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Raising multilingual children: parents’ perspectives

One written and one audio account of the challenges, the joys, the obstacles and the decisions to be made as a parent of a multilingual child.
© University of Reading

You saw in the previous Step how important language input is during children’s development. The people who are best placed to provide this are the parents. We talked to some parents about their experiences of raising multilingual children, the joys, the obstacles and the decisions that have to be made.

Making parenting decisions, in general, is hard. One of the decisions I had to make before Khaled, my son, was born was what language will I speak? Do I speak to him just in Arabic? Or can I use English? My main concern was for him to have a good base in Arabic because I knew that living in the UK would expose him to English everywhere, especially at nursery. Also, it has been a trend in Kuwait to speak to children in English, which was a large pet peeve for me, as Khaled’s cousins were all speaking/being spoken to in English. However, it is out of my control when family members choose to speak to Khaled in English and not Arabic. It is has been a great joy when Khaled comes home from nursery and is saying new English words every day at 20 months. Although these words are in English and not Arabic, I have been finding myself repeating them to him and including them in Arabic sentences. Now I speak a base of Arabic mixed with Khaled’s new English words, trying to translate them sometimes. I do sometimes stop myself from saying English words by accident when speaking to him. It has been a challenge sometimes to find good content on YouTube for Arabic songs like the nursery rhymes found in English that Khaled has gotten used to and loves. So, as you can see, it has been a little confusing for me, currently. However, my mantra in motherhood and parenting has been to try my best, learn that you cannot control everything, try to enjoy language with my child whether it is Arabic or English, and be thankful that he has the opportunity to learn both.
Lujain Almatrouk

Listen to Khaled interacting with his mother in Arabic and English. She asks him in Arabic if he can name certain objects and he says the words ‘juice’, ‘flowers’ and ‘apple’ in English.

Audio: Khaled

We also spoke to Marina and Ollie about the difficulties of raising Spanish speakers in an English environment. Listen to them describing their experience:

Audio: Marina and Ollie

There is a transcript of Marina and Ollie’s recording in the Downloads section of this Step.

Reflect

Take a moment to consider the challenges of raising multilingual children from their parents’ perspective. What kinds of obstacles might they be facing from their families, friends or societies? How might you support or empower them to overcome those obstacles?

© University of Reading
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Understanding Multilingual Children's Language Development

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