In a Multilingual Family, Which Language Should We Speak at Home?
BY NATALIE ROMERO
Oct 2, 2017
I grew up in a multicultural house. My father comes from Quebec, and my mother comes from the Caribbean but spent much of her childhood in England. English was the language we spoke at home, and I learned French in school.
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I always assumed that once I had children I would speak to them in both languages. Then I met my husband and we added Spanish to the mix. My husband’s family came to Canada from El Salvador and settled in Montreal, where he was born and raised.
Suddenly it all seemed so daunting.
And without a plan, once we became parents, we defaulted to English.
For the most part, we have always spoken English with each other, switching to the other languages when we are traveling or want to have a private conversation. But we fully intended to teach our future children all three languages. The problem is we never actually made a plan for accomplishing that goal.
And without a plan, once we became parents, we defaulted to English. Sure, we expose them to the other two languages. We read stories and watch television shows in all three languages, and we travel to places where each language is spoken. But still, English is the primary language of our home.
We feel an underlying guilt about only speaking one language at home when we were in fact capable of speaking three. When others ask if the kids speak French or Spanish, we stumble through some sort of excuse as to why they don't. But the truth is, we didn’t know how to go about teaching them.
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I worry that our kids are going to lose parts of their heritage. Is this what happens when two people from two different cultures build a family? Is it inevitable that they will lose some of each culture?
We are trying our best to make sure our kids learn those second and third languages now, by enrolling them in French Immersion and exposing them to as much Spanish as we can.
Perhaps there is no one right way to do it. We wound up simply doing what felt most natural for our family. My husband and I always spoke English with each other before our children were born, so naturally we continued. Even with the best intentions, anything other than that would have felt strange.
We are trying our best to make sure our kids learn those second and third languages now, by enrolling them in French Immersion and exposing them to as much Spanish as we can. I don't know if we'll be successful. All we can do is hope that it sticks.
I find encouragement when my daughter, with just a hint of shyness, orders in French at an ice cream stand in Quebec or when my son asks to watch the soccer game in Spanish. I find opportunity in our a global society where it's not at all difficult to find television shows and books in other languages. And I find peace in the knowledge that I live in a country that allows us to speak multiple languages, and the only worry I have is how to teach them.