Multilingualism in my family: Monica's story

31 May 2017

This month's instalment of multilingualism in my family introduces Monica and her multilingual family. She is raising two children in Germany with Spanish, Swedish and German. Monica is also a researcher in language acquisition, so some of her answers may be a little influenced (in a good way) by that fact. Her children are beyond the early childhood phase and it is so lovely to read someone say: don't worry so much.

1. Name

Monica (

2. In what country do you currently live?


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

Two children, 9 and 11 years old

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

That depends on the situation – which persons are present? I usually speak Swedish when addressing the children directly (or they me), but if other persons are present, I normally use a language that is understood by the other people. If my husband is present, we speak Spanish. He also speaks Spanish when alone with the children.

5. What language do your children hear outside home?

Mostly German, although in school they hear some English as well. We also have some friends living nearby who speak Swedish and Spanish.

6. If you had to put a percentage on the languages your children hear what would they be?

Now when they spent quite a lot of time in school and in activities with other children: German 70 %, Swedish 20 %, Spanish 10 %
. Before, as they were younger, they had more contact with especially Swedish, but also with Spanish.

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

My husband and I chose to speak our first languages (Spanish and Swedish respectively) with our children, in order to pass on our languages. How would they otherwise speak with our families? This could be seen as the model “One person, one language” (OPOL). It is however more of an OPOL version 2.0 since we use Spanish when speaking to each other. This is also called ‘minority language at home’ (mL@H). It is mixture, you can’t just use one language if you live in a surrounding with a language other than yours. Today, you need to interact with several languages at the same time. 

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

Our children know which language to use with us – Spanish with my husband and Swedish with me. We speak Spanish when we are all together. Due to our consistency in this matter, our children speak the three languages fluently.

9. What doesn’t work? Why?

Now when our children are older and the conversations are more complex, sometimes my husband feels excluded from the conversation since his knowledge of Swedish is not very profound.

As the children grow older, you have to find new ways to motivate them for your languages, since school normally is not taking into consideration the home languages. You also have to support the literacy in those languages, since otherwise they won’t develop in the same way if this area is not supported and the children will not feel comfortable when speaking those languages any more.

10. Can you share with us one of your proudest moments as the parent of a multilingual child? 

Every time somebody asks “Has your daughter/son really never lived in Sweden/Spain?” I feel extremely proud. To know that we have passed on linguistic diversity as well as an open-minded perspective on things is very gratifying. The joy of the different family members since they are able to interact with the children even though we live abroad is very precious.

11. Have you encountered any kind of resistance or difficulties in your multilingualism journey? If yes, what were they and how did you solve them? 

In the beginning, not all people around us were positive to “so many languages”, “wouldn’t it be confusing for the poor small children?” Now, when the children are older and speak the three languages (and some English), we are often told that we did the right thing. But this we knew all along, even though there have been easier and tougher moments, of course.

12. What would be your one piece of advice to a parent embarking on this life-long journey?

Be persistent and keep on talking! My motto in Swedish is “prata på” (keep on talking)

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

I wouldn’t worry so much.

Any other comments:

Give your child/ren as much input in your language as possible and also opportunities to interact in that language, and everything will be fine. Furthermore, remember that multilingualism is dynamic and complex, it is not a static, non-changing state. You forget words if you don’t use them, but you also never cease to learn new words. A multilingual person is not several monolingual persons in one body, they have their own linguistic repertoire. Do not strive towards “native-like” competence in all your child’s/children’s’ languages (that will lead to frustration), but towards communication, understanding and functioning in the everyday life.

Read about other families here.
Are you a multilingual family? Would you like to share your story? Contact me.


  1. I have 4 now adult children (born i seventies and early eighties). It was all new to me and there were not too much to study about what language to speak. My husband and I spoke English, we live in Sweden. I come from ex Czechoslovakia, he is Danish. Some "experts" advised "only the country native language=Swedish" (=which myself started to learn not too long before my first daughter was born an my Danish husband didn´t speak either. Others adviced "speak you own language with children and don´t speak English with each other". One very young psycholog with no practice mentioned I should contact the library and ask them to get some literature about bilingualism. So I did. I learned a lot, and I got a new profession myself - a Swedish as second language teacher (thanks to this exciting stuff).

    I spoke allways Czech to all children, my husband Danish. When we all were together we first said something in English and then each of us in our language. When other people were around we spoke first to our children in resp. language and then said the same in Swedish to others. Each evening we read books in "our" language, never in Swedish. The children met Swedish language outside of our home.
    About the age 5 - 6 we realized they spoke fluently English with our friends from Holland (we never spoke English WITH children.)When they started school they had no problems with Swedish. They had a great English vocabulary and had no problems with learning grammar (=they spoke the language correctly allready). Now in their forties they still speak Czech with each other, often even when I am not present. The problem is "professional language" - I have problems with it myself (I can´t talk about my profession and studies to my Czech friends, because I don´t know the terms). One of the daughters work in Denmark on a high position. Others have no problems either to speak Danish to the family. Other daughter live in Austria. In her family they practise about the same system - her children speak German, Swedish and English. My children do not write in Czech or Danish, but have no problems with writing English and German (those who do not live in German speaking country). The daughters write books or publish scientific texts in Swedish/English, one of the even in German, and the other in Danish. The son publishes a sport cronicle.
    Of course I am a proud mother, but i wanted to write this because it confirms that it is possible to manage to learn several languages on a high level. But also probably the genes - I myself never had problems to learn another languages (mostly on my own when I as a young girl realized how it works - there was not too much possibility to take part in some languages classes in Prag that time).

  2. I loved "Do not strive towards “native-like” competence in all your child’s/children’s’ languages (that will lead to frustration), but towards communication, understanding and functioning in the everyday life." I will bring these wisdom with me. We are Swedes living in the US. Thank you:)


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