Born in France to French parents, we moved to Spain when I was aged almost 10, and educated in a local international British school (yes, yes, you read this right 😉 ). The schooling language was no coincidence, but a conscious choice initiated by my dad who had foreseen what was to happen: within months, I became trilingual. Today, after many years abroad, I am living back in France again and am married to my Spanish media naranja (other half). We are educating our 2 daughters (almost 6 and 2) in Spanish and English with a strict ml@home approach, with a total ban on the Majority Language (ML) – see Our Story for more on our bilingual education strategy.
I am a very privileged trilingual mum, because not only am I able to rear my daughters trilingual, but also because I myself was reared trilingual in the same languages and can hence -to some extent- relate to my daughters. Though I became trilingual at a later age and abroad -and not from birth and in our country of origin like my daughters- there are still things I can relate to. For instance looking for my words, code-switching, feeling different because I speak another language or because ML people can’t relate to what I say or have experienced. Yes, I feel like a foreigner in my own country, but I do hope that one day my daughters will come to feel like me: I have as many cultures, hearts and identities as I speak languages….and that is simply priceless!
How did my parents preserve my minority language?
Educating my daughters trilingual has given me hindsight on my own trilingual education. Looking back, I realise that without really consciously designing a bilingual education strategy, my parents had instinctively implemented an ml@home approach, though not as strict as the one as I am using today with my daughters. The reason being I had not resisted the minority language (ml), unlike my eldest.
If you are curious of what other bilingual parents do, here are the things I remember about how my parents tried to preserve my mother-tongue:
- My parents purchased ml books and VHS when we travelled back to France at Christmas time, and visiting relatives also brought us some.
- My grandmother lent me books from her very extensive children’s book collection gathered over the years from her older grandchildren.
- My grandmother recorded ml cartoons on VHS that I would take back to Spain whenever she or we visited.
- My elder sister -who was a young adult and had stayed back in France -wrote letters and postcards to be on a regular basis.
- My elder sister sent me my ml magazine – subscription abroad was very expensive compared with a national subscription, so my parents took a national subscription and had my sister send it by postal mail.
- We travelled back to France for Christmas.
- Every other year, I spent some of the summer holidays at my ml best friend’s house in France, whilst the other year it was my ml best friend who flew over and stayed with us.
- We hosted loads of our ml relatives and friends throughout the year. Their visits always felt like a celebration.
- My mother had our satellite ml TV and radio on ALL day long
- My parents purchased ml magazines and newspapers on a weekly/daily basis
- Every summer, my mother had me do activity books and dictations – as much as I hated them, I am grateful to my mum as it enabled me to stay biliterate in French.
- We had regular calls with my ml family and I was required to take part.
- My parents mixed a lot with local ml speakers and had ml friends.
What do I remember from the move abroad and becoming trilingual?
As a parent, you might also wonder how your child might feel about moving country. So if you wonder what I remember from my move to Spain as a child… well not that much actually! I am sorry to disappoint your curiosity though I feel this is a good sign as it means the change has not traumatised me! I don’t remember my parents announcing their decision to move but I do remember the first time I saw my house there; my elder sister teaching me the basics of English which she had already learnt as a teenager; my very first Spanish book being a little pocket dictionary; my first day at my international school and being introduced to a French classmate who was to be my interpreter exclusively at the teacher’s request. Most interestingly, I do not remember what my mother only told me a year ago: every night when I returned from school, I cried and asked to return to my French school. My mother cannot remember how long it lasted though she reckons it did not last more than a month.
Language-wise, I remember enjoying the intimacy of speaking my ml with the couple of ml school-mates I had there, and that when going back to France over Christmas, my extended family was impressed with me having adapted and picked up my new languages so fast. Like me today, my mum had stomached negative comments about rearing her child trilingual. She recently told me that when she went to cancel my enrolment at my school in France before moving to Spain, the headmistress had lectured her for ages and told her it was the worst thing my parents could do for me. Though it happened many decades ago, I felt a lot of anger at this woman when my mum told me this. I wish this headmistress could read this post today and know how grateful I am to my parents and that it was in fact the best thing they ever did for me.
To end this post “down memory lane”, here are a few quick take-aways I hope you can draw from my experience as a trilingual kid (if you have not already drawn them from you own experience as a bilingual parent):
- Children can adapt to change – as hard as a move abroad can be with the country, culture and language change, it is nothing that children cannot overcome with family love and support.
- The more you bathe the child in the minority language the more efficient the bilingual education.
- Educating bilingual means living the language – the ml has to be part of your daily life.
- Ignore criticism – you will always get language skeptics or well meaning individuals. Just follow your heart and ignore them.
- Resources, resources, resources! – the more ml resources you have the better.
- All this hard work is well worth it.
- Children might be ungrateful but adults are not. Your children might not realise your hard work, but one day they will thank you for it.
- Even your grandchildren might benefit from it if your children decide to also follow the bilingual education route 🙂
It is always hard to have a prefect hindsight on one’s own experience. So feel free to leave a question in the comments section if you feel like I missed out on an insight you are interested in. 🙂