Multiple Languages? Poor Kid!

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Every morning on the way to my daughter’s 2-year old “Kindergarten” class, I stop at my local bakery to pick up a pretzel to go with her packed lunch. We are after all in Germany for only one year and so we have to take advantage of their outstanding baked goods! My stop at the bakery is one of my favorite parts of the day because it’s the one place where I get to practice my broken German without much pressure.

Not her typical school pretzel l but she was certainly puzzled by  this huge one we found at a local festival!

About a month ago, while on my pretzel run, the lady behind the counter asked me how little peanut was doing at Kindergarten.  I shared with her that we were still in the transition stage and she was only attending for a couple hours a day.  She leaned in to tell me that because we speak English at home it was probably going to be very confusing for her to learn German.

Imagine her reaction when I explained that we actually speak two languages at home instead of one, English and Spanish!  Her jaw dropped and her facial expression was clear.  It basically translated to “Multiple languages? Poor kid!  You people are crazy!”

That same afternoon, as we came back from Kindergarten we ran into our neighbor and stopped for a quick chat.  She also asked me how school was going.  I told her that although a few tears had been shed it looked like the transition was getting better.  She proceeded to tell me that she had been doing some thinking and perhaps we were confusing our little one by exposing her to so many languages.  Maybe we should consider decreasing the number we speak at home.

There was so much I wanted to say to her but instead I nicely thanked her for the concern and walked home.  I didn’t speak up partly because my German is still very limited and partly because her advice came from a good place.  She cares about my daughter very much.  She has adopted the role of Oma (Grandma in German) during our stint here.  I know that in her heart, she truly thought she was being helpful.

My neighbor along with the lady at the bakery were simply relaying the unfortunate yet prevalent myth that learning more than one language at once is confusing for a child.  But it isn’t! Children are amazingly gifted when it comes to language and are perfectly capable of managing more than one language at once.

I am sure that in my daughter’s case language played a bit of a role in her initial hesitation with her new school.  But really, she was just being a kid, a two year old! A two year old that is in a totally new environment and slowly adapting to her surroundings.

These types of myths sting the most when you are raising your first bilingual child and seem to be more commonly said about younger children.

They sting the most with the first one because you truly do not know what to expect. No matter how much you have read and prepared for the experience, it’s simply your first time on this journey and you don’t know what’s ahead.  Hearing these myths can make you second guess if you have made the right call by introducing another language.

These myths seem to be more common with younger children because they are still working on their language building blocks and cannot communicate just yet with ease.  So to the onlooker it may seem that they are confused but really they are developing remarkable cognitive advantages.  Advantages that will last them a lifetime simply because they are exercising their brain in incredible ways by learning more than one language.  Dr. Piller shared some of these benefits on episode 6 of the Bilingual Avenue podcast.

To other multilingual parents out there hearing these myths time and time again, you need to turn off the noise! Yes, these comments are coming from a good place, a place of love! But you have to stay the course and know that in the end you are giving your children a fantastic gift!

When your child is hopefully fluent in more than one language, the last thing that you will hear from others is “Multiple languages? Poor kid!  You people are crazy!”  Instead, they will look up with amazement and congratulate you on a job well done!

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Expat Life with a Double Buggy

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