Everyone chooses their acquaintances according to their own sensibilities and interests. We don’t usually think much about it.These relationships develop by themselves.
And how does this apply to raising multilingual children?
If we manage this a little more consciously, it can be of great help to our children’s language learning. You can organize more frequent meetings, for example, with acquaintances who speak a language that your child needs to practise more.
As a mother, I know that sometimes it is not easy to find families where both the parents and the children get on well together. However, a compromise can be reached, for example by focusing more on the needs of the children.
In the summer, a Czech mother complained that when she moved to her new husband’s place in Austria with her eldest son, who had just entered adolescence, her son’s Austrian relatives did not want to spend time with him, even though it would have sped up his language learning and integration.
Some families are lucky and find that their relatives are happy to share their mother tongue, but even when this doesn’t happen, there is a solution. Think about it – what mother wouldn’t want someone to look after her child for an afternoon or a weekend? If we would accept this offer, then surely others would too!
To sum up, why shouldn’t we invite classmates or relatives over so that our child can pick up their language while playing with them, without even realising?
Recently, a bilingual mother from Transylvania living in Germany contacted me. She told me that she would really like her daughter to learn Hungarian well in addition to German, but she would also be happy if she could somehow make herself understood in Romanian. While I was telling her about the methods that can be used to teach two languages, she mentioned that her Romanian friend lives right next door with a child the same age as hers. When the children were playing next door, the two mothers decided to speak German, saying that they all understood it.
I suggested to her that when her daughter goes over to play, her friend should not switch to German and instead should speak Romanian. If her daughter hadn’t yet picked up enough Romanian to understand basic things with the help of context clues, then at first she could ask the children to interpret for each other.
The more naturally we can solve such a situation, the more assured we are of success.
Very often, parents ask about movies or TV series, wanting to know which ones are the most effective for practising another language. I would be happy to recommend some of these or tell you what criteria you should use to choose, but what is certain is that there are not many more effective ways to activate language than live speech.
In multilingual schools, even if one language or another is used consistently in the classrooms, it is inevitable that different groups will use different languages in the playground or in the corridors during breaks. Among other things, this can impact which of the children’s languages progresses faster or more slowly. It is not worth breaking up existing friendships, but in school group work, teachers can make sure that there students who speak different languages are grouped together.
There are tasks which can be used to create new groups. For example, a teacher could give the children a short list of items and ask them to choose their favourite. They could be colors, or geometric shapes, or even abstract ideas – in any topic you can find a series of categories, from which everyone can choose their own. Children who have chosen the same category are then grouped together. And while the groups are forming, the children will have the chance to talk to each other and new information about the other person that they might not have learnt otherwise will come to light. This can be a source of new connections.