As we delve into the second chapter of our Parents’ Feelings Matter series, we shine a spotlight on an aspect of plurilingualism that is often overlooked. While much attention is given to the language development of children, it’s equally important to consider the role parents play in this journey. They navigate the delicate balance between home languages and the dominant tongue, often bearing the responsibility for linguistic and cultural transmission. In the absence of extended family, parents assume the role of cultural ambassadors, threading together diverse languages and traditions and the responsibility can feel overwhelming.
In this article, we share Helga’s journey of nurturing plurilingualism within her family.
Born in South Africa to a South African mother and a German father, Helga speaks English, German and Afrikaans. Her experience exemplifies the interactions between languages, emotions and identity, demonstrating the significance of language in shaping family dynamics and personal growth.
Helga's Language Journey
Growing up, English was Helga’s primary language of interaction, forming the foundation of her social connections. Her relationship with Afrikaans was more complex due to negative associations tied to her mother’s use of the language during moments of anger. In contrast, German held positive connotations and opened doors to career opportunities, enabling her to live and work in Germany. This positive connection with German paved the way for her decision to transmit this language to her children.
One of the critical factors in Helga’s multilingual journey is the support of her partner. While Helga’s husband doesn’t share her linguistic repertoire, he remains fully committed to fostering multiple languages within their family. This is also due to the fact that they both acknowledge that Helga’s background in German has enriched her career prospects, underlining the instrumental benefits that language skills can bring.
Embracing Identity and Culture
However, language isn’t just a skill to add to one’s CV; it’s a channel for preserving identity and culture. Helga’s determination to pass on her heritage language to her children stems from her desire to share a part of herself that otherwise would get lost. It also gives her a special tool to bond with her child:
Navigating Obstacles and Challenges
Even though Helga’s journey is marked by determination, it’s not without its challenges. People’s assumptions and micro-aggressions, influenced by her mixed-race background, occasionally question her choice of teaching German to her children. Helga has learned to dismiss these misconceptions, standing strong in her decision to provide her children with the gift of languages.
Empowering Through Language
Helga’s multilingual journey is an inspiring story of determination. Her narrative showcases the complexities that come with being and raising a multilingual child.
If you are struggling to find the best strategy for your multilingual family, you may find our free online resources very useful. We also invite you to consider signing up for our Learning Hub to take advantage of the many articles and resources designed for parents of bilingual children.