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Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

No Common Mother Tongue


A lot of resources on the web talk about the two most successful approaches in multilingual parenting: “One Parent One Language” (OPOL) and “Minority Language at Home” (MLAH or ML@H). Both have advantages and both are tailored to pretty specific situations. MLAH works best in an expat environment for example, where both parents speak a common language but live abroad with their children.

Because Souad and I do not share a common mother tongue, our situation is slightly more complex. Between the two of us, we speak French. This is because we met in France. When we met, Souad did not speak or understand any German and I am still unable to understand or speak Arabic to this day. When we moved to the UK, we did not change our language, and why would we?

In a way, we set ourselves up for MLAH, but then we had our first daughter and neither of us had to even think about how we would address her–in our mother tongues, of course! So OPOL it was. I guess we combined the two: we do speak minority languages at home, but three of them. And we do follow OPOL but for Souad that means she speaks what I call “Algerian,” an interesting mix of Arabic with some French thrown in, like most people in Algeria do.

We have a lot of fun watching how our two daughters’ languages change over time. To document those changes, we keep a “Family Language Diagram” on our other blog, an idea we saw on Multi Tongue Kids. Our setup is fairly unusual. In addition to it being fun and interesting for us, it also makes sense to keep records for others who might follow a similar approach. Just as we are interested in seeing how other parents’ progress, we want to share what works for us and what doesn’t.

My hope is that a (virtual) community of multilinguals will emerge over time. Maybe this community will help my daughters work out who they are and what sets them apart.

© 2010 – 2011, Jan Petersen. All rights reserved.

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Jan, who is German, works mainly from home as a software engineer. His wife, who is Algerian, stays at home to look after their three girls aged 7, 4 and 1. They live in the U.K. and are raising their children multilingual in Arabic, French, German and English.

Leave us a comment!

  1. Commentsalex reuss   |  Saturday, 30 October 2010 at 10:56 am

    Very interesting family and article. We also mainly follow the OPOL & MLAH approach and it works very successful for our kids. Also I had to work out who I am and the same will go for my children. A first step sure is to consciously associate the languages to the parents or host cultures.

  2. CommentsMerve   |  Monday, 01 November 2010 at 5:06 pm

    This is simply an amazing article that I can certainly relate to. At home we have English, Turkish, Spanish and Arabic. Though I am part Chinese I was never taught the language so I lost it. I think is really important to teach children the languages you speak. Thanks for sharing!

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