, gardeners – that would be impossible in the U.S. Some get a little carried away and get so addicted to this sort of neo-Colonial lifestyle that they don’t want to return to Washington, where they have to live the kind or ordinary middle class lives they left behind before they joined the Foreign Service.” Read more from “A Traveler in the Foreign Service” here.

The April issue of the Foreign Service Journal (FSJ, April 2012) discussed the Family Member Employment, and the search for meaningful work overseas. Reading through the whole edition, you’ll find great stories about living and working as a Foreign Service spouse. Several FS spouses shared their experiences and impressions regarding working overseas. It’s an honor to be one of the contributors to this edition. Congratulations to all who contributed to that month’s issue. Here’s the link to another FS blogger, also sharing her impressions about family member employment.

Giving expats a hand

Hot off the press!

Image from AFSA.ORG (Foreign Service Journal)

Just fresh off the press: read it all!

The latest issue of the Foreign Service Journal (FSJ, April 2012) discusses the Family Member Employment, and the search for meaningful work overseas. Reading through the whole edition, you will find great stories about living and working as a Foreign Service spouse.

Several FS spouses shared their experiences and impressions regarding working overseas. It’s an honor to be one of the contributors to this edition.

Congratulations to all who contributed to this month’s issue. Here’s the link to another FS blogger, also sharing her impressions about family member employment.

Thank you for reading! 😮