Raising A Multilingual Child

raising a multilingual child

“Knowing your language isn’t as important as knowing your community and the people in it.”

Before Ean was born I wrote an article on the subject of national identity and how we were planning to teach Ean the four languages between us. The above quote is from that article and as I re-read it now my thoughts and feelings about it haven’t really changed at all but we did deviate from what we had planned initially.

By the time Ean was born, I made a last minute decision to alternate Swedish and Assyrian every week, and I did. Every Monday for 1.5 year, my linguistic computer had to reboot and reset. In the beginning it was fine but as he got older and started understanding what we were saying, I could see the confusion in his eyes every time Monday rolled in.

I’ve spent about 12 hours per day with Ean since he was born, while his mother spends about 2-3 hours per day during weekdays and catches up on weekends with more quality time. Considering that you’d think his first word would be Swedish, but Ean’s first word was in Spanish. His second, third and fourth were also Spanish.

Let’s just say his entire vocabulary is Spanish and considering how much time I spend with him compared to Ana, that’s a bit strange to me! When this kept going on for quite some time, I decided to abandon the bi-weekly language switches and go with the initial plan, to teach him Swedish first.

It’s been a few months since I did that and he understands most of what I say, like when I ask him to bring his shoes, open or close, pick up and put down, sit and stand and similar basic commands. Commands? Geeez, sounds like I’m training a dog, roll over!

I digress…

In Spanish he says complicated words like abuela (grandmother) but it wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that he said his first proper Swedish word, apa (monkey). That’s not a coincidence at all, I’ve been hammering that word in because it’s so close to papa but for whatever reason he kept saying api! I kept repeating, papa, papa, aaaapa.

- Api!

Now, finally he got that down at least and points and says apa whenever he sees a monkey, or Donald Trump. When I used to alternate languages, he understood equal amounts of both languages but now when I speak to him in Assyrian he doesn’t understand at all. I’m not worried though, my intention is to stick to the original plan, which was to teach him proper Swedish first and introduce Assyrian after.

Since I don’t speak Spanish, I need a language to speak with him which he could both understand and speak as early as possible (yeah big surprise that I like to talk). So for now, I stick to Swedish.

When he’s old enough to understand the concept of different languages, I will explain why I speak a different language as well, and teach him Assyrian and also the history of his ancestors but it’s not something I’m going to push for in the same way our grandparents and parents did. Like I said in the previous article, knowing your language isn’t as important as knowing your community and the people in it. I don’t care what country, if any, he identifies himself with, as long as I can call him righteous.

(Thank you Chris G and Orsolya S for the idea to revisit the subject!)