Multilingual Upbringing Part I

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Let me give you a little bit of a background on myself when it comes to foreign languages.

I grew up in Russia with parents who didn’t speak any foreign languages, nor had any particular interest in introducing them to their children. To be honest, back then, speaking multiple languages wasn’t exactly in style. By the time I was old enough to go to school, things had changed. Some public schools got “converted” to what they called “gymnasiums”, a special more privileged type of school that had a very strong and specific focus, be it languages or science or sports. The school I went to had certain classes with a strong focus on foreign languages, and other classes that had no focus at all. ( When I say “class” here, I mean, a group of 30 students assigned to the same “class”, who go through school together for 12 years ( elementary to high school), having all the same subjects and schedules. )

The way they determined whether a kid goes to a program that specializes in foreign languages vs a normal program were some sort of IQ tests ( I am not sure if these were actual IQ tests, but we definitely went through some kind of intelligence measuring tests). So after the 1st grade, all students would go through this test and the school would assign them to 5-6 classes of 30 people each, with two of them being the specialized (kind of like AP) classes, whose studies would concentrate on foreign languages. Even though I got into the AP class, I was too young to even understand the concept of a foreign language, not having been introduced to it previously. All I knew I wanted was to be and stay in the AP class (if you performed badly, you would get demoted to the “ordinary” classes).

So in the 2nd grade we started our English program. We had English class every single day, including Saturdays (which was a school day in Russia). That’s where I got a taste for foreign languages. I loved the concept of learning a completely new set of words and rules in a language that I knew nothing about.

That love continued and I got more and more interested in learning English. In 5th grade, the program introduced a second foreign language. We had to pick French or German. I picked German, because both my sister and my mom took german in school (under the normal program that introduces a foreign language in 5th grade, rather than 2nd like we had). Looking back, that was very silly of me, since neither one of them spoke more than a few words of German.
I still liked that I was studying yet another foreign language, but I wasn’t as obsessed with German as I was with English. Again, hindsight being 20/20, oh how I wish I had paid a little more attention and studied harder for my German classes as I did for my English. At this point, I can’t even say I have any knowledge of German: I recognize some words, I know how to read and how things sound, and if I could take a few months to study it up, I’m sure I’d be right back where I left it. But as of this moment, I don’t consider it functional at all.

We continued learning two foreign languages and in high school my favorite part started: the “in-depth” English studies. We had English composition, English literature, English “geography” ( a class where we studied the geography,political systems, and customs of all English speaking countries). All these special classes were taught strictly in English. We were even made to memorize long verses of Hamlet and Beowulf and other English classics.


I was obsessed! I knew I wanted to somehow connect my life with foreign languages. I knew if I had a prayer of getting into college to study foreign languages, I had to be a perfect student. I was getting all As, I had a million extra curriculum, from volleyball team to math club, to “intellectual” club to English speaking club. In any downtime, I would study English on my own via dictionaries and other materials bought from the university.

When I got into college, we continued studying 2 languages, English and German. I felt I needed more, so I ordered a special long distance Spanish class ( Spanish was VERY exotic back then, and it was impossible to find classes). This was my second obsession. Then I moved to US where I tried to continue studying Spanish on my own, but with no support and no real need to learn a foreign language ( because everyone speaks English), I slowly transitioned away from Spanish, though my love for it stayed.

Fast forward to now… Over many years of our marriage, I attempted to get hubby to take up a language with me. There were always excuses, we couldn’t agree on a language. He wanted French, the language of love, I couldn’t stand French. Eventually, I traveled to France and heard French the way it was supposed to be heard, spoken by normal people, and I fell in love with it. I came back home, and happily announced that we can now study French! We attempted to do so, however it being my husband’s first foreign language, it was really really hard for him. So eventually I gave up, because it was impossible to get him to remember anything.  We switched back to Spanish, as it’s a much easier language and much more useful here in Florida. Plus he had lived up in Puerto Rico till he was 7 and spoke fluent Spanish (none of which he remembers now of course), so at least we had some sort of base there for him.

Spanish went much better, however there was still very little interest from him and I would have to really push us to study daily. Eventually, we got really busy and stopped our daily lessons, however we still try to speak some spanish to each other and watch occasional spanish shows.

So now that we are eagerly awaiting Alexis’s arrival, the topic of multilingual upbringing came up again. For me, foreign languages are a part of my life. It’s something I love, it’s something I do daily. I cannot IMAGINE not giving the same opportunities and benefits of learning and knowing another language to my daughter. My husband feels the same, though it’s easy for him to speak, since he’s monolingual and I would have to do all the heavy lifting on this one.

After reading a few books on bilingual and monolingual upbringing, we are both convinced it’s a MUST, it wires the baby’s brain in the most beneficial way. However, I can’t say it doesn’t have its own HUGE challenges…

I will write about our “plan” and our concerns and the questions that we have to other families who by choice or by necessity had chosen to go bi- or multi-lingual with their kids.

So look forward to Multilingual Upbringing Part II if you have something to contribute.

In the meantime, Saturday is the last day to enter in the Annee Matthew Maternity giveaway.
And Sunday I’ll introduce you to another maternity and clothing brand with an opportunity to win something yummy looking.

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  • Reply
    October 13, 2011 at 9:30 PM

    I’m also raising my son bilingual (German/English) and when he will go to school I’m hoping to find a Spanish immersion school for him. I LOVE languages..studied Spanish, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Bosnian, etc. I was a Linguistics major in college and taught ESL…I’m horrible at math, but languages are easy for me!

  • Reply
    October 14, 2011 at 6:29 AM

    I think this is an awesome idea! Alexis is so lucky to be getting exposure to different languages at home from the beginning!

  • Reply
    October 14, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    Oh wow, my 5 month old is also named Alexis. She is being raised in a tri-lingual home – I speak to her in Croatian exclusively, my husband in English and nanny in Spanish. I am fully aware that it will take longer for her to actually start speaking, but once she does she will be speaking 3 languages. There is nothing better than her knowing all parts of her heritage, and language is a great way to do that.

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 14, 2011 at 9:52 AM

      That’s out plan too. Me- exclusively Russian, hubby- exclusively English and then both of us Spanish on the weekends. I am incredibly overwhelmed by that idea though. I know it’s the best way but it’s going to be so hard for me. Please come back for the 2nd part of the post, I really will need your experience in that!!!!

  • Reply
    October 14, 2011 at 12:29 PM

    I’m a ghost follower … this is the first time I post a comment, and now with my newest blog! hahaha
    Anyway… I thought I should comment because this is a hot topic here at home too. I’m from Norway and when I was 20 My family moved to Miami and now I’m living with my husband in Pensacola. We are having a girl too and I’m also 25 weeks pregnant!! I was thinking about speak exclusively norwegian with her and my husband exclusively English,but I don’t know if this could be right,you know… I’m afraid that she would mix everything and don’t have a great accent you know…
    BTW I loved your blog,my friend just sent me and it’s really great! Can’t wait for part 2!

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 14, 2011 at 2:47 PM

      I read a few books on multilingual upbringing and there are definite way of doing things ( OPOL- one parent one language is one of them). I’ll be writing about all that in detail. Despite having read the books and knowing the concept of how multilingual upbringing works, I am still very intimidated by the prospect.
      Btw, children can handle up to 4 languages from birth without mixing them, so you should not worry about that. Usually bilinguals start speaking later but they know a lot more words in two languages combined than monolinguals. And she won’t have an accent- most likely what’s going to happen is she’s going to refuse speaking Norwegian with you, because it’s the not the “cool language” that all kids speak. So her english will be perfect, don’t even worry about that. It’s the other language that concerns me personally…
      But I’ll write more about that.

      Going over to your new blog to read and subscribe!

    • Reply
      October 17, 2011 at 11:28 AM

      Elle do you have a blog? If so I’d LOVE to read it 🙂 I grew up in Sweden and love reading blogs from fellow scandinavians! My dad and brother are currently living and working in Stord Norway- hopefully I will get there next summer to visit.

  • Reply
    October 14, 2011 at 8:20 PM

    This is going to be so great for Alexis, Elena! I’ve read that the part of your brain that picks up on languages slows down in developing after the age of 5 or so, so it’ll be so great to get that linguistic foundation set.

    I know now later on in life, I’m regretting not paying closer attention to my parents and grandparents speaking German.

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 14, 2011 at 10:40 PM

      It’s even more than that, Jess! The baby loses the ability to pick up different language sounds at 6 months of age. And then the ability to learn a language with ease at 5 years of age. So it’s incredibly important for us to have a plan now.
      I find it funny how we always regret not paying enough attention to languages, but as kids we found it bothersome and lame.

  • Reply
    October 14, 2011 at 10:35 PM

    Hallo 🙂

    I’m from Germany and moved to the States almost 7 years ago. I loved that we had to learn two other languages in school as well (although not as early as you did) and am very glad now that I stuck with English 😉

    We have 3 daughters and are raising them bilingual. Although my husband understands German and can speak it fairly well we decided that I exclusively speak German with them while he exclusively speaks English with them. It works really well for us 🙂

    Can’t wait to hear your plan!

    Ich wünsche euch ein schönes Wochenende:-)


    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 14, 2011 at 10:42 PM

      Jeane, I’ll be very interested to hear your experience and opinion on the matter. We’ll be doing OPOL method too, but I am just really intimidated by having to speak exclusively Russian. We’ll talk more on the 2nd part of the post.
      Have a good weekend too! 🙂 Had to google “wochenende” ( though looking at it now- if i was a bit more attentive i could have figured it out based on “ende” lol)

  • Reply
    October 14, 2011 at 10:47 PM

    To say that I feel ya on this one would be an understatement. I don’t know if you read any of my bilingual posts, but I actually went to one of those special schools! I remember taking the test and it was RIDICULOUS. Anywho, I went to a school that specialized in foreign languages and math. By the time I moved to the US in 6th grade, I was doing math at about 10th grade level and was on to my second language. It’s crazy how different our school systems were bc I knew NOTHING about geography or history.

    Anyways, we’re raising a bilingual baby! I actually found a school nearby that does lessons on weekends starting at 2 years old. I can’t wait to enroll Peanut.

    In the meantime, I bought Russian books, CD’s and will let her watch Russian cartoons later on (we’re waiting till she’s 2). If you want to talk back and forth about strategies with raising a bilingual baby with American husbands, let me know. I would LOVE someone to shoot ideas with back and forth.

    ps- Jon got these CD’s to learn Russian so he could also tlak to her and they were doing WONDERS for a while (he got too busy).

    On a funny note, the way they ask you to remember KOROVA is by thinking of running a CAR OVER one!

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 16, 2011 at 4:07 PM

      I will definitely want to talk strategies with you. The whole idea is difficult for me because I am no longer comfortable speaking Russian. I can’t express myself fully in it. So it will a lot of work for me, especially if we do OPOL.
      Let me know what you think when I post the 2nd part of the post and we’ll go from there.

  • Reply
    October 17, 2011 at 12:23 AM

    I think if you have the ability to do this (which, sounds like you do) it is a great great thing you can do for your child. We, sadly, don’t speak 2 languages in our house, but if we did I think we would definitely raise our kids bilingual! Look forward to seeing how it goes for you!

  • Reply
    October 17, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    I grew up in Sweden ( moved to the US when I was 12) and then two years ago my husband and our son, who was 1.5 at the time spent 7 months there studying abroad. When we came back I was DETERMINED to speak Swedish with him. I don’t do it all the time- but I’m determined to start before having his brother or sister in April- it’s amazing for their little minds. My son speaks english, but understands everything in Sweden and speaks it some. He also goes to Swedish class every other Sunday and its helped him. Also, watching Swedish movies is a big bonus- I don’t feel bad letting him watch some movies because it’s super beneficial to him to be hearing other kids converse completely in Swedish. And when he does speak Swedish- no accent! Win win.

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 17, 2011 at 12:38 PM

      From what I read, in order to have them speak a 2nd language freely, you need to do the OPOL method ( one parent one language), otherwise, they’ll be able to understand but not speak or read very well. Or at least put in about 3 hours of speaking that language a day. Which is sort of hard for msot people, because we’re so used to speaking English.

  • Reply
    October 17, 2011 at 11:00 PM

    Alexis is so lucky to have you as her mommy and to have the opportunity to grow up in a home with multiple languages. I wish that I could speak another language so that I could teach my son! It sounds like you have a great plan and I can’t wait to read more about it in your future posts.

  • Reply
    The Art of Making a Baby » Blog Archive Multilingual Upbringing Part II- Our Plan | The Art of Making a Baby_The Art of Making a Baby
    October 19, 2011 at 2:12 PM

    […] you have read the Part I, you know where we are at when it comes to foreign […]

  • Reply
    October 27, 2011 at 12:51 PM

    Lena, you forgot about another “foreign” language that you studied in school. I know you, Russian kids, hated Tatar classes. I can’t blame you – they are useless to you. However, if anybody chose to study Turkish (or any other Turkic language) later on in their lives, they would find it extremely similar and easy to pick up. I guess there was a benefit of being exposed to a language from a different language group:)
    Awesome post!

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      October 27, 2011 at 12:53 PM

      Hahahahaha! no, I actually do remember about it, but I just couldn’t include it in the list because I literally know NOTHING! We were sailing through those classes just to pass because it was mandatory. Now you do have it as a language you can name as your 2nd primary, which is pretty cool!

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