For the International Day of Families, we have two special guests: Dr. Ute Limacher-Riebold and Korina Topalidou.
Ute is a multilingual Family Language Consultant and Intercultural Communication Trainer at Ute’s International Lounge. Ute holds a PhD in Romance Philology and has taught Italian historical linguistics at the Department of Romance Studies of the University of Zurich.
As a linguist and life long international, she offers tailored advice, practical solutions and support for parents who raise their children with multiple languages and cultures to bridge between research and practice. She helps multilingual families find the most suitable strategies and practical resources to maintain their home languages and cultures, whilst learning others. Since 2019 Ute collaborates with Multlingual Parenting at the EU PEaCH project, and organizes the broadcast Raising Multilinguals LIVE! together with Tetsu Yung and Rita Rosenback.
Ute is fluent in German, Italian, French, English, Dutch and Swiss German, and is improving her fluency in Spanish and Korean. She currently lives in the Netherlands with her husband and three teenage children who grow up with multiple languages too.
Korina Topalidou is a Spanish language teacher in a secondary school in London. Originally from Greece, she holds degrees in International Relations and Organisations, European Law, and Spanish Language and Culture. With her experiences as a student, translator, teacher, and expatriate, she has always been interested in languages.
Because of this, she is involved in many activities connected to multilingualism and language learning. Korina is also involved in the EU PEaCH project, where she serves as an Ambassador to promote multilingualism, and to support families and individuals in their multilingual journey.
She is also a member of language related associations in the UK such as the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum, and the Association for Language Learning. Korina is fluent in Greek, Spanish, French and English, and is mother to two multilingual children.
[Eva-Maria] Hello everybody and welcome back to another episode of much language such talk. Today you’re hearing from me, Eva-Maria, and we are dedicating this episode to the International Day of families that happened on May 15, just a couple of days ago. To celebrate this we’re finally covering a topic that we at Bilingualism Matters get a lot of questions about: multilingual families. But before we dive in, I want to remind you that you can visit our website, mlstpodcast.com for resources, links and transcripts for each episode. So you can read along while listening if you like. And you can also find links to all the cool projects and people we’ll be talking about today. For this episode, we have two wonderful guests today, Dr. Ute Limacher-Riebold and Korina Topalidou.
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[Eva-Maria] Dr. Ute Limacher-Riebold is a multilingual family language consultant and intercultural communications trainer at Ute’s International Lounge. Ute holds a PhD in Romance Philology, and has taught Italian historical linguistics at the Department of Romance Studies at the University of Zurich. As a linguist and lifelong international, she offers tailored advice, practical solutions and support for parents who raise their children with multiple languages and cultures. She helps multilingual families find the most suitable strategies and practical resources to maintain their home languages and cultures whilst learning others. Since 2019, Ute collaborates with multilingual parenting at the EU PEaCH project and organizes the broadcast raising multilinguals live together with Tetsu Yung and Rita Rosenback. Ute is fluent in German, Italian, French, English, Dutch and Swiss German, which is really impressive, and improves her fluency in Spanish and Korean at the moment. She currently lives in the Netherlands with her husband and three teenage children who grow up with multiple languages too. And then we have Korina Topalidou, she’s a language teacher in London. Originally from Greece, she holds degrees in International Relations and Organizations, European Law and Spanish Language and Culture. With her experiences as a student, translator, teacher, and expatriate, she has always been interested in languages. And because of this, she is involved in many activities connected to multilingualism and language learning. For example, Korina is involved in the PEaCH project as well, where she supports parents and educators of bilingual children as an ambassador. And she’s also a member of language related associations in the UK, such as the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum and the Association for Language Learning. Korina is fluent in Greek, Spanish, French and English and is a mother of two multilingual children as well. So, welcome!
[Ute] Thank you very much for having us.
[Korina] Thank you.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, we’re very excited to have you. Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedules, you know, with work and children. So we can have a discussion, a conversation about multilingual families and everything that comes with that. But before we actually dive into the questions that we have for you, maybe it’s best to kind of set the scene and to understand what we mean when we refer to multilingual families. What do we mean with multilingual?
[Ute] Well, with multilingual families, we mean families that have two or more languages, dialects or even sign languages, and they use them on a daily or regular basis. So I base this kind of definition on the one given by Francois Grosjean, where he says a bilingual or let’s say, a multilingual is someone who regularly uses two or more languages on a, or dialects, in their everyday lives. And as I said, I add also sign language, although sign language is not considered a language in all countries yet. So what is most important is that this definition deliberately avoids the expectations in terms of proficiency and age when the languages are acquired or learned. And it puts also the communicative function of languages first. Now bilingual can be used as an umbrella term, actually, for those who use two or more languages. But some also use the term of multilingual when more than one languages are involved. So you’re probably observed that in the past years, people tend to use more multilingual than bilingual or they use them interchangeably. But if you would, would be strict actually, the term should be used for countries or societies instead of individuals. For example, in French or Italian, I would rather use the term of plurilingue (French) or plurilingue (Italian). So there might be a change in terminology, at some point there as well towards plurilingual. But the way I use the term I always use it in correlation with family. So multilingual families, and the family being a microsociety. I think it’s still acceptable.
[Eva-Maria] Thank you, Ute, that’s, I think that’s very important to kind of be on the same page when it comes to the definition and also for the listeners to understand what we’re referring to when we talk about multilingual families. We at Bilingualism Matters, I mean, the research and Public Engagement Center is called Bilingualism Matters, but we obviously refer to one or more language. Right. So it’s just kind of to have a clear definition at the start. Yeah, thank you. So how did you develop your interest in languages? Korina?
[Korina] Yes. So grown up monolingual my first experience with foreign languages started at school age. I learned English and French at school and study Spanish and Arabic at University. However, I have to say that it was not until my Erasmus experience in Barcelona that I really realized how fascinating languages can be. And I can say that since then, my interest in language has grown throughout my life. And this is a result of my experiences as a student, as a teacher now, I have been a translator as well. And of course, now I’m a mom of two trilingual children.
[Ute] And I grew up with multiple languages, first Italian, and German and French at age six, and an English and Latin also some dead languages later at school. And I was used to switch back and forth between the international community and the languages, of course, and monolingual community where I grew up in in Italy. So I added also other languages to the plate during my studies and work at the University of Zurich, where I studied French and Italian linguistics and literature and taught also Italian historical linguistics like you mentioned before. I’ve always been interested in languages and so it’s part of me, it’s just who I am. So I like researching about languages, language contact and change. And I always have some kind of longitudinal or historical perspective on them. I think it’s a bit the deformation professionelle (English: professional deformation) .
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, so we definitely have that in common, I share that interest. That’s great. So we kind of already talked about what languages you speak, but what language is spoken in your family, in the household?
[Korina] So in my case, as I mentioned, I speak Greek, which is my mother tongue, Spanish, English and French. My husband is a native Spanish speaker who speaks Greek, English and French. So same languages, we share the same languages but a different level. Our older daughter, who is now four years old, she is trilingual, I could say that now she is quite confident using English, Spanish and Greek. And we have a younger member in our family, she is two years old. And she uses just words and she started using some short sentences. And she can use the three languages now.
[Eva-Maria] That’s very cool. And Ute, what about you?
[Ute] Yeah, well, I speak, as you mentioned before, I speak German, Italian, French, Swiss, German and English, a bit of Spanish and a few Italian dialects, Dutch, of course. And I’m currently learning Korean. But in our family, we mainly speak German, English and Dutch, and Swiss German and Italian in this order of frequencies. So my husband speaks also Swiss German, German, English, French, and Dutch. So it’s a great base for a multilingual family to have both parents who speak several languages, and my children also learn to speak French and Spanish at school, and my son, also is learning a bit of Chinese so, but they all have different degrees of fluency in these languages, which is very obvious in multilingual families, I think.
[Eva-Maria] But that’s, that’s really interesting. And it must be, especially for an outsider coming in, that must be quite an adventure to experience and I would love to be a fly on the wall just to kind of see how you guys communicate at home. That would be really interesting. That would be a whole research on its own probably. (laughs) So how, because I’m guessing that all of these languages have different, are used differently. So what can you, like is it context specific I sit situation specific? How are these languages used by your family?
[Ute] So generally speaking, German is the main language we use in the family but with school related topics, we use usually English, or my children use English and then we keep our English and these specific contexts. And my husband and I use English on a daily basis for our work. We live in the Netherlands so Dutch has become one of our most important and dominant languages in the family as well. I personally make sure to foster all my languages throughout the week. So I can share with you my personal use of further languages as all our family members have different schedules with regards to the languages. So I have Dutch, English and German every day like my children as well and my husband, and then I have dedicated days. On Mondays and Tuesdays I focus on French and Italian. So I read books and follow news and I have most of my clients who speak French and Italian on Mondays and Tuesdays, and Wednesdays is rather English and German. And Thursdays I squeeze in a little bit of Spanish for myself. And Fridays is all languages Saturdays is my Korean, and Sundays is our Swiss German family language day. So this is where we foster the, if you want the weakest language in our household as it is the only spoken only language that we have. So we decided together with our children to have one full day where we only speak Swiss German.
[Eva-Maria] I think that’s fascinating. That’s, and also the discipline that you have. I wish I have that. I wish I had the the discipline to say like, okay, on Mondays, I read Dutch news and I only like read Dutch books and all of that on. I don’t have that. So maybe I’ll take you as an example.
[Ute] There are moments where where this whole system is disturbed somehow or is not, it’s falling apart. But I tried to stick to it as much as I can even if it’s maybe instead of five hours, it’s half an hour that that’s enough.
[Eva-Maria] That makes sense because life is unpredictable.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah. And Korina, how do you go about that?
[Korina] So how are those languages used? Let’s see. I speak mainly Greek with the girls and my husband speaks Spanish. My husband and I always have spoken Spanish between us. So we continue. The girls use the English language at the daycare and the minority language, so Spanish and Greek at home. However, I have to say that I have noticed that lately, when they play together without us being around, English is their preferred language. I absolutely understand as they spend the day at the daycare. So this is what they’re more familiar with. At home daily, we don’t use English, of course, we need to speak English for our jobs. We need to speak English outside of the home, we live in in London. So this is what we use. But at home we don’t use English as a family except if there is a need. So when we have international friends who do not speak our languages, we need to speak English. And this is absolutely fine. So I speak to the girls in English and they reply to English to me. But of course, as you know, unfortunately, it hasn’t happened for long due to all the COVID-19 restriction. So it’s a language that we don’t use at home now.
[Eva-Maria] Oh, yeah, that’s, that’s interesting. And yeah, I mean, if the children are used to using English in like a playing context, that would make sense if they continue using that language, right?
[Korina] Yes, we have learned some good strategies, how to make them reply in our language. It’s not always easy.
[Eva-Maria] Oh, I can imagine Yeah. Okay. So I mentioned in the introduction and now Ute, you referred to clients. So you are a consultant when it comes to languages and multilingual families. Can you tell us more about what that job entails?
[Ute] Yes, well, in 2014, I started my business Ute’s International Lounge to support international families who usually are also multilingual and multicultural, and whose children grow up abroad. So the reason for this was that I observed since I was a little girl already that internationals tend to struggle with finding ways to maintain their home languages and cultures when living abroad or crossculturally, especially when the parents have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. And when the families move countries, which means that the language needs change and shift. So in my practice, I help families maintain their home languages and cultures during their international more or less mobile life. And I focus on effective intercultural communication actually, among these multilingual parents, and then the whole family. So starting from very beginning from the very beginning, even among couples before they have children, and then throughout the the childhood or the international lifespan. So what I do have for the consultations, and also training programs for parents and professionals, one of these trainings is called ‘Enjoy raising children with multiple languages‘. And I chose this as an acronym actually. And it is aimed at parents from zero to four, then four to seven, seven to 10, and 10 to 18 year old children, and professionals who work with multilingual children. So in my work, I have a child- centered approach. So what I help parents with is, if they wonder, for example, how to transmit their languages to their children, when to introduce new ones, what languages to maintain after international moves, how to support the school language when it’s not one of the home languages, and respond to people who are not supportive and what to do when children don’t respond in the target language, how to motivate children to speak the home language and how to foster literacy skills in the home language in addition to the school language, what to do when expectations are not met, and many more, so I work closely with also speech therapists and special educational needs experts with baby sign language trainers as well, and other professionals who support language development in children. So it’s not only me, it’s also others that I collaborate with. I also help these parents decide what school to choose for their children and make them aware of what effect the school language can have on their children’s home language development, for example, Fact is that I firmly believe that every parent should have access to quality information. When it comes to raising children with multiple languages and cultures. Because I’ve been on the internet, you can find all kinds of things, depending on what you’re looking for. Maybe you don’t get all the responses. So I organize some things for free like every Wednesday, every last Wednesday of the month, I hold free online meetings on multilingualism that take place via zoom. I also have a Facebook group called multilingual families where parents, educators, researchers, and others can share their experience, questions, research, and they can connect and support each other. It’s very important that there is mutual support and understanding. And together with Tetsu Yung and Rita Rosenback from multilingual parenting, every first and third Tuesday of the month, we have a broadcast called Raising Multilingual Live where we interview professionals and parents on topics of raising children with multiple languages. So this is, in a bigger nutshell what I’m doing.
[Eva-Maria] That’s fantastic. And I’m sure the examples that you gave of like the questions you address, I’m sure that resonates with a lot of families that, or parents that are listening to this podcast, so it’s very, very good that you make the information accessible for everyone. That’s fantastic. So talking about your professional work, in the introduction, I also mentioned that the both of you are involved in the EU PEaCH project. Can you tell us more about what that is?
[Ute] Yes, I do collaborate together with multilingual parenting, which is a organization led by Rita Rosenback at the PEaCH project, which is a EU funded project within the Erasmus Plus Program. PEaCH stands for Preserving and Promoting Europe’s Cultural and linguistic Heritage through empowerment of bilingual children and families. And you can find more about this on the website that is bilingualfamily.eu. So it was launched in 2019 between the University of Ghent in Belgium, the family language coach rita rosenback, and her Finnish company, Multilingual Parenting, where I collaborate with, and the communication company PMF in Italy. The project aims to support bilingual families and provides concrete guidance actually, for parents raising bilingual children, as well as provides practical support to educators on how to support, maintain and develop a child’s home language. Within this project, we have published a guide for parents how to raise a bilingual child, which contains research based information about bilingual development, as well as expert advice and a range of ready to use activities for practicing language at home. So the guide is available for free in six languages: English, French, German, Italian, Romanian, and Spanish, for now, maybe there will be others, we don’t know. And at the end of this year, they will also be guide for educators available on the site. So on the website, you can find also more information about this project and also resources to foster the languages at home. So and as you mentioned before, since February 2021. I’m also one of the more than 100 PEaCH ambassadors, and I hand it over to Korina to maybe talk a little bit more about our work that we’re doing together for PEaCH.
[Korina] Yes, I can speak about our role as ambassadors, We support the project positive message about multilingualism, We have high quality training that covers the main aspects of raising and educating bilingual and multilingual children. And of course, we share this information, relevant information to parents and educators. I need to say here that I have shared it with a lot of parents with many colleagues of mine, many teachers, and after sending the guide most of the parents, the most common comment that I hear from parents, is: thank you Korina, this is exactly what I needed. And I think this is amazing, because this is all the information. I can speak now not just as ambassador, but as a multilingual mom as well. It’s only information we need a very well written, very well explained in some pages. So this is amazing. The project I can say it’s very well organized, Ute has described it very, very well. And I can say that everyone is very enthusiastic. I’m really proud to be part of it.
[Eva-Maria] That sounds like an amazing project. And it must be so rewarding to actually be in such a enthusiastic and multilingual environment as well. That sounds fantastic. Now you have all these resources, but I’m guessing that making the decision to raise multilingual children, to have a multilingual household and everything that comes with it, the challenges but also the benefits, that is quite a task and it’s also quite a difficult decision to make I’m guessing. So what is the decision making process for you know, you maybe as mothers to raise a multilingual family
[Korina] well for us, it was quite natural, I can say, we never had a detailed plan. But we both agreed quite early that we want to pass our native languages to our kids. What we feel now is that the most natural way for our family is for each parent to speak, read and play in their native language. As I mentioned earlier, I mainly use Greek, my husband mainly us uses Spanish. But of course, it doesn’t mean that I don’t speak any Spanish or my husband doesn’t speak any Greek in front of the girls, it’s, we have to be very flexible. When there is a need, we switch language and that at least with my family, it works perfectly fine. Actually, it is great that both me and my husband, we can communicate in the same three languages, it really helps the dynamic of the family. And I think the most important is that we both value equally the three languages, we know why we want to pass it to the girls, we know that all of them are, you know, we feel that it’s there very value from from everyone in the family.
[Ute] Yes. And I could say all of the above, for our family as well. So for us, it was never a question not to raise our children with our languages, it was more a question of what language to transmit first. So when our son was born, we were living in Italy, and I was living in Italy or and working in an Italian context. But still, I wanted to pass on also Italian to my child, because we didn’t know whether we would move to another country or not, it was quite, the probability was very high that we would at some point. So I said, I want to start with Italian. And it was the most spontaneous language to speak with my child, with my son when he was born. So we made the decision at the beginning to pass on Swiss German and Italian in an Italian context, but also in German as the language that my husband and I were talking to each other at that time. But then when we moved to the Netherlands and my twin daughters were born a year later, actually, the whole situation changed. So I’m not going into details, because it would take too long. But let’s say that our main languages shifted, they are still all in the picture. But we put more focus on German, as it was a language that at some point, we decided together with our children to focus on more. And Italian got a little bit in the background, also, because we didn’t have enough other people in our life who would foster this language on a daily basis. And it was too much for me to keep this keep doing this. And so I must say, the decision making process, it is a process, it’s not something that we decided at the beginning, at least not for our family. And that stands for that for the next 15, 18 years. So we had adjusted our strategies along the way several times.
[Eva-Maria] That makes sense, also, when the circumstances change. So you mentioned that, you know, the environment, the language of the environment, the exposure and everything that that of course changes as well. And we’re going to get more into like how important the input is. I like what you mentioned about that you value the same languages and that you want to pass that on to your children, because language, the languages that we speak, those are part of who we are, right, that’s part of our identity. And it would be a shame if we would deny that to our kids, because then they will only know a certain part of who you are as a parent. Right. So that’s, I think that’s a very beautiful message. So when making this decision, or the decision process, as you mentioned Ute, what are some other common factors involved when making a decision like that, because there might be problems that you might encounter when you as parents don’t share the same languages, right? Or when you’re when one of the parents is monolingual, for example. So what are those factors? Do they play a role as well?
[Ute] I think they do play a role and fundamental role. Now in our family, they didn’t because we were lucky that my husband and I speak the same languages. And that I also learned his language, Swiss German quite well, which as I said before, is is a spoken language only. So we can support each other. But in other settings where one parent does not understand or does not speak the partner’s language, there need to be other kinds of strategies or agreements at hand. And this depends really on every family. But I I can maybe compare this to the fact that my parents in law are monolingual, rather monolingual, Swiss German. So for them, of course, hearing me speak Italian or even German, High German, Standard Deutsch with my children is already a step forward, but they have been so supportive, I think, because I was very determined and strict in this. So I would not accept a no and that was maybe my influence on it. But I think it’s also because they knew what I was doing. And they saw that my husband and I were on the same page with it, as I said before, the first step to take to make sure that the parents are on the same page and that they can support each other. And this I must say, even if you do not understand or speak your partner’s language, but that you value at least the language of the partner.
[Eva-Maria] Korina, do you want to add something to this?
[Korina] Yes, for us other factors that played the role in the decision was that we have monolingual family members as well, in the wider picture, you know, the family, like monolingual grandparents. So it’s very important for us so that the girls can communicate with them. Also, you know, personally, I believe that if the language is involved, it’s easier to transmit traditions. And it might help them define, you know, their identity, language and culture, I believe they are very well connected, aren’t they?
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, that’s a very good point.
[Ute] Absolutely. And I think also, well, languages come with culture. And when there is motivation to be able to speak with extended family, peers, or friends, or whoever, with the community, then there is a way to get there. So the motivation, I would put it really in bold letters.
[Korina] Actually, I think it’s also the best strategy for us, because I know, my girls haven’t seen the Spanish family and the Greek family for long. So now we use video calls. And it really helps them because of course, I’m the only input of Greek here, but sometimes it’s not enough. So I know, they really want to speak with the grandparents. The grandparents can read some books, they play some games, you know, they play some games with some games with them. And it really helps
[Eva-Maria] Grandparents are the best, aren’t they? (laughs) So now that we talked about, like how you decided to raise your children multilingualy to reap the benefits, I’m guessing that there’s also some difficulties. Maybe you have to overcome some prejudices in daily life. I don’t know if your maybe your parents in law had a couple of like, prejudices when you said that you were going to raise your children multilingually, maybe not, maybe they were supportive from the get go. That’s fantastic. But I’m guessing that not everybody is as supportive. So what would be some of the difficulties that you might be encountering? If you have examples?
[Korina] Yes, I can give you an example. Actually, it’s very technical now. Well, lately, our daughter, the older ones, she’s four as we said. She uses English a lot at home. So as I mentioned, we know very well, we have to be very consistent with our languages, we have learned some strategies, you know, to help her respond in the minority languages. However, I have to say here that as a, as a busy mom of two in London, it’s not always easy. You know, sometimes kids are just tired, or you’re in a hurry, and you need to communicate quickly. So I would say that it’s not always easy to stick to your plans. So you have to be very flexible, we have a plan. I know I need to speak Greek. When she doesn’t respond, I know very well, the theory what I need to do, but it’s not always applicable. It’s, I’m in a hurry, I need to communicate with my daughter, we need to go to a ballet class or anywhere. So it has to be quick. And it’s impossible always to stick. I think this is one of the difficulties I have in everyday life.
[Eva-Maria] That makes perfect sense. And I’m sure a lot of people can relate to that. Yeah,
[Ute] Yes, absolutely. I can relate to that. And I think it’s, it’s the reality in, in our families and every family, right, and we are busy, we try to do the best we can. And again, it’s the motivation, not only for the children, but also for the parents. Because if you have a child that responds in the other language, and you want the communication to flow, maybe that is a moment where you don’t insist too much on the home language, fostering the home language, but rather on the communication, because if the communication doesn’t flow, then all attempts to maintain the home language will also go just down the drain. So I insist again, on motivation, and also for the parents. So if I feel frustrated to foster my language with my children in given contexts, when the contexts make it not easy for me, then my children are also respond in a certain way, maybe also refusing to talk back or to respond in the language that we we expect them to respond in. So in my experience, now, my children are all teenagers, so they go to an English speaking school, and they’re immersed into English and in Dutch, so maintaining our home languages was more challenge, I must say when they started daycare in Dutch and then school in English, for obvious reasons. And I mean, this is, is proven also by a lot of research. I think the main challenge for us was to keep this motivation going and to adjust our plan or our expectations rather than plans to what our children every single one can do with the resources with the time with the input that we can provide in that given time. So that was the adjustment that we had to do several times. And then also another difficulty that we encountered in our family was That one of my daughters needed speech therapy. And it was given in English. And we have other languages as well. So we were fortunate that I had some knowledge about what to watch out for and what to focus on. And I could work together with a speech therapist to fill the gaps, and to work on what we had to do at home. And I think it’s something that many families don’t want to think about. I mean, who wants to think about this, but yeah, I have three children, even if you have two children, one child, it can always happen that at some point, your child needs some kind of support, whatever this is, whether it is for sports, or whether it is for maths, and it can be for language. So, and knowing this shouldn’t keep anyone from transmitting language and insisting yeah, and and keeping up with that language. But I think there is been a wake up call for some families I work with, when I tell them, okay, you have a speech therapist, who works with your child, maybe two hours, three hours a week, which is a lot, usually, maybe it’s only half an hour a week. You have to do the rest of the work at home, in your home languages. And many parents then are afraid to go ahead and tend to focus only on the school language, because it’s the most important one for the children to succeed academically. But ‘mI always supporting these families and telling them, please go ahead and support your child with your home languages as well. And it will maybe take a bit more time and effort. But at the end, in the long run, you will only do them a favor.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, I think that’s a very good message. And also what you said about being flexible. I think that, because when you think about raising multilingual children and just multilingualism in general, there’s a lot of ideology that comes into play, but that just doesn’t always play out in real life that way, right? So I think being flexible is probably one of the key messages. That’s very important. That’s very good. So Korina, now you mentioned that, you know, in theory, you know what to do, but then in real life, like I said, Just now, it just doesn’t always happen that way. So what are some tips that you sought out for the bilingual family life?
[Korina] So as a secondary language teacher for 10 years now, I believe I know well how young people learn a foreign language. However, as a multilingual Mom, I had to look for information about the process of language acquisition, I got a lot of information about family language strategies, about different methods. I read a few books about raising multilinguals, I had to look for engaged in activities. I had to learn some nursery rhymes. And dearlyaily, I had to do a lot of homework. It’s very important that I participated in some workshops and trainings organized by family language consultants, like Ute. And I really recommend them, they can really help and they make, you know, multilingual life much easier.
[Eva-Maria] That was a great plug for Ute’s workshops. (laughter)
[Ute] Thank you. Thank you very much.
[Korina] Well, it’s true. I’ll say again, yeah.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, no, I can, I can totally see that that would help with some of the insecurities and some of the questions you might have. So I think that’s that’s a pretty good recommendation.
[Korina] Yeah. And I believe multilingual parents, they don’t need to expect a problem to arise, you don’t have to wait for a problem to arise. Like, it’s, it’s nice. If you get the information, I worked with languages, I work with young people, it’s, it’s things I know, I’m very familiar. But still, I learned a lot of things from those workshops. So I think it’s very important. If you wait for the problem. I’m not saying it’s late. Of course, it’s not late, you need to ask advice. But it’s so nice when you get informed and you know what you’re doing. And also, you know, many times you have to speak with your partner, sometimes, you know, the wider family’s involved. So sometimes you need to inform them as well, or as Ute said earlier, she spoke when your children were older, they had to speak about them about languages, they had to decide their plan. So I think it’s nice if you get the information you already it’s like, you know, the new moms when you’re pregnant, you learn about how babies sleep, or maybe their psychology, you read books, this is another, you know, area and very interesting one where you need to get informed.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, no, you make a very good point. And I think it’s a good idea to actually not wait for a problem to arise, but maybe even get the information beforehand. You might not even need to fall back on that. But it’s always it’s always good to be equipped, to have the right tools to have the right language to address these problems when they arise. Right
[Korina] Yeah, absolutely.
[Eva-Maria] So we already stated that you guys are in different countries, right? Ute is in the Netherlands, Korina is in the UK, coming from different countries, living in international communities. So which has since you work with a lot of different families, you mentioned that on Mondays and Tuesdays you focus on like French and Italian clients. I think that’s very neat. But would you give different advice to families in different places, like do you have to tailor, I mean, I’m guessing it’s very individual for each family anyway. But do you have to pay attention to the environment that they’re in as well?
[Ute] Yes, absolutely. If you compare, for example, the UK to the Netherlands, as you mentioned, these two countries now, and you see the the numbers in the Netherlands, for example, 94% of the Dutch speak at least one foreign language, and 77% of them speak at least two languages in addition to Dutch. And if I’m not mistaken, in the UK, the situation is that 38% of the UK citizens report that they can speak and I quote “well enough to have a conversation, at least in one language other than English”. So in the Netherlands, we might potentially be more aware of the importance to support other languages and cultures. And I must say that the integration somehow can only happen when there is understanding and acceptance towards the culture and also the language. And I think here, more and more schools and communities and including also companies are embracing diversity in cultures and languages. So they’re moving away from considering the monolingual, monocultural as the norm. As for my clients, in my practice, I usually start from the core family, so from the inside out, if you want. But, of course, I also need to consider the broader community, the society where they live in, so the macro society if you want. So to help this, of course, as I mentioned before, something that is really helpful is if the partner is on the same page. But coming back to your question, is it country specific. I think it’s a situation specific, where you live in the country, how the society around you is responding to you being different and coming from a different country, and speaking another language, and what I always say and hearing adopt an African saying, to my purpose, you need a multilingual village to raise a multilingual child. So what can you find where you live? Who can you find where you live, who can be supportive of the languages that you need in your family, which is the first world so to say for the very young ones, where we start with and also in the major or macro society, so in the groups that you are in the schools and in the broader community. So trying to find out how to find helpers for your language is one of the first tasks that I give parents. So to make a list, who is there? And how long will they be on the same page and in the picture, so is it only for the first year or for two years or five years, because many families have maybe, Au Pairs or nannies or a grandma who lives with them, but then they move abroad and everything changes. So taking this into account is also very important. And to have these short and longer term goals. And to be a bit realistic about the situation. I often see parents who are multilingual themselves, they want to Oh, well, I speak five languages, and my partner speaks other four, let’s just shower our children with all these languages. And then I say, okay, that’s very nice. It’s, it’s amazing, but what are the languages that your child actually needs? And how is your child responding? I mean, in the first half year, year or two, maybe they’re not responding in a way that you can make further plans. But if you really focus on the communication skills of the child, what kind of communication style do you have as parent, your partner, the community and your child? And that’s a bit complex, but it’s highly interesting for me.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, no, you’re completely right. I completely agree that it’s, it’s very interesting. And you mentioned that the child has something to say about this as well, right? Especially the older it gets, it might have formed their own opinions on like, I actually really don’t enjoy speaking this language, especially when you know, other factors as friends and school and, you know, pop culture, when all of that comes into the picture, it might get even more problematic. So you have to take all of that into account. And I think it’s great that there is actual, like resources and people that you can ask if you have these questions. So yeah, thanks for, thanks for doing this. It’s fantastic. Yeah,
[Ute] Maybe I can add something else because sometimes you think that highly international places are, or multilingual places are more language friendly, but they are not necessarily intrinsically language friendly for all the languages, maybe only for some of them. And also in these kinds of places. For example, The Hague, I live near the Hague. We have many international schools and multilingual families tend to send their children to these international schools with the aim of raising multilinguals. Right? But what about the local language then? So we sometimes start with some goals in mind, and then might not find a reaction or it might not go in that direction that we expected at the beginning. So I think it’s pretty much depends on, on what your family language goals are.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah. And that’s very individual. So I actually have a question about your children. I know that Korina, now your children are quite young. So they’re four and two you mentioned. So they might not have made a decision. But Ute, your children are teenagers? Right? Do they like the same languages, like do their share, or are they different for each of them?
[Ute] They are different. They all share English and German, to the same extent, more or less, but I have one daughter, she doesn’t like German that much. She prefers English, and that’s fine. But she also speaks German, and she reads German. And she speaks German with the extended family. So let’s say that is what she needs at the moment. But I had some discussions with her and we were talking about her language preferences, and it’s fine. She, she is not so language oriented, like my other two children. Whereas my, my son is very interested in languages, generally speaking, so he’s curious about them, he wants to learn more, he tries to compare them. So his perspective is, is different from the one of his sisters. And my other daughter, she also likes Dutch very much, he has a lot of Dutch friends. So although they all grow up in the same situation, almost same linguistic situation and social situation that we are in, they have different preferences. Some parents consider it disorienting. Because it’s not like what you maybe expect. But I find it very interesting. And I decided very early on that I support them with whatever decision they make. And as I said before, what I focus mostly on is to have an effective communication that we really keep the communication connection as strong as possible.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, that’s, that’s very important. But I can see why that might be disorienting for some parents, because you can’t plan that right. And that’s where the flexibility comes back in. Yeah.
[Ute] No, no, you can’t. And I must say, I have also the experience that I refuse to speak my parents language for several years, twice, during my life. So I know what to expect. And I know also that this can be, I wouldn’t say reverse because it’s nothing negative. It is development, it’s a process that we go through. I’m confident about is we get them all the tools that they need. So whenever they need to implement their their language skills, they will have the tools, and this is all that we parents I think can do.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, that’s perfect. Now Korina, you mentioned that your daughter like plays in English or have you have you observed any preferences in her maybe?
[Korina] Yes, she definitely prefers to speak in English. She doesn’t do it with us, but she does it with her sister a lot. So when they play the two of them, she uses English what I do then when I listen to them, you know, I go in the playroom and I say something in Greek and then maybe she might switch, but she has definitely she prefers it. Of course, she’s confident to speak Greek and English. But yeah, definitely, it’s her preference. But it’s I guess it’s normal, it depends the day and the school. The other day, she came at home after school and she explained to her dad, I have a a video of this is very cute. She explained how we can put seeds, water, sand, and soil to make some plants. Of course, he didn’t have the vocabulary in Spanish, she was speaking with her dad. So she explained everything in English, which is absolutely fine. I know that with time, and next time, probably we go to play outside, we can use what she learned, but use our languages. So she will have the vocabulary. So we are quite relaxed with this. Because we know it’s a lot happening, a lot of learning happening for her. And we are here to support. As, as Ute mentioned earlier, I’m not going to force here, you know, it’s it’s well, in that case, it’s not here, she’s quite young. But I know how to help here. But I understand and I respect her preferences. Now, of course she doesn’t understand that she chooses this language, but we totally understand.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, Oh, that must be so interesting to see them grow up and the languages evolve and change and like, I would, for me, it would probably just be like language acquisition research, but I would, I would love to just like observe that that’s that’s really interesting.
[Korina] Yeah, and it’s great. Also, I have, you know, sometimes I take that when I have time I take notes of what they say. And it’s very interesting. Also the syntax is you know, the other day she said: Can I have something to play with, but she said it in Spanish, everything. And this ‘with’ was at the end, ‘con’. And it doesn’t really make sense in Spanish. But it was very cute because we know how she thinks, we know sometimes she translates. So it’s really nice to see, you know, the linguistic development.
[Eva-Maria] Wow, can you can you say how she said it in Spanish?
[Korina] Yes. She said: Puedo tener algo jugar con, puedo tener algo jugar con (laughter). That was that was very cute.
[Eva-Maria] Oh, that’s adorable. Yeah. And you can you can totally see where the transfer comes from. Yeah.
[Ute] Yes, but that was also one of the issues that my one of my daughter had, she would use the English syntax for German and the German syntax structure for English. And that was where then the teachers were saying, we have a problem. And I said, No, we don’t, it’s just a way to, to learn the language, to make sense of out of them. And after a while it was gone. I mean, she, she sorted her pieces. And she could then articulate the sentences in the correct order in both languages. But of course, for this, we need to be aware of what basic structure there is in the different languages the child is exposed to. And if a teacher or a health practitioner or anyone else is not aware of this, then they will point out that it’s a problem and it being a problem for a child can be very detrimental for their development, overall development, because giving them the impression, there’s something wrong with me is not nice. So this is I think, where we have to empower parents and say no, stand up for your child and make sure that they get the help that they need, and that the people who are giving the help are actually also knowing what they’re doing. I know, I’m very strict on that. But I have my experience with that.
[Eva-Maria] No, I think it’s very, very important that you emphasize that I was about to ask whether you could clarify that what Korina’s daughter is doing that, it’s not problematic at all, because we can I mean, especially when you speak both languages, if you speak Spanish and English, and you can kind of tell whether transfers coming from it’s adorable, right? We can say like, Oh, that’s cute, because we also, as experts know that it’s going to stabilize eventually. But people who a) might not know the languages, or b) might not be educated in language learning and language acquisition and how it goes, might actually flag that as a problem as a potential, you know, source of confusion even right.
[Korina] Yeah, I don’t know, I was about to say that.I think that many parents are very worried. That’s why I said it’s nice if you get informed of when you’re expecting a bilingual baby, because they’re very worried sometimes it’s not just the syntax, it’s also the the grammar that they mix together. So my daughter many times she says instead of planes she says playandos, she uses the, but from Spanish. So you know, a parent who is not very sure if they’re doing the correct thing or not. They might say, Oh, no one is going to understand them in the daycare. And it’s something they’re not going to bring it to her. So I think it’s a very common worry, let’s say for multilingual parents.
[Ute] Yes, absolutely. But I would like to point out anyways, also the fact that for parents who worry and where the children are not able to form sentences, age appropriate sentences, I might say, in their respective languages for a longer time, it’s better to search for help, at least to have them assessed or to ask someone professional, is this still in the norm? Or should I worry? There are some some signs for that. As parents, we are anyways, observing that development, and we have somehow this gut feeling there’s something not right, at some point. But if this gut feeling comes from a place where we are informed, and we are knowledgeable, it is different than when this gut feeling comes from a place of fear or worry in the first place. So I think being informed is the first thing to do.
[Eva-Maria] There is no shame in asking for help at all. Absolutely not. And I think that’s a very, very good point. So moving on, we actually got a couple of questions from our listeners, from the podcast community. And Paloma sent us a question and asked how much input is needed for each language? Because exposure matters, right?
[Ute] Yes, it does matter. But usually, to this question, I have a long list of questions myself. So I would ask something like whatWhat language are we talking about? Is this now the L1, or LA, or the alpha language, so the first language that you’re speaking with your child, or is it an additional language? Is this language my child needs on a daily basis? Or is it a nice to have one? How old is the child? What are the language goals who can provide the input in these languages? So you can see I go on and on. How does the child respond to the language? Yeah, it depends of course, how old it is if the child is verbal already or not. And again, what communication style do you as parents have? And what communication style does the child have, which is very, very important when it comes to fostering not only understanding, but also speaking of the language? So, yes, how much?
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, I’m guessing there’s no clear cut answer.
[Ute] No, it’s not in the number. So if the languages are not needed by the child on an everyday basis, and in everyday interactions, or if the child doesn’t get the needed exposure in it to reach the language goals, or if the child lacks motivation, then these are the languages that are too many. So focus on those where the child has a need is motivated gets enough exposure and qualitative high exposure. So not only put on your jacket and clean up your room, but meaningful conversations where you can have turns, each one. And when you where you can explore together the vocabulary that the child is building.
[Korina] Yeah, for me, input is very important as well, when raising multilinguals, I believe you need to be very realistic with your plans and goals. So it’s crucial the quantity and the quality of the exposure, you know, each child has in its language. And I say each child, because sometimes they don’t have the same exposure between siblings. I mean, and yes, of course, as a mom, I would love them, I’m talking about my experience and my family, I would love them to be able to speak and write in five or six different languages. But how realistic is it? So I believe in my family, we don’t have enough time for this, because our goals and in our plan for Greek and Spanish is for them to read, be able to write as well, maybe one day studying those, you know, in this languages. So at the moment at the age they have, it’s not realistic, I believe it’s something that has to do with each family. It’s something very personal, I believe.
[Eva-Maria] I’m sure that resonates with a lot of people. Yeah, that makes sense. So we got another question on Instagram from Caro, who asks: what is a good strategy for the parents for talking to each other when the kids are present but not addressed? So for the for the parents to decide on a mutual language? Or would it be, is it a good idea to switch? Or do you have to stick with the language? Or would it be confusing? And I’m sure that’s, that’s a question that a lot of bilingual, multilingual parents ask themselves, right.
[Ute] Yes. Let me go to the first part of the question, so about the good strategy to use for parents talking to each other. So it depends on the parents again, do they both speak each other’s language and the age of the children? So are we talking about babies, toddlers, or are they verbal ready. So in multilingual families, where both parents speak another language, ususally they opt for OPOL, one person, one language strategy. But as soon as the children are then verbal, and contribute to conversation in the family, for example, around the dinner table, the strategies need to be adjusted somehow. So families can either opt for one of the parents languages as family language. And here I usually suggest if this is possible, that they use a minority language, because it’s the one who is more likely to suffer once children go to school, etc. And using the minority language also helps to increase the exposure of the language and sends the child the great message that that language is valuable, or they choose a third language to speak among them. So this third language is one that their children will need to learn to understand to as conversations around the table, as I said, will otherwise become challenging because the conversation won’t flow. So communication needs to flow and everyone needs to keep engaged about choosing one language. Consistency is the key. Especially when children are younger and have to understand how the language works. Yeah, how communication works. What word and phrase belongs to what language, then it’s better if the parents can manage to be more consistent in their language use. I mean, in multilingual families, we do switch. It’s just normal, we switch from one language to the other, we do mix when we are tired when things need to be said and done quickly. That’s very normal. But if a parent then realizes Okay, I do this 90% of the time, then maybe you want to sit down and say okay, I have to work on that. And I see that many parents think about this problem even before having children and I find this amazing, they train themselves before the child is even born. And this is a great start because once a child is born, you have so many things on your plate, you cannot focus on on some language, or on shifting your language use and paying attention to this. So and when children are older and are fluent in all languages, you can opt for the time and place strategy for example, where you then choose to speak one l language in given situations?
[Eva-Maria] No, yeah, that’s a great answer. I just have a question now that I come to think of it, because I know that you and your husband speak German, right? Except for Sundays. (laughter)
[Ute] We switched to other languages.
[Eva-Maria] Switch. Yes. But Korina mentioned that you and your husband , you speak Spanish to each other, right? That’s your love language?
[Korina] Yes, it is. Although let’s say if we have dinner altogether, and my husband speaks Greek, so that helps a lot. So I speak to the girls in Greek, and he can participate. Most times he replies in Spanish. So I speak my language, I speak his language, but everyone understands perfectly, because his Greek, it’s quite well, actually, for Spanish speaker it’s impressive. So we have common languages, we don’t need to use a third language. But here, I need to say that my Spanish is much better, much quicker than his Greek. And also I can express myself in Spanish, I can say everything, my feelings, everything I want to say to my girls, or, or my husband. So it doesn’t happen with English. So when I speak English to my girls, it’s very weird, you know, because I don’t feel it like my language. But I do feel it with Spanish. So many times went up in in the dinner table that I mentioned before, speaking more Spanish than Greek. But when we speak Greek as well, he understands. So everyone participates, and the conversation flows very well, which is the the main object, of course, but yeah, it’s it’s so nice and the dynamic, it’s so good. When parents share the same languages, even our fourth language is the same. So even one day, if they learn French, we share this with my husband as well. So it’s I think, for a consultant, we might be the ideal scenario. I don’t know, Ute knows better, no?
[Ute] Yes, absolutely, yes. It’s a very good example to give, you know, if you have successful families who juggle these languages and where actually you create the best environment within your home. To foster all the languages, it’s actually what we wish for. The communities could do as well, right? So that you can switch you can share different languages without being judged or without having any problems to understand each other. But we can do this in our families. This is possible. That’s great.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, that would be the ideal scenario. So we do have one more question. And that’s about literacy development. We got that question from Jo. So how do you best support literacy development in multilingual children when they speak more than two languages? And maybe even because, you know, we have a Spanish English Greek family at the table here, where there’s different alphabets involved, right? So how would you go about that?
[Ute] Generally speaking, you would start from the very beginning and the pre-literacy phase already, because well, oral language is a substrate for literacy. And this is a study by Christensen, Zubrich, Lawrence, Mitrou and Taylor. Preschool children with very strong receptive vocabularies tend to have better listening comprehension, word recognition and reading comprehension in the later primary years. And I like always to refer to Holly Scarborough’s reading rope. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this. She is a leading researcher of early language development and its connection to later literacy. So with three languages, of course, they transparent languages like Spanish or rather like Polish. Do they have the same alphabet? And I think Korina can tell us more about that. But Research also shows us that children as young as four years old can distinguish between different scripts, even if they can’t read yet. So I think the the recognition of different scripts and the fostering that oral language fluency is key for a more successful literacy development later on in all the languages, so fostering these from the very beginning is crucial. So Korina, maybe you can tell us more about phonological awareness?
[Korina] Yes, of course. Well, in our case, we’re in the preschool phase. So what we do, we read a lot at home I we started from day one, and I think this is very important sometimes, but why do you read, it’s just a baby, but I think it really helps. Our older daughter knows well, if a book it’s in mommy’s language or daddy’s language. Is it Greek because I’m reading in Greek my husband reads in, in Spanish, so she can recognize different alphabets. She loves to play with sounds and words. When I asked for some help was when I said how do I refer to a lette, do I say you know, the phoneme, or do I say Kappa, do I say k? How do I effectively so this is when I asked for help. For some help to suppose in theory from doing the correct thing. I don’t want to get confused, but I realize that actually, you know, some posters can help you know, when we read the book, it’s not just reading the book for the stories he also says the letter we write now here name seeking write your name in Greek and in with Latin characters as well in Spanish and in English. We say a lot of stories together. So it helps me to make stories we do roleplay quite a lot, I think it helps. And even when, if I have time, and we write together a shopping list, of course I cannot right now, but I say to here, why don’t you draw if it is, you know, a fruit I say the fruit and he has to draw. So then I asked, Can you please read your list to me? Of course it does with drawings, but you know, it helps her realize that we start reading and everything we have found in our family, it works very well, we play a lot of that game. It’s the Veo Veo, the equivalent of I spy with my little eye in English. And we play it a lot, we spend months playing this and I have seen how she has improved, you know, recognizing the letters, the sounds, sometimes, of course we play it in in Spanish and she says, it starts with A and she means in Spanish or with, sorry, she means it in English. So it can get confused in that age. But it really helps her, you know, to realize all the sounds and words, and we are quite open, I’m not stressed out now about oh, how is he going to learn everything, it’s a different alphabet, she will, I’m confident she will with the right guidance. This is how I believe, she already recognize. So I believe this is already something that we have achieved together.
[Ute] And I think it’s also important for parents who maybe have as language goals that their children will become also pluriliterate, so that they can read and write in all their languages, that they make realistic goals and that they are aware that reading and writing is not a natural skill, like understanding and speaking, but it needs formal instruction. But you can start already with this phonological awareness. And as Korina just said, including all kinds of resources that are rhyming nursery rhymes, that have alliteration, and that focus on different sentence structures, and syllables, onsets and rhymes, etc, from very early on. So it becomes a bit more natural and makes them also motivated at some point to, to understand where the finger is pointing at in the book, if that letter is maybe the first letter of their name, etc. And go ahead from there. And you can do this also across different scripts and languages, of course. But I think parents have to decide also what they want to take on in this literacy teaching part of the language development of their children and what they want to hand over to the school. Because many parents say, Okay, let’s wait at first for the children to learn how to read and write in school. And then maybe we can foster also the home languages. It’s something to decide and to think about carefully.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, so those were great, great points. And I’m sure it’s helpful for our listeners, especially if they’re in a similar phase, or maybe have kids that are the same age. So now that we’re nearing the end of the episodes, we usually have a question about what projects our guests are working on. So do you want to tell us what the future holds? What projects are coming up for you? Do you want to plug anything?
[Korina] Well as mentioned earlier, I have been teaching languages for 10 years now. My passion is language learning. And since I became a mom, I’m very interested in raising multilinguals, as mentioned earlier, again, a result of this is that I’m involved in many activities like the PEaCH project, and next year, I’m going to start a Master in Applied Multilingualism and I’m very excited about it. In the future. I would love to support some families in the multilingual journey.
[Korina] I think that’s all for me. A bit personal but yeah.
[Eva-Maria] No, that’s that’s super, that’s super interesting. And good luck with your studies. That’s amazing.
[Korina] Thank you so much. I’m so excited!
[Ute] Yeah, I can imagine, I would be too. So I still collaborating, I will still collaborate with Rita rosenback and multilingual parenting at the PEaCH project. As I said, we’re working on a guide for educators. I also published a book, it’s a toolbox for multilingual families together with Ana Elisa Miranda, where we selected 123 activities and games to foster understanding, speaking, reading and writing in children between zero and 15 years old that’s available on Amazon and there we are publishing now also a workbook that comes with it and some videos that I will publish on my YouTube channel. So I am actually recording now a series of videos for my YouTube channel for parents who raise their children cross culturally and with multiple languages, that is also focusing on effective communication with young children and then also with teenagers, etc. So as for my future, plans, there will definitely be some other books. And we will continue with our broadcast Raising Multilinguals Live. So I think I will just continue where I am and the future will tell where it leads us.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, that’s, that’s perfect. So there’s there’s a lot happening in both of your lives. That’s exciting. Perfect. So for our listeners, we mentioned a lot of projects and websites and people in this episode, and if you want to get in touch with either Ute, or the PEaCH project, you can find the links in the episode description, for example, but you can also head over to our website mlstpodcast.com, to find all the other links and resources. As I mentioned in the beginning, there’s also as transcript for each episode, we also have a glossary for unfamiliar terminology. And you can leave reviews which would help us a lot, so thanks in advance. But yeah, that’s it. Thanks so much for listening and make sure to tune in next time. As always, stay safe, stay healthy, and,
[Ute] 안녕하세요 (Annyeonghaseyo, Korean for Goodbye)
[Korina] γειά σας (Yassas, Greek for Goodbye)
[Eva-Maria] Ciao! (Italian for Bye)