MotherTongues: Wear Words, Celebrate Cultures

about words, languages, cultures, travel

Reflections on being a bilingual household April 15, 2013


In our house, you can hear a mixture of languages. We speak Afrikaans to each other. We live in the USA so English and Spanish surround us. And sometimes we mix all 3 together. Our girls (ages 9 and 10) seem to be taking this in their strides.

It has not always been an easy journey to stay a bilingual family, or more recently, to try to become a trilingual family. When the girls started preschool, they didn’t understand a lot of English because we only spoke Afrikaans to them at home. It would have been easy to give up. When family commented that sending our youngest to a Spanish Immersion school will just make her confused, it would have been easy to give up. When we moved and there wasn’t a Spanish Immersion school in the area, it would have been easy to give up.

But I know that the earlier in life we work on our language skills, the easier it will become for us later on to expand our language capabilities. When I started learning Spanish at age 40, I could definitely see the difference between learning a language earlier or later in life! The girls picked it up much faster than me, probably because they were not afraid of making mistakes when speaking Spanish.

I remind myself constantly that it is all a process, with no road map for us to follow. Sometimes we work more on one language than the others. Sometimes we only read in one language (usually English) for weeks, because we don’t always make the effort to read books in other languages too.

But, I love the advantages of trying to raise our girls trilingual. I love that our girls can talk to their extended family in South Africa in Afrikaans. I love that they can speak Spanish whenever they find out that a person is Spanish speaking. And I love that we understand a little bit of multiple languages when traveling.

My advice: don’t listen to others who may tell you that you should only speak one language to your kids. Don’t give up. Give your family the gift of languages, and in doing so, give them the gift of opening up the world to them.


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