Thursday, October 20, 2011

Parenting: Bringing up a mutiligual / multicultural family

This week's topic on the Expat blog hop on Tales from Windmill Fields is Parenting: Bringing up a multiligual / multicultural family

We are a British/portuguese family, now living in Portugal, one child born in England and one born in Portugal.  When we lived in England, we didnt have any plans to move to Portugal and so we decided to focus on the English rather than teach Sophie both languages, at least to start.  Having looked into various studies etc, we decided that was our best way forward to help her in her development, especially as she was quite a late speaker, adding another language would just confuse things and as I was the primary caregiver the amount of exposure to Portuguese would be minimal at best.  This of course, gave almost everyone, the idea that they could share an opinion as to our choice at the time, and if I got 50p for everytime someone had something to say about it, I would be rich now.  After a while the ears close and you nod and smile.

Anyway, things did not stay that way and we ended up moving to Portugal and now Sophie is a mulitlingual child, no problem, so people can stop fussing and worrying.  Grace will also be multilingual and is slowly picking up both languages, which is probably a bit confusing as most of the new vocabulary is coming from me at the moment with my husband working away.  Im sure she doesnt have a clue what language she is speaking and frequently mixes the languages together, which is nothing unusual in our house with a mix of port-ingles being spoken frequently.

In our house the language is and always will be English, as long as I am around.  Its the biggest thing about my culture I can instil in my children as most other cultural aspects will be Portuguese.  But I have a worry and that is, I want my children's English both written and spoken to be as good as if they lived there and obviously English is taught here as a foreign language, so how do I get that level of proficiency in them, do I have to do a level of 'home-schooling' in this area or will it just come naturally?

I like the Portuguese culture, if a little 'old fashioned' at times but that's not a bad thing, as they have the best aspects I feel of the 'old fashioned'.  They are respectful to each other and elders, polite, helpful and family is centre to all.  Children are seen as delights, not 'things' that get in the way and should be seen and not heard.  Not a bad culture I think and ideals to instil in your child.  Obviously I also want some of my culture and heritage in them, but I have to say I find it difficult to know really how to do this, especially when surrounded by the portuguese culture.

I look forward to seeing how others do it, come and see at Windmill Fields


  1. I think you're right to try to keep your childrens English alive, but it must be more difficult for you as your husband is Portuguese and you're living in that culture. It's easier for us because we are both British and it make sense to us to speak English at home.
    I think the key is not to worry about it too much, do what comes naturally. Do you read them stories in English? That helps and then when they start to show interest in reading English start with some simple books. I let my children take the lead as I find if I force things on them they'll just loose interest.
    Sounds like you're doing the right thing anyway xx

  2. HI just popped over from the Expat wife and thought the topic interesting as I have been through it with my now grown up children. They were born in Germany, but both my husband and I are Portuguese. We decided I would speak English and my husband would speak Portuguese to the kids, as we intended going back to South Africa after the project was finished. The kids learned German too, as they frequented kindy a couple of days a week and of course also played with the neighbourhood kids. They would sometimes mix all 3 languages in a sentence and would most times put the verb at the end. The paediatrician said it could happen, but not to worry. After we left Germany they promptly forgot German and we just carried on with the other 2. After a couple of years we moved to Portugal and although their schooling was in Portuguese (still in Primary) they never had any problems speaking or writing English, even though their knowledge of the grammar might have been poor, just by speaking it they knew where all the words fitted and whether something was right or wrong. It´s always easier for the kids to speak the language the mother speaks to them as she is usually the one spending lots more time with them. Good luck xx

  3. The reading and writing thing is a huge concern for me too--one that I've expressed to lots in our situation with adult half and half children. They all assure me that it will not be a problem, that their kids are excellent writers in both languages.

    The thing is, the handful of times I've seen examples of these claims, I find that they are definitely not excellent writers in English--but it isn't an issue of spelling or necessarily even incorrect grammar, but full of clear evidence that the person is thinking in Portuguese and just translating it onto the page in English. We can't really fight that one.

    I do, however, believe that you can write really well in English using incredibly simple prose/grammatical structures--IMO, the best writing is this. Definitely not the case with wordy, flowery, grammatically complex Portuguese.

  4. Thanks so much for the comments. In answer to your question Nikki, I do read in English, the Tv is half and half, at the moment most of friends are english so spoke language outside school is english, but if we were to move to lisbon where my husband's family and friends are that would change. My plan at the moment is to do some work with her, through things like Letts educational books and the like to help maintain her english language skills.

  5. I was worried about reading and writing, but our daughter seems to have taught herself. I think it helps that she likes to read, and loves to write stories.

    We sit together and I "correct" her grammar, focussing on a few points rather than going through the work with a red pen.

    I think that children brought up in a different culture will always be missing some cultural references, but make up for it in other areas.

  6. Came over from Jaxx's BlogHorn and interested to see questions raised in bringing up a multicultural family in a different setting. I worry about losing the British culture in our family: my very English dad passed away this year, so my little ones will know my crazy Mexican mother, my OH's french side and we're moving to Madrid for a couple of years. But it will make visits back to the homeland that more special... Time will tell but a mixed family is a lot of fun and as you say, you can take the best bits from each side and make your own!

  7. I am an American expat living in England. To answer you question, the Swedish families I know here do Swedish homeschooling after their English school day to keep up with their Swedish studies. It means double the work, but will help them integrate if/when they go home. Wonderful to 'meet' another expat mom here in your beautiful blog :) XoLaura