Raising Kids in Multiple Languages

Raising Kids Across Multiple Languages
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Raising Kids  in Multiple Languages

I was born and raised in Germany, I grew up in a tiny town where nobody spoke anything but German. When I entered 5th grade, every student had to start English, and I struggled from the beginning. Before that, I had never had any touchpoint with a foreign language.

Both my parents (born after the Second World War) ever learned English and the farthest we ever traveled in the summer was Italy, but everyone there was well prepared for the German tourists.

In Grade 7 I had to add a foreign language to my studies, choosing between French and Latin. Since my best friend decided on French, I was signed up for French too. How hard could it be, right?

It turns out, French is even more complicated than English, but my friend excelled and it seemed so easy for her. But I struggled and even needed tutoring so I didn’t fail my class. I didn’t understand then, but now I see it so clearly. My friend Anna Lisa was an immigrant from Italy and at home, she spoke only Italian AND her German was flawless. She grew up bilingual and every other language just came easy to her. (You can find more about how the brain works in this article HERE.)

My language story does not end here but gets better.

I graduated from high school in the late 90s, and started my college studies in Germany but had that urge to break out of my comfort zone. I found a job on a Greek island and long story short, fell head over heels for a Greek guy. We have been married for 21 years and have 3 great kids.

But, raising kids across multiple languages can be challenging. I didn’t want them to struggle as I did when learning a new language.

Here are five steps that helped me while raising my kids in multiple languages.

      1. Start Early –  When our daughter was only a few minutes old my husband started to speak to her in Greek, while I was speaking to her in German. Just hearing the voice that belonged to the language her brain was already making the connection. A friend of mine had her son 1 month earlier than I had my daughter but he started forming words about 6 months before my daughter. When I went to the pediatrician to address that, she told me it is totally normal in bilingual families. Shortly after that visit my Anna started talking in whole sentences AND was understanding BOTH languages.
        At only 18 months she was doing what I told her in German and what my husband would tell her in Greek. That brain of hers was working at full capacity and she would never struggle to learn another language.
      2. Speak your native language- You have to be native in the language you want to teach to your kid. If you are uncertain about how to spell something or how to pronounce a word, your kid will not get the full benefit of that language.
      3. Stick to your assigned language- Yes, I did learn Greek as an adult so I could communicate with my relatives in Athens, but I never tried to speak to my kids in Greek. That would simply confuse them because they already associated this language with my husband’s voice.
      4. Find support- When my kids were little we were living in Germany which means they were exposed to German all the time, but the Greek language would suffer because my husband was at work a lot. To have the Greek language more accessible I would sign up the kids for Greek school, invite my in-laws to visit, and have playdates with other bilingual families.
      5. Be consistent- Being consistent was easy while we were stationed in Germany, but moving to Toronto/Canada and 2 years later to Atlanta was hard, because English became my kids’ primary language of communication. More often than not they reply in English while I talk to them in German. But being consistent also means writing Birthday cards in German, watching German movies sometimes, or being with the grandparents on the phone on a regular basis.
  1. Of course, you have to keep the languages fresh, but once the brain learned to process multiple languages it all came back, even after years of not practicing. The most important time is when the kids are young and their brain is like a sponge.

    If you have the ability to teach your kid another language it will pay off big time in the long run. This world is changing and job opportunities are much brighter when you can show off another language skill!

    Do you speak multiple languages in your home? What tips do you have for families who might be experiencing this?

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Nina Ferentinos
Five years ago Nina moved from Toronto to the great state of Georgia with her husband, her two daughters, and son. They found a beautiful house and supportive community in Sandy Springs and have been residents since. Nina is originally from Germany, specifically Wolfsburg, which is the town where the Volkswagen factory has its Headquarters. All her relatives still live in Germany and she visits them often. Her European accent is hard to hide but also makes her memorable. In 2020 Nina created her own Photography Business (IG: @NinaFerentinosPhotography) which specializes in Family, Newborn, and Branding photography. Her goal is to create beautiful images for families to remember and help business owners to elevate their brand. When Nina is not working on her business or spending time with her family, she enjoys cooking, reading, crafting, and sometimes a bit of gardening. Traveling around the world and learning about new cultures has always been a great pleasure for Nina’s family. She and her husband believe that exploring new places broadens everyone’s horizon.