Multilingualism in my family (Varya's story)

8 Jan 2013

Today, in my Multilingualism in my family series, we meet Varya. She lives in China with her family who use Russian and English daily as well as Mandarin. Varya talks about her struggle to keep up with her native Russian when nobody else around speaks it. Here is her story.

shirokazan on Flickr


1. Name


2. Blog

3. In what country do you currently live?

We live in China. I've been here for 11 years, my husband  - 6

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

We have 2 daughters: Tessa is 4  years old and Alyssa is 5 months old

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

I try my best to speak Russian with the girls. My husband speaks English to them. However, I am not as consistent with Russian!

6. What language do your children hear outside home?

Chinese, i.e., Mandarin. I hope they pick up Cantonese as well!

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

60% English, 30% Russian and 10% Chinese

8. Did you set out to follow a particular method to raise your child(ren) multilingually? Why? Why not?

I don't have a method really. I think natural environment is the best. However I've been missing out on speaking more Russian (my mother tongue) to my older daughter mainly because my husband and I speak English to each other and to friends. When my daughter has a better rapport of Chinese, I'll be introducing her to more structured learning of Russian.

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

Basically English is the language most of the people use around us to communicate with us and despite my husband speaking 4 languages, English is his primary language. Since the only language in common between me and my husband is English it became our family language. All our communication and learning is mainly in English.

10. What doesn’t work? Why?

I think the main problems is that I, being the primary caretaker, speak few languages and keep switching from one to another. So my older daughter hears me speaking English, Russian and Chinese and she knows she can "manipulate" whatever language she prefers at the moment. Also, with me per se it doesn't often work explaining the meaning of the word in another language - my daughter insists on a translation to English and only then she accepts the word or the phrase.

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

I would be more consistent from the start with Russian!

12. Any other comments

I believe parents who want their children to understand and/or speak more than 1 language just have to really want it and make a great effort. Consistency is the key!


  1. Cool to learn more about you, nice series!

  2. Nice reading more about all the languages your lucky kids are growing up with. Love this series too Annabelle!


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