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Family Language: Are We Still Simple?

Although some variations appear along the way, our consistency in using One-Parent-One-Language method (OPOL) simplifies many things. It (1) helps our kids to identify, develop and separate the languages,  (2) prevents us the parents from mixing languages when speaking, (3) aids us to improve our own native languages.

When we were still living in the US, kids learn English from the environment. Now that we've been living in Germany since a year ago, our kids acquire German from the environment. They keep up with their English by listening to conversations between their parents.  

For the sake of clarity, pointers of our everyday language formula:

a. I speak only Indonesian to our kids
b. Husband (Nicolas) speaks French only to kids
c. Husband and I speak English with each other,
d. School speaks French and German to Joseph
e. Day care speaks German to Louise
f.  Environment speaks German to all of us.
g. Indonesian community speaks Indonesian to our kids.
h. Sometimes kids watch movies, read books or listen to music in English

and our family's language exchange shown by the diagram below:

The two-way arrows show the languages used consistently among each of us, the dash one-way arrows show the code switch addressed by our kids.

The diagram looks more complicated compare to our diagram from 2 years ago   as there are now 4 languages and two verbally active kids (when we were still living in the US Louise was not talking yet and only 3 languages were involved).

Some additional explanations which might help (or not) to understand the diagram :

1. Louise (2 years and 1 month old)
She speaks two-three word sentences. Sometimes she speaks one language in a sentence, but mostly she still mixes Indonesian, French and German. For example, she says to me in Indonesian 'Aku mau makan' (I want to eat), or in mixed Indonesian-French 'Aku mau du lait (I want milk)', or Indonesian-German 'Ini Maus' (It's a mouse), or French-Indonesian  'Je veu le kue' (I want cookie).  For those who wonder, it's part of the learning process for a young multilingual to code-switch between languages. Whatever she says something, I always repeat the whole sentence in Indonesian to show her how to construct the correct one.

I notice she mixes two languages at a time, not more.

With 4 languages around, it's a pleasant surprise that Louise already speaks this much.

Her lisp when pronouncing 's' sounds very cute and new to us (as Joseph's  lisp was the Indonesian version for 'r').

2. Joseph (5 years and 8 months old)
Joseph goes to a French school where teaching is conducted bilingually French-German. From his latest mid-term report, obviously his German is catching up and he got good enough grades for the French assignments. His teacher says he still inserts some English words whenever he forgets the French or German. Teacher also says, although he speaks it fluently,  there are always some influences from foreign languages in his French sentences. It's very normal as he never grows up with one language only.

Interestingly enough, he never inserts any Indonesian word at school.

Joseph always speaks in Indonesian with me, and French with his dad. When he hears adults speak Indonesian to me, he will also reply in Indonesian. But if an Indonesian (kid or adult) speaks another language he knows (German or French or English), he will reply with the language that person addresses him.

He doesn't code-mix like his sister anymore, but whenever he forgets a word in a language, he will simply borrow it from another. Example:
J: Mama, di Star Wars kenapa Obi Wan Kanobi pake sabre? (Why does Obi Wan Kanobi in Star Wars use sword?)
M: Pedang itu alat bela diri mereka, untuk ngelawan orang jahat. (The sword is to protect themselves, to fight the bad guys)
J: Yang jahat itu yang pedangnya warna rouge ya? (The bad guys use red swords?)
M: Iya mereka pedangnya warna merah (Yes, their swords are red)
J: Kalau yang baik warna bleau? (The good people use the blue ones?)
M: Iya Obi Wan kan baek, dia pedangnay warna biru (Yes, Obi Wan is the good guy, he uses the blue)
J: Kenapa Flugzeug-nya bentuknya seperti itu? (Why do their airplanes have that kind of shape?)
M: Karena mungkin Star Wars jamannya beda, jadi pesawatnya juga beda (Maybe because Star Wars happened in a different era)
J: Pesawat Obi Wan warnanya biru kayak pedangnya? (Obi Wan's airplane is blue like his sword?)
M: Mmm mungkin (maybe)
J: Pesawat orang jahat warnanya merah? (the bad guys' airplane is read?)
M: Ngga tau.. mama ngga inget (Don't know, I don't remember).

3. Joseph and Louise's language when together
When they are playing together, their choices of language depend very much on the surroundings. When I'm around, they will play mostly in Indonesian, with some German, English and French here an there depending on the topic of the game. For example: when playing Star Wars Joseph will mostly speak in English as he got it from watching English DVD.  For now Joseph is the one leading the language choice, although sometimes I could hear when his sister screams, "Nein!", he would switch from whatever language they use into German.

4. The language of me and my husband.
We always speak English with each other although Lately we also add Dutch when we need to exchange some secrets in front of the kids. I don't know how long Dutch stays exclusive as German is very similar to Dutch and our soon-to-be fluent German speaker kids will easily crack the Dutch language codes.

You see, I sometimes take our family language formula for granted. We've been living with many languages since forever and this diagram shows our daily exchanges, 24/7, 365 days a year. I only realize how crazy our family language might seem when drawing this diagram. It took me sometime to finish it and when it was in front of my eyes, suddenly I understood why strangers stare or give comments and some friends think we are insane. LOL. Still, with the help of research from multilingual families before us, we've been doing well and the four of us are having so much fun living with many languages.


( 52 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 4th, 2009 07:45 am (UTC)
Holy Macaroni 5 languages in one household!! :)
Mbak Santi, your family amazed me. In a very positive tone !! :)

If we have kids one day most likely we have only 3 active languages: Indonesia, Dutch and English. But you have two additional languages @ the house. I really admire the patience of everyone involved. Btw I do recognize the part of Joseph borrowing words that he doesn't know from another language. That's what happened to both of us when we learn respectively Dutch (for me) and Indonesia (for Ingmar). And somehow I notice that if I'm getting tired...I do mix dutch-indonesia-english in one sentences :)
May. 10th, 2009 06:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Holy Macaroni 5 languages in one household!! :)
We're just being consistent :D. Both you and Ingmar went through the same thing, I'm sure you guys will be doing it great with Devica!
May. 4th, 2009 09:55 am (UTC)
Unique Family

D'aprés moi, it is not about being a simple family. It is consequently raising your kids multilingually. It intrigued me to hear Jo speaking bahasa Indonesia with French accent when we met last month. In my turn, I was kind of ashamed knowing that I only use Dutch talking with my daughter, but you guys manage to use 4 different languages.

I believe when your kids are grown, they will thank you for this.

My sincere compliments for the unique family!

May. 10th, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Unique Family
Thank you banget, Yen. Parenting is about the situation we live in and the things we think important to tour kids. If you think adding Indonesian into G's language will be valuable, it's never to late to start :D.
May. 4th, 2009 10:46 am (UTC)
My Good Lord !!
Santi ... it is so amazing, how you all manage that language organization.

Perhaps it needs now efforts to practice but later on your children would have the juice of languages.

regards, Anky

May. 10th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
Re: My Good Lord !!
Actually, I've been 'playing' with language strategy a long time and somehow it doesn't feel hard anymore. Efforts to keep up with their Indonesian feels like another set of game ... serious but fun.
May. 4th, 2009 12:10 pm (UTC)
anak2 cepat mengadaptasi bahasa ya. beruntunglah bisa mengetahui beberapa macam bahasa
May. 4th, 2009 12:32 pm (UTC)

Andra's fave Indonesian phrases that he used over and over when speaking to non-Indonesian speakers: boyong-boyong, boing-boing, mute-mute, nyala-nyala.....:)
May. 15th, 2009 04:20 pm (UTC)
Hahaha kocaaaak ...boyong2 itu maksudnya dorong?
May. 4th, 2009 07:55 pm (UTC)
As usual, I am still amaze without thinking that you are crazy. It's very interesting indeed. And many times encourage me to speak more Indonesian to the kids. Even when they looked at me like I was speaking jibberish :P
May. 10th, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
It's all about consistency and habit, Cind :D.
May. 4th, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC)
OMG!! I have friends here who wont speak indonesian at all with their kids, which is a shame cos i tell them many times that kids will not mix languages permanently, as they get older they will be able to differentiate languages and will be able to speak more than one languages fluently..
my friends who do speak several languages with their kids have the same experiences with you. I remember my brothers when they were little, they used to say things like, "Kakak, aku mau milk"
(I babysit them while dad is at the university and mom is at work, I was 10-11 at the time and brothers were 3 and 2)

But your kids are blessed to be able to speak 4 (and soon 5) languages.. I can barely speak french, so i speak two and a half languages at the moment, comprehend 2 and three quarters (a bit of dutch).. lol..

and kudos on this post, it's really informative and fascinating!

May. 10th, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
Ironically, many of those parent put their kids into some other foreign language classes but completely forget about the Indonesian language. It's not only about fearing about the bad effects of multiple languages, but it's also about not seeing the value of our language. Sad.

Thanks Rim ... your compliment means a lot :D.
May. 4th, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC)
It's very interesting to see your and Clo's (http://multitonguekids.blogspot.com/2009/02/how-things-change-family-language.html) family language diagrams as they are quite similar to mine. We also started with 3 languages, have now 4 and have been close to have 5.
I sometimes wish I can have also a secret language with my wife in front of the kids. Of the 4 or 5 languages we share our oldest son understands all of them to some extent!
When I asked once to a swiss german girl why her French was so good, one of the reason she gave was that her polish mother, a French teacher, used it with her father when they did not want to be understood by the children... a good motivation to learn the language!

May. 10th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
Yom, LOL about that French story. We better be careful then with our Dutch .. it's really our only secret language.

Good luck with your multilingual family!!
May. 5th, 2009 03:16 am (UTC)
Multilingual Parenting
We too have 4 languages in our family going on at the same time.
The boys are learning English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese.
In school they learn English and Mandarin. Both hubby and I speak all 4 languages to them at different times and they have learned when to reply in the appropriate language which is currently spoken.

From Dominique's Desk
May. 10th, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Multilingual Parenting
Wow .. your family is amazing ... Japanese and two Chinese languages all together, plus English. I guess I will be just dumbfounded when listening to your family speak to each other! All the best!
May. 13th, 2009 11:19 pm (UTC)
can we exchange link?
Glad to find another person who promotes bilingual life. Me too! I am a big fun of bilingual education, bilingual parenting, and bilingual life as you are. Right now I am teaching my baby to learn Chinese, hoping she will become a bilingual in the future.

Can we exchange link? My reciprocal link goes like this:

Best4Future Blog: Bringing up baby bilingual!
Devoted to bilingual learning, parenting and teaching!

You can submit your link at http://www.best4future.com/blog and click "links". Thank you!
May. 16th, 2009 06:05 pm (UTC)
Re: can we exchange link?
Hi there! I would be happy to put you on my link list!!
May. 15th, 2009 03:59 pm (UTC)
how to respond / react
Célia tends to speak french to me while I try all my effort to speak only indonesian to her (some time I fail). She did say words in indonesia but not a phrase.
Should I correct her from the beginining or let her speak as she wishes and hoping she will pick up indonesian later ?
May. 16th, 2009 06:05 pm (UTC)
Re: how to respond / react
There are ways to correct without pointing out the mistake. For example, when Celia said 'du lait' you could repeat 'susu', when she said 'je suis fatigue' you could repet 'aduh kasian kamu capek ya nak'. This way will direct her to understand that she's expected to address you in Indonesian.
Jun. 1st, 2009 05:40 am (UTC)
we are in a similar situation: I speak with my girls in Russian, my husband- in spanish, we (parents) communicate in English and everyone around us in japanese. My children can speak 3 languages: russian, spanish and japanese, but unfortunatly no English...looks like they are not really interested in the parents conversation so far.
Jun. 1st, 2009 12:40 pm (UTC)
Congrats to your family! It must be very interesting to read your blog, unfortunately I don't speak Russian.
(no subject) - molo4nayakuhnya - Jun. 1st, 2009 01:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 1st, 2009 11:19 am (UTC)
this sounds a bit like my family where we speak 3 languages in the house (english, greek, and russian)Some people have reacted the same way but it's a good environment for your kids to be in,they learn more without even realizing it.
Jun. 1st, 2009 12:42 pm (UTC)
Yes, it is! I'm sure you feel all the advantages of being a natural polyglot .. acquiring three languages without realizing!
Jun. 1st, 2009 01:58 pm (UTC)
Wow, I'm amazed. I think it's incredible! If I had a family and kids, I would want to raise them multilingually, too. But that means I have a lot of work cut out for me, to be multilingual myself. I hope your kids will appreciate what a gift they have. So many people really struggle with languages, so to have it from the beginning - it's awesome. I would love to be fluent in several languages, but I am having to attempt it the old fashioned way, since I was raised in an English-only environment. If you have any suggestions for adult language learning, I'd take any advice you had. (o: Anyway, good luck! I'm envious of your household!
Jun. 1st, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Choose a language you want to master, register yourself to a course that suits you, and keep on practicing! Good luck!!
Jun. 1st, 2009 08:12 pm (UTC)
Hi. I found your journal from the spotlight. :-)

I'm really enjoying your posts about language, I am multi-lingual myself (German, grew up in the french speaking part of Belgium and now living in the UK) and so is my fiance (Rwandese, so speaks Kinyarwanda and French as mother tongues, and now studying in Uganda so almost fluent in English). We have several times discussed how we will teach our future children these languages and never really found a good plan. So it's nice to hear of a method that works!
Jun. 2nd, 2009 10:02 am (UTC)
Wow, you guys are real multilinguals!! If I may suggest, gather as much info before deciding which way you want when raising your kids in many languages!!
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