Multilingualism in my family (Sarah R's story)

15 Nov 2012

This week, we meet Sarah R and her family. Sarah and her family live in Hawaii. Their daughter is growing up multilingual French and English but also hears a number of other languages on a daily basis. She highlights the importance of support network and of teaching your children the local language (regardless of its status, I would add). Amazing multilingual environment!

Hawaiian language sign from

1. Name


2. Blog

3. In what country do you currently live?

Hawaii, USA

4. How many children have you got and how old are they?

1 daughter. 2 years 7 months

5. Who speaks what to whom (in the home)?

Mommy speaks French primarily (native speaker) and a little Creole (dialect from my birth place) with daughter. 
Daddy speaks French primarily (non-native speaker) and a little Hawaiian (he takes weekly classes and we listen to audio courses in the car) with daughter.
 Mommy and daddy speak English together most of the time and French when we think about it. 
Mommy and Daddy will throw in some words from other languages they know (primarily Italian, sometimes German). 
Daughter speaks French (if she starts in English, she must repeat it in French) to Mommy and Daddy. 
Daughter speaks English to her toys

6. What language do your children hear outside home?

, Japanese (elementary with babysitter)
, Hawaiian and Pidgin.

7. If you had to put a percentage on the languages your child(ren) hear what would they be?

French 80%
, English 10%

Hawaiian, Italian, Japanese: 10% all together

8. Did you set out to follow a particular method to raise your child(ren) multilingually?

I originally had set out to only speak Creole with my daughter. Daddy would only speak French and Mommy and Daddy would only speak French together. 
The reality is quite different  We wanted to do Italian once/week and we hadn’t thought of the Hawaiian at all but our daughter showed an affinity for it early so it pushed us to seek more Hawaiian instruction.

9. What works with your current family language set up?

My daughter is very comfortable with hearing many languages and does not show any resistance. She is very aware of the differences. She’ll actually tell me how to say different words in the different languages or ask me how to say it in English or in French if she doesn’t know the equivalent word.  My husband’s French has greatly improved since my daughter was born. It all feels very natural and easy and gratifying.

10. What doesn’t work?

I’m surprised that my daughter still speaks that much English. She tends to speak in English first or will mix at least a few English words in her sentences. I do repeat the sentence in French to her and ask her to repeat it back to me (every single time!) I think it’s because all of her friends speak English and the motivation to speak English is very strong for that reason. It’s been very hard finding any other French speaking family. If we found another child with whom she could speak French, I believe she would feel even more attached to that language. She heard one child speak it at the playground once and was stunned and thrilled. (The child was on vacation only).
 I’m also disappointed that there are very few resources to teach Hawaiian to children her age. Most material is geared for kindergartners and up and I have not found audio support (songs, stories) specifically for children.

11. What would you do differently if you could or would have to do it again?

I would have been more disciplined about introducing the Creole from the beginning.

12. Any other comments. 

Being a multilingual family is a lot of fun. I grew up speaking two and I now speak five. So I’m thrilled for my daughter to get such a head start. I’m very pleased that everyone around us has been very supportive so far. Most of our neighbors have learned a few French words and have graciously accepted to be called tonton (uncle) and tatie (auntie). Even her little friends (one is a 6 year old boy) are interested in learning.

Thank you very much to Sarah for answering my questions and taking the time to reflect on those answers.

If you are a multilingual family and would like to be featured on my blog contact me.

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