How to Raise a Multi-Lingual Child. (Yeah right)

I am raising a multi-lingual child. The 3yr old Beast is speaking English. (Thank you me.) Spanish. (Thank you Dora.) And now Maori – thanks to her preschool. Today she asked me (with an annoyed expression on her face)

“Mama, why you speaking English?”

“Umm because that’s the language that we speak.”

“No, we have to talk like Dora. Or talk like Anna” ( Anna being her teacher at school.)

And then she rattles off stuff in Maori. Mixed in with nuggets of Spanish. Well, I’m assuming that’s what she was doing. It was all undecipherable to me. Because, like…all I can speak is ENGLISH…like…sorry for being such an uncultured derwit.

But then for a moment there I felt aflush and aflutter with pride. In myself. In my magnificent mothering skills. Wow, my 3yr old is already conversant in THREE different languages! That’s like…sooo 2011, sooo international…soooo intellectual!

The moment quickly passed. (as most fluttery self-praising moments do)Because it then occurred to me, that she speaks English by osmosis default, Spanish because Im lazy and let her watch faaaar too much television, and she speaks Maori because she’s got kickbutt awesome preschool teachers. And on top of all that?

We’re actually SAMOAN. (well mixed up mongrel Samoans)

And she can’t speak a word of Samoan.

Conclusion: Child is multi-lingual because she has a Bad Mother. #Epic Fail yet again…

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21 comments

  1. So completely relatable! My son speaks 5 languages (Spanish, French, English, Chinese and Tongan) and American Sign Language. It's good for their brains at this age. They're more susceptible to learning and comprehending it now. I've labeled things around the house in all the languages so he recognizes the words by sight as well. I'd recommend doing the same with your three year old with the Samoan words. They pick it up quite easily at that age.@LyfesLyrics

  2. And Dora wins again. So I take it she doesn't watch 'Ni Hao Kai Lan' (on Nick Jr channel). Because Lyla is multi-broken-lingual in English, Spanish (cheers Dora and her less annoying cousin Diego), and Chinese.Yep, no Samoan. Eek!

  3. I am in awe of your son Life'sLyrics. And thank you for the language tips. Bina – clearly your Lyla and my Beast will be very bestest friends in the multi-broken-lingual future.(whether or not they will actually LISTEN to each other as they babble away is another story.)We both need to follow LLyrics suggestion and start sticking Samoan word post-its on stuff.

  4. I love your post. My cousins have three daughters and each was born in a different country and learned a different language in preschool. There household is a complete mishmash of English, Mandarin, Hebrew and Russian. Freakish. Have a good weekend.

  5. Hahaha!!! Yes, the ongoing guilt over learning other languages and not Samoan. My 4 year old is learning Spanish, it started with Dora but now at school she has a teacher that only talks to them in Spanish. She is picking it up. Two other teachers are teaching them American Sign Language, which I find amazing! Now, if only the school had a Samoan teacher, I would be all set. In the mean time, learning Samoan songs count right?

  6. Great to have you stop by Lauren B – I feel very inadequate just reading about your cousins children and their rich tapestry of languages. While here I am getting out the post-it notes…Unknown – Dora the Explorer must be responsible for Spanish literacy the world over. You're right, Im sure Samoan songs would help. I need to learn me some…(the Beast will prob tell me to "be quiet, I cant hear Dora!")

  7. Love it! I'm not sure my kids speak English at all since they give me blank stares when I tell them they need to clean their room or it's time to go to bed. LOL Maybe I should tell them in Spanish/Samoan/Maori/Spanish/Pokeman…Cyndi

  8. I was born and raised in the states but I think the biggest factors in my knowing samoan fluently were daily bible readings with in english and samoan (reading and translations), listening to samoan music (familiarize with pronunciation) and good old speaking to them in samoan and emphasizing meaning with tone of voice 😉

  9. Never mind how she got there Lani! Milk it for all its worth! The world is becoming a smaller place so the 3 yr old will need all the languages she can speak. Although your isn't the first child I've heard of who is addicted to Dora. I think there is subliminal messaging in there!

  10. Thats an excellent point Cyndi – my teenagers must now speak a totally diff lang because they too completely ignore me. The diff lang possibility never ocurred to me…Lady Vee – You're fortunate to have been given such a solid foundation in your language from an early age. Toa Gabriel – I forgot to mention that the Beast is tapping into her Chinese ancestry thanks to Ni Hao Kai Lan. (her grt grandfather on her Dad's side was from China) The Beast is becoming quite attached to Kai Lan show as well. Lan – you raise a disturbing point…what sorts of hidden messages is Dora imparting to the worlds children?! "buy me…buy Diego…" Or "your mum is an idiot because she cant speak Spanish like me…and she doesnt have a magic map like me…" Thanks for stopping by Mena! Always fun to have you on Sleepless. No, she doesnt know any samoan profanity but only because I prefer to swear in english. The Beast can say LOTS of those…

  11. I so relate to your situation. I too, am the the mother of a Spanish (Dora Spanish), Te Reo, English and now Samoan speaking child. I really wish that there were shows with Samoan characters speaking Samoan. I love Maori Television with their cartoons with Te Reo voice overs. I am really interested in the fields of Second Language Acquisition and Child Language Acquisition with a focus on Pasifika languages in a New Zealand context. At the end of the day, our children will speak the languages that they are exposed to the most and in NZ, that is definitely English. The rest is up to us as parents. I attended a conference where John McCaffery spoke about how Pasifika languages are dying – in ten to twenty years the Tokelauan, Cook Island Maori and Niuean languages will be extinct unless their languages are revitalized. I made a decision then and there to ensure that my kids could speak Samoan fluently. They will thank me for it when they are a lot older. I didn't mean to write a novel on your blog Lani but this topic is something which affects a lot of Pasifika people who don't live in the islands and one which I feel quite strongly about but it's all down to personal choice. P.S – great to see so many good suggestions about language maintenance and strategies for helping our children to learn (or relearn)heritage languages!

  12. We're just happy when our kids reach the stage they can say an entire sentence in intelligible English (but Dora IS great for slipping in those Spanish words).And can I tell you how hilarious I find your description of The Beast – mostly because I have a 3 year old JUST LIKE THAT. (It's the piercing scream that defines her so well.)

  13. I really appreciate all the suggestions on ways to teach the Samoan language to my children.To Anon – I love the idea of a Samoan cartoon/childrens series channel here in NZ, that would certainly go a long way to getting our young ones more conversant in Samoan. My parents didnt teach us to speak Samoan, the emphasis was always on English. Yes we picked up a lot at school and then later in life via work etc, but there have been many times in my life when I have wished that we had been raised truly bilingual. Oh, and I love novel blog comments, so please dont apologize, write more of them…Hiya Melissa – so buzzed to have you visit Sleepless, i LOVE your blog which i just discovered recently – and then spent ages going through all your old posts ( laughing, laughing. laughing) And there I thought we were the only ones "blessed" with a bossy little Beast like this one…

  14. I'm from Eastern Kentucky, you are lucky I speak English. I do speak a bit of Spanish but really that language was never meant to be spoken with a Southern accent.Tirz

  15. Haha that was great! When my husband and I eventually have kids I really want them to identify with their Samoan side: speak as much of the language as possible, know about Samoan history, be able to siva like they were born in Samoa, and wear a ie of their own free will every day of their lives[lol!]. But I can't speak Samoan!

  16. I hear you Plumeria – i think parents always want their children to have what they didnt and be what they werent. You have time now to start practising your Samoan LOL. Better get out those postit notes and stick them everywhere. Great to see OneSamoana readers here on Sleepless. Thank you for hanging out with us

  17. Hi Lani, I have first time mother syndrome which I believe you have blogged about in the past. This has led me to be completely determined my child will be truly bilingual despite my own broken Samoan (my own parents made a conscious decision to emphasise English- the language I'd use for Uni- as it was a foregone conclusion to them that's where I'd be going). Funnily enough my Samoan actually improved in Auckland Uni as I had 2 close friends from Samoa and we were homesick so we spoke Samoan all the time (and we didn't want other people to know what we were saying). My own Samoan is now improving exponentially from reading to my 5 month old every day in Samoan. My vocabulary is really expanding- yes expanding from books meant for 5 year olds. It's pretty humbling! Lol! I also sing to him with accompanying hand actions songs like 'tolu tama'i pato' and 'masina masinae'. Definitely first time mother syndrome!

  18. I admire parents who are making that conscious effort to teach their child 'another' language.And thats so neat that your lang skills are improving as you teach your son. Like you, my parents didnt raise us to speak Samoan and I have certainly wished that my Samoan lang was better so many times since. Esp in the workplace in Samoa. In recent years my Samoan has gotten so much better thanks to several positions in church that required me to teach workshops to mainly samoan speaking audiences and of course thanks to the tsunami book research. Now, me and my husband speak Samoan to each other when we dont want the kids to know what we're talking about. (you know, when you're saying bad stuff about other people..or discussing a child when theyre right there.) Well the joke was on us because we were doing that the other day when our eldest sighed and rolled his eyes, "u do realize that i know what youre saying right?" He laughed and walked away. Oh, okay.

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