Pin It
Friday, February 10th, 2012

The Power of Culture in Raising Multilingual Kids

By
Image: / flickr - Kodomut

TV and Other Cultural References

Through use of technology it is fairly easy for us to expose our children to all kinds of languages and cultures. Need proof? My daughters recognise the title song of a TV show called “Wickie und die starken Männer” even though we live in the UK where it will never air.

I used to watch “Wickie” (“Vicky the Viking”) when I was a kid. It is one of the few shows I remember, along with “Biene Maja” (“Maya the Honey Bee”) and of course “Sesamstraße” (“Sesame Street”). I watched these shows because when I grew up, they were the only ones around. No worries, I’m not going to go on about the good old times or anything. My point is that had my parents been expats, it would have been very hard for them to get access to any non-German TV shows or even films.

I don’t think TV is the most important cultural achievement of humankind, far from it. But nobody can deny that it is influential. For at least two generations, it has been part of our socialisation. I can easily pick out people in my age group by finding out who the resident humans in “Sesamstraße” were when they were watching (Lilo & Henning, in case you’re asking me).

There are also books, of course. I can easily buy English, French or American books on Amazon these days. Twenty years ago, I went to bookstores and they ordered them for me, which worked ok, but I was relying on some other sources to even find out what I wanted to order.

It’s clearly easier these days to get materials in about any language, so the question is: chicken or egg? Is it now easier to be an expat? Or do we have more resources because there are more expats?

Creativity with Language

A lot of people would call it “mixing languages” and they might even worry about it, but I love it when my three-year-old takes English words and modifies them so they fit into a German, French or Arabic sentence grammatically.

I am German and we like making words by stringing shorter words together. My feeling is that with the level of creativity my daughters show even now, they will be great at coming up with German words! The most important part is of course their ability to read in four languages and two totally different alphabets, something I envy them for. I might eventually be able to decipher Arabic, but don’t hold your breath.

When my daughters meet their cousin in Germany, they have the most hilarious conversations. Often, their cousin will smile or laugh about the way they say things. And then she borrows some of their expressions, creating something special between them.

Music

Music is the art form (or entertainment) that has the most impact on my feelings. It can make me happier, give me energy, cool me down or sustain sadness. I can not fully explain what it does to me, to be honest. Different music fits different situations, of course.

Music has always been fairly international. I used to listen to English music on the radio a lot when I was young, later I listened to music from France and these days I’m having trouble knowing where something comes from. All kinds of styles have crossed over and created a lot of different, interesting blends.

Those of us who are non-native English speakers might remember how as teenagers we were singing along with English music not having the faintest idea what we were singing. Sometimes this can be hilarious (there are videos on YouTube about the phenomenon), sometimes even slightly inappropriate.

When I started to understand French songs I was surprised: knowing what they were about added a new dimension to my listening pleasure. Same for English music. Now my kids will be able to listen to music in Arabic, English, French and German and understand it! Isn’t that great?

Books

Books have a similar impact as music on me, only it takes longer to immerse myself in the experience. One might almost say books are a four-course menu for the soul and music is the candy bar. What I wrote about TV, films and music applies here as well, especially because often the more obscure and specific nuances and references of written language get lost in translation.

It is very dear to me that my daughters will be able to read books like Onkel Florians Fliegender Flohmarkt by German author Paul Maar. You might have gathered that mastery of language is something I value very highly–I am only really comfortable writing in German, which makes German a special language for me. Onkel Florians Fliegender Flohmarkt is a book that plays with and bends German around and is great for kids from ages seven or eight up. I absolutely loved it when I was small. I recommend the book for anyone who can read German.

© 2012, Jan Petersen. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


A Different World: No Longer Brown in White America

Is it racist to not want to raise your kids in white America?

Is Raising Bilingual Children Worth the Costs?

Fancy schools, international vacations, foreign language books, DVDs and tutors add up fast

A Different World: No Longer Brown in White America

Is it racist to not want to raise your kids in white America?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


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!









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!



Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.
Hi Kim! I am so glad that this article was useful for you and made you feel validated as a parent. It's not often in this judgmental world of parenting we get that, right?! That's the main reason...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
I love reading your work. I can olny imagine what it would be like to have such beautiful customs and true community. I understand why it is so very very important to keep these traditions alive. Be...
From No Kids Allowed: How Kenyan Weddings are Changing
Your mother in-law seems somewhat reasonable. Many Chinese Mother In-laws are not. In their scenario, they would be number 1 to the child and you would be number two. Many want to have a bond closer...
From How My Chinese Mother-in-Law Replaced my Husband
I think Konstantina is actually responding to what is probably more familiar/praised/or preferred socially as well. I was an English teacher in Poland with a distinct accent. I struggled to get Engl...
From Should I Worry about My Child’s Accent in Her Foreign Language?
Noor Kids' title "First Time Fasting" is another great rea...
From 6 Favorite Children’s Books about Ramadan
This article was shared in a community I run to connect globetrotting parents and everyone LOVED it. You should join us! We all relate to your experience. Many of us, including me, are in the same b...
From Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get
Please help: I Love my wife and my son. I am also EXTREMELY involved as a dad. I had to move to china ( in a tiny tiny town) where I am the only foreigner so that my wife can take over the family bu...
From How My Chinese Mother-in-Law Replaced my Husband
Thanks for writing this!! My baby is 7 months, and I love having her sleep in my room. I don't mention it too often to people who have had kids because they seem a little judgy on it. So tonight I...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
Honestly, it looks like the author married into a very backward and old fashioned family. Not stimulating children's curiosity, differences between boys and girls, and women slaving in the house, wh...
From French versus Italian Parenting in One Multicultural Family

More from Our Bloggers