The dynamics of raising a child in multilingual world

My son goes from English to German to Kiswahili to Arabic

In Summary

• I'm exposing our child to different languages at an early age

A language class
A language class

My son’s language skills have been improving drastically the last six months or so. He is not a very talkative guy, but when he does talk, it is often a mixture of random words and songs he learns from cartoons.

It took him a while (some would say longer than others) to start speaking in full sentences. He was a very direct and to-the-point kid. He would use less words to express his needs. However, as of late, he is expressing himself much better and talking in fuller and longer sentences.

There are kids who are parrots, they copy and say everything they hear. From a young age, my son had shown himself to be more of an internaliser. He would absorb everything around him, understand it and then start talking about it. I believe he has done well for his age, considering he has been exposed to several different environments and languages from an early age.

Speech and language have always been a difficult topic in our household. Since we come from various backgrounds, my husband was worried about delayed speech from the start. I, on the other hand, encouraged him to speak to our son in his mother tongue or official language (French), which he has vehemently refused to do since our son was about five months old for fear of delayed speech.

Meanwhile, my son’s mother tongue and official language should be Kiswahili, but he seems to be partial to English as it is the common language in our household. He understands most of Kiswahili but has since refused to speak it fluently and will only use certain words when necessary. Even then, he sounds like a diaspora kid raised in America speaking Kiswahili with a tweng.

Meanwhile, when he is at daycare. The official language is German, and he has since started understanding his caregiver who speaks to him in English and German simultaneously. He even surprised us by speaking some German words just six months later!

Meanwhile, I also try to teach him the Arabic alphabet and Quranic verses in their original form as an early introduction into religion and understanding the Holy Book in its original format. We have also found him watching Japanese cartoons from time to time and copying what they say.

As a mother, I want the best for my child. I cannot help that he was born into a multicultural/multilingual environment. In fact, I am more glad for it. I know that learning multiple languages will be good for him in the long run. I am not forcing him into it, he is just at the centre of it and I am exposing him to all of it bit by bit.

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