Multilingualism in my family: Adriano's story

28 Jun 2017

This month's instalment of multilingualism in my family introduces Adriano, Marzena and their quadrilingual family. Their story is very similar to ours. They live and breathe in four languages daily and it all flows pretty naturally. Read about their Italian, Polish, German and English adventures below.

Photo via David Corral (Flickr)

1. Name

Adriano & Marzena (from Manini Studio)

2. In what country do you currently live?


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

2 children, Julia (8) and Aleksander (4)

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

Adriano with children / children with Adriano: Italian

Marzena with children / children with Marzena: Polish

Between children: mostly Polish; when alone with father also Italian

Adriano with Marzena (with kids around): each one its own, Adriano Italian and Marzena Polish (we know each other languages)

Adriano with Marzena (no kids around / lingua franca): English

5. What language do your children hear outside home?

Julia: Italian and German in school (she attends the European School in Munich, Italian section with German as first foreign language)

Aleksander: German in Kindergarten

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

Monday-Friday 60% Italian, 25% Polish, 15% German
Saturday-Sunday 40% Italian, 50% Polish, 10% German

Monday-Friday 10% Italian, 25% Polish,  65% German
Saturday-Sunday 40% Italian, 50% Polish, 10% German

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

Since their birth, we rigorously stick to one-parent-one-language (OPOL), with no exceptions. When we are altogether, I always speak Italian, Marzena always Polish (also to each other) and the kids systematically reply to us in the language they are spoken to. 
German is learnt outside, first in day-care, then in Kindergarten, and now (for Julia) in elementary school.

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

So far everything works very well. Julia never mixes languages, always replies in the language she’s spoken to. She reads and writes well in Polish and Italian. She reads well in German too and she’s learning to write it. We have not noticed or heard from teachers that it makes her confused or overwhelmed.
Aleksander is on his way to the same. The main reason why it works is strictly related, we think, to the fact that, since birth, we were always talking to them with our mother tongue, with no exceptions and no mixing. By doing so, we believe that they did not only learned the languages, they also learned to associated Italian with me and Polish with Marzena, making it very awkward for them to communicate by using another one.
What also plays a big role, is the connection to the family members in Poland and Switzerland (Ticino), since by having friends there, they are emotionally connected to them, which makes the languages skills even more important and felt as a need.
Another advantage we see for us is, however confusing it may sound, having three languages is easier than if there were only two, one of the two being German (the main language of the country of residence), as in this case, as confirmed by many of our friends who are in such a situation, the language of the host country becomes largely dominant very quickly. For us, however, it is “simple”: Mom - Polish, Dad - Italian, outside – German, it becomes therefore difficult to “choose” a most important one :-)

9. What doesn’t work? Why?

For now, everything works perfectly. Of course we notice that their vocabulary is not as rich as monolingual kids, or sometimes they are missing a word but we explain them and talk about it, they seem to have no problem with and they always find the way to say what they want.
However, from our experience, I would say that if the OPOL method is not working for someone, it could (not necessarily must!) be related to a lack of consistency in the use of the languages (for example: from time to time someone uses a different language, whatever the reason) or to mixing of languages (for example, a bilingual parent trying to teach both of his own). Kids need certainties and boundaries in all what they do and we think the same is valid for languages, so that changing/mixing a language by one parent, automatically introduces an uncertainty in the child.

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

When people, in one of our home countries, cannot “hear” from an accent, that our kids did not grow up there. Observing how they interact at the playground with other kids in 4 different countries. It is amazing!
This is not the proudest moment but rather funny: when we are in a restaurant and people are trying to figure out where we actually come from ;-) their faces are priceless:-)

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? 

Only in the form of personal disagreement with our language management choice, the main counter-argument being the standard: “But you live in XXX, so that you should push first the language of XXX, otherwise they will have problems in school, university and/or their professional lives”. These opinions, however, come mostly from people with no or little experience with multilingualism.
We have never experience anything negative in day care, kindergarten or school. Our way of dealing with the situation was always supported.

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

If you live abroad, in a country with a different language than yours, don’t be afraid of teaching your children your mother tongue! And if you decide to do so, keep the consistency, do not mix and do not change the language you use. It is a gift that you will give to your child for a lifetime.

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

So far, we would do exactly how we did and we are still doing.

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

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