“Please”, “Merci” en “Dank u wel”: Raising our Child in Three Languages- our seven cents worth..

There once was a Belgian/Australian lady with an Aussie dog who met a French/handsome man in the land Down Under. After travelling some time across the world for work, they settled back in Paris and now have two perfect little, curly-haired blends of all of the above. Safe to say we have our own little mixing pot of various cultural habits, culinary discoveries, and most importantly all the languages that come with being a multi-national family.

Before our girls were even conceived, we had made the conscious decision that we would be raising our future children in the three languages we ourselves grew up with: French, English and Flemish (which essentially is Dutch but with a way cooler accent 😉 hihi – says the person from Belgium.

Raised as a multi-lingual child myself, and living among expats for most of our lives, we knew that such a task would come with its own challenges (besides the techniques taught to us by the literature surrounding this topic). We’ve got a long road ahead of us still, but thought to share with you seven truths we have learnt so far:

1. Raising a multi-lingual child will not confuse them.

Despite what some people believe, having a child learn multiple languages from day 1 is not as difficult as it would be for an older child or adult. Their little brains are sponges who will soak up any information they can and will put it into place later. Keep filling that sponge – but be as consistent as possible.

2. Consistency is key

It’s important to remain consistent. No language is ever learnt by throwing around random words without a clear context or setting. As we are raising our little poop machines in the three languages, we have mom who speaks to her in Flemish, dad in French and English is spoken when we’re all together as well as in the cartoons they see on Netflix (yes, we’re those kind of parents who let their children watch TV…. a lot… for shame!)

3. People will have an opinion about your parenting, regardless of what you say or do

I must admit, a cocky part of myself thought people would react quite well to the fact we are raising our child in a multilingual setting. So it came to a bit of a surprise that quite a lot of reactions leaned towards the negative or even critical side… Comments such as ‘it will only confuse them’..’they will loose their French (*we live in Paris)’.. ‘I would not put that pressure on my child’ .. and ‘who needs Flemish anyway’ are among my top favorite ones. At the end of the day, people are crappy and will have something to say about your parenting no matter what you do or don’t do.. so let them criticize away as your child learns how to say ‘mind your own business’ in three different languages.

4. Lost in translation

As most multilingual families/couples know, a lot of arguments can blow up with a simple mistranslated sentence or saying… some can turn out quite comical where others have you turning on each other like a couple of stray cats. Always communicate with each other and your children, and identify where the confusion lies so we learn from our mistakes. For example, ‘What ya doin’? in English does not correspond well with its direct translation of ‘Tu fais quoi?’ in French. On the contrary…. saying it like that sounds more like ‘what the bloody hell do you think you’re doing there mate!’ (we learnt that one in the car!)

5. Don’t underestimate the power of cartoons!

As I mentioned before, our children do watch TV daily, and before you put on your ‘judge-y’ pants, all their programs include age appropriate and educational cartoons. They do not watch Game of Thrones with us nor do they become violent as a result of over stimulation to movement and colors. In fact, our eldest learnt (when she was 2) to count to 10 with ‘Curious George’, the names of all the playground equipment with ‘Peppa Pig’ and experienced the joys of completing a task with ‘Dora the Explorer’. I most certainly am not promoting our children sit in front of the tube all the livelong day without any other activities, but don’t worry too much if some days that TV has been on longer than others.. they’ll be fine.

6. Some delay in speaking can be expected

A lot of children speaking more than one language, may mix up some of the words a little as they start forming full sentences.  Yes, compared to little Johnny from next door, they may not be reciting their favorite poem just yet or they tend to sound like a UN translator after a few drinks as they mix up their languages… but give them a few extra months to get the hang of it and they’ll be able to tell you all about their day in more language than one. If anything, the initial mixing of languages can be quite adorable at times!

7. Your child is not better than any other

There are of course some parents who act as if their multilingual child is far more advanced than any other child who can’t ask for their blanky in Latin or what have you… Every single child has its own strengths and weaknesses and where your child might excel in one area, another trumps them in another field. It’s not a competition (contrary to what most of us experience) and our little monsters are all geniuses in their own way!

None of this information is new and I’m sure most of you have far more experience to back up the above points.. I wanted to share what we’ve known so far and encourage those multilingual parents who may have had doubts before to keep on going !!

In my opinion, if you can raise your child with more than one language,  it’s nothing but a gift you can give them ……


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