When Kids Are Multi-Lingual

Earlier this week, my friend took her 2-year old daughter to a Speech Therapist. The daycare teacher advised her to get her daughter assessed for a potential speech delay.

For those of us who know this beautiful, charming kid, we were pretty sure there was no problem. The therapist’s assessment validated our impression. It is not a problem in speech as it is in confidence. Her daughter knows quite a number of words already. She’s probably just too shy to engage with the other kids.

In my opinion (and I need to emphasize that this is only an opinion; I am obviously far from an expert on this subject matter), there are 2 reasons why this happened:

  1. Culturally (generalizing here), Filipinos are shy. At least, if you compare us to Americans. Filipinos do not strike up conversations with anyone as casually as Americans do. “How are you doing?” or “Nice weather today, huh?” are not common lines you hear in our coffee shops or grocery stores. Perhaps, this Filipino kid is not really shy, but she is, in American standards. Debatable, for sure.
  2. Multi-lingual kids, I’ve read somewhere, learn more words than mono-lingual kids. But they know fewer words in each language. Possibly, this Filipino kid just knows less English words compared to her classmates whose native tongue is English. And this potentially contributes to #1.

I realize that multilingualism is a natural scenario for expat families like ours. When the native language is different from the community language. My husband and I are from the Philippines and we are currently raising our kids in the US. At home, our kids hear us talk in Filipino. When they Facetime with the grandparents, they hear another foreign dialect (Bisaya is a dialect commonly used in the southern regions in the Philippines). When my daughter is in daycare, it is English. The husband is of Chinese descent who grew up in a Chinese-speaking home (in fact, his parents required that the grandkids must learn to speak Fookien/Mandarin).

In the Philippines, this is typical. Kids speak Filipino and/or another local dialect at home, Filipino and English in school. This is fine because kids can switch from one language to another and they would still understand each other. It is a different case for my daughter at daycare here. Last year, she started saying some Filipino words that her teacher couldn’t understand. The dad and I had decided to speak to her only in English since then. But we can tell that she eavesdrops in our Filipino conversations and picks up some words. And that is fine, too.

That said, I still believe that multilingualism is good for the kids. I still want my kids to be multi-lingual. They may mix it up at first. Get confused. But they’ll get the hang of it eventually. And then, it is my hope, that they’ll grow up knowing how to charm their grandparents in the local dialect, be fluent in English, survive the Manila streets in Filipino. I want them to love traveling and to learn as many languages as they can. And I want them to have a lasting appreciation of their Filipino heritage.

I wonder how the other (expat) families in a similar situation manage this. I could use a few best practices. 🙂


4 thoughts on “When Kids Are Multi-Lingual

  1. Start speaking Your language with her again. My experience is that otherwise she will not really pick it up. We did the same with our daughter with the result, that she doesn’t want to speak Swiss German as she struggles with the pronunciation. She tries again and again, only to get frustrated, as she realizes she doesn’t sound like us… She understands it, but doesn’t speak. She only speaks English. I think it is a shame that we let that happen. As I believe it would also help her picking up other languages. And can compare her to my son, who speaks both and learns French and Korean at the moment. I feel like his brain is used to different sounds, different meanings, because it got “trained” early to accept that.

    Liked by 1 person


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