Dealing with multilingualism

Hsinhua’s 3rd Post.

I spent a Thursday night reading the Multilingualism chapter. While I was reading, many thoughts emerged, so I decided to turn on my computer and finish my 3rd post. In this post, I will talk about my life in this multilingual society as a mom and as an immigrant.

Three languages are spoken in my home. My three-and-a-half year old son barely speaks Mandarin and is only able to speak 6-7 French sentences. When he counts, he switches between the languages he knows–for example: “un, deux, toi,四, 五, six, seven, huit, neuf, ten”. But my son is not the only one in my home with a language problem; I, an immigrant, full-time mom, face linguistic issues too.

Children’s language development.

I have not found any scientific evidence that multilingual children begin speaking later. However, many friends of mine have told me that multilingual children speak later than monolingual child, so I was still concerned about my son’s language development. When he was one, I spoke to his paediatrician about this, but he only got in to see a speech-language pathologist 2 months ago. Because of the long waiting list at the CLSC, we went to a private clinic, and luckily found one speech pathologist that can speak the 3 languages we speak at home. However, after the first meeting with her, I questioned how much she knows about multilingual children’s language development. Quebec is a multilingual province, but both my son’s paediatrician and speech pathologist seem to lack knowledge of how the language skills of a multilingual child should develop. Is it because there are not many children in trilingual families diagnosed as language delayed? However, while waiting for the results of the evaluation, I found 2 organizations (http://www.4kornerscenter.org/ and http://montrealfluency.com/) that may be able to answer my questions and help with my son’s potential language problems.

Becoming a multilingual mom seems the only option.

I wished I could speak French at the moment I saw my son being pushed away by a French speaking girl at a party so that I could intervene without asking my husband for help. This scenario may happen to children whose parents don’t speak French in Quebec, and what can they do? Recently I have been looking for both English and French classes to prepare myself to return to the workplace and enable myself to deal with my children’s life issues. I believe there are many other immigrant parents looking to learn both languages, too. So, if you intend to study French, university courses are recommended, but if you cannot afford these classes you can also go to the government-funded classes. However, if you choose the latter option you will not be able to pick the school; if you are lucky, you will be assigned to UQAM University, which has best reputation among immigrants.

If you are a newcomer looking for employment but do not speak French, don’t worry: in a multilingual society there are multilingual customers and there will be multilingual demand, so you can look into representative positions in banks and cellphone companies, or teach your native language. This website I share here may help you find a job only requires English skills (http://www.yesmontreal.ca/en/yes/who_we_are)

Multilingual learning environment.

Can you imagine 12 languages being spoken in a classroom? Does it sound cool or scary to you? As a mom, it is cool to know my son has friends with diverse cultural backgrounds. There is a richness that comes from playing side by side with classmates who participate in different cultures. He will learn to expect differences among classmates and how to look at things from different point of views, and those are two valuable life lessons. In my “family, school, and community” class, I was told that teachers need to help students maintain and build their skills in their heritage language while also teaching the dominant language. I know the Federal government has been doing its job: according to the Canadian Education Association, heritage language programs in public schools exist in some provinces, including Quebec, and teachers in Quebec have done well too. Most of my classmates in Certificate Inclusive Education classes are experienced teachers, and I feel relieved after listening to their teaching stories. I am not teaching now, but I am thinking about what I can do, as a parent, to assist the teachers. First, I will be an translator to help teachers communicate with parents who don’t speak the dominant language. And when the school or the class have international activities, I will volunteer to share the school’s heavy workloads so that they will be able to arrange the international events that help promote different cultures and languages on a regular basis.

I would like to hear what problems you have faced that only happen when living in a multilingual society. Please share the solutions if you have.

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3 thoughts on “Dealing with multilingualism”

  1. Hi Hsinhua,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences with multilingual parenting. You wrote about your son’s language problem (and your own). I don’t see growing up multilingual is not as a language problem. It’s the norm in most parts of the world. And, there is a lot of research that shows the metacognitive benefits of early bi/ multilingualism, so this is a bonus for your son. As for language delays among multilingual children, you’ll want to look at Fred Genesee’s research (he has long been publishing on bi/multilingual language acquisition – he’s a McGill prof and so his research is very context-relevant). While there might be initial delays as compared to monolingually-raised children, these delays are temporary and the benefits of multilingualism outweigh initial delays in the long run. Another person you might like to read is Suzanne Quay, who writes about trilingual language socialization and development (e.g., http://fla.sagepub.com/content/28/1/5.abstract). This next article gives an overview of parental concerns and research on multilingual development in children (http://www.jennings-candyschool.org/sites/default/files/pages/RaisingBilingualChildrenEnglishSpanish.pdf).

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  2. Hi, Alison,
    Thank you so much for the information. I have read a lot of papers about multilingual children’s language development, but never known which is valid and reliable. I downloaded the last 2 studies you suggested, and will manage to read them on the weekend. I will definitely read Fred Genesee’s books after this semester finishes. I was silly, I even thought my son might be not smart enough to be trilingual.

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  3. Hi Hsinhua,

    Thanks for the websites you shared. I think the most difficult thing I experience when living in a multilingual society is that I need to learn to adapt and respect,not only the different languages but also their cultures.

    Personally,I come from China where Mandarin is the most spoken language. Most of people are Chinese. However,when I come to Montreal,I come to a new society where social makeup is totally different. Language is a tough challenge and more importantly,I don’t know how to get along with different people of various cultural backgrounds.

    I remember at that time what I did is to Google more,immitate more. I googled a lot of language courses and cultural information to help me better communicate with others. And if I don’t know how to behave in a situation,I will observe what others do and I immitate. Interestingly,that process also made me realize how informal learning happened.

    Commented by Yuting Zhao

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