Juggling a New Language (or Two or Three…)? Tips for the Multilingual Family - Expat Nest e-counselling


Juggling a New Language (or Two or Three…)? Tips for the Multilingual Family

Are you raising a multilingual family? Writer Gracia Alcaideshares some creative, practical tips on navigating the language learning process, whether you’re learning one new language, juggling a whole bunch of them, or want to help your kids stay fluent in your mother tongue.

Opening the door to a multicultural household means different types of foods in the fridge, a calendar with bizarre festivities on it and two, three or even four languages mixed in the same sentence! 

The multilingual family spectrum is wide, ranging from same-country parents (language 1) living in a foreign country and kids learning the host language (language 2) to parents from different countries (language 1 and 2) living abroad (language 3) and the kids attending an international school (language 4) and perhaps even learning another language as part of the school curriculum (language 5).

With the cultural expansion that learning a language brings, comes the challenge of reaching and/or retaining fluency in them.

Here are 5 tips to help you in the process of learning a new language and/or keeping your native language(s) alive:

1. Dive into the culture. A language doesn’t come alone, it is surrounded by a whole heritage. Whether you are learning a new language or want to stay connected with your culture while abroad, going to cultural festivals, art exhibitions or movies related to any of the languages you’re juggling will bring another dimension to the learning process.  

Knowing more about the way of life, the traditions and the art of a country makes the language more interesting and relatable, and gives the feeling of being part of something bigger. Practically, it also allows you to learn new expressions and vocabulary, or understand the origins of traditions.

2. Respond in the language you keep close to your heart. It can feel strange to be the only one in your family speaking your mother tongue. However, don’t succumb to the temptation of speaking to your kids in the new foreign language for the sake of their integration. Your kids will lose the opportunity of learning their mother tongue and, unless you are bilingual, you might unwittingly teach them grammar or pronunciation mistakes. 

They will be surrounded by this new language everywhere, but only you can support them to hold onto their mother tongue. If you stay in that particular country long enough, your child might eventually start talking to you in the new language. Cry your eyes out for a while, but don’t despair. Just keep answering back in your mother tongue… it will pay off one day. 

3. Don’t force the learning. Instead, let your kids discover how rewarding it is to speak a different language, how fortunate they are to be able to communicate with other people and fully understand a culture they are part of. Find special friends that speak the same language. Use your mother tongue as your secret code language when there are people around. How proud of sharing that language everyone will be! As soon as they take a liking to speaking a different language, they will start using it spontaneously.

4. Read, read and read. Probably the best tip of them all is to have access to plenty of books, whether written or audio, in all the languages you want to nurture at home. When reading for yourself or to your kids, without noticing it, you are in an intense grammar session and at the same time expanding your vocabulary list. 

Look for local, independent bookshops, or create a book exchange group in your city or even a book club! This will also add another dimension to the language, as you’ll have a reading network around it.

5. Be ready to learn from everyone, everywhere. Take advantage of each occasion that you are exposed to the new language: the cashier at the grocery store, the waiter, the neighbour you always greet. Keep your ears open and try to understand the announcement at the metro, the advertising on the radio. Every little opportunity for practice is important and will bring fluency in the end.

Enjoy the enrichment of being a multilingual family, and keep learning and talking. Gracias, Gràcies, Merçi, Thank you, Dank je wel, 감사합니다.

How are you navigating a multilingual family? What tips have worked for you? We’d love to hear from you! 

PHOTO: Fauxels/Pexels

Gracia Alcaide is a lifelong book-lover and creative spirit, who recently embarked on a journey as a blogger and content writer. Her articles revolve around global citizens and center on thought-provoking topics that aim to challenge our convictions. Find out more at www.gracia-grace.com.


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