Scott Hanselman

FAQ About Raising Multilingual Children

February 12, 2003 Comment on this post [1] Posted in Africa
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Since my wife is Zimbabwean Ndebele (a "clicking language") and speaks a variant of Zulu, part of the South African Bantu Langauges, as well as French, and I have dabbled in Spanish, Ethiopian Amharic and the tiniest smidges of Hindi and Arabic, I've always expected to raise our kids multilingual.  At the LEAST I'd like them to be involved in an immersion school, and ideally I'd like my wife to speak Ndebele to them while they are young.  Some folks poo-poo the idea, figuring What's the use? 

I've asked a number of multilingual friends how they raised their little polyglots and I got the largest (and certainly best thought out) response from my friend Milind Pandit.  So, with his permission I've posted "Milind Pandit's FAQ About Raising Multilingual Children."   It's very well thought out, and certainly pertinent considering that hispanics now outnumber Blacks as the largest minority, the frequency of interracial and intercultural marriages is exploding, and people are starting to realize that being mono-lingual just doesn't cut it any more.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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January 07, 2006 23:11
I cannot stress enough how "right on" his FAQ is. Not from speculation, but from everyday personal experience. Please pass this on to your wife - you're doing the right thing and your child will be better for it. I'm an immigrant from Cuba but I've been in this country since 1972. I didn't speak a lick of English until I was 7 years old and it is my dominant language. However my parents spoke nothing but Spanish in the house and I am 100% fluent in it still. My wife is from Belarus (former Soviet Union) and she learned English as a teen-ager over there. Our daughter is now 2 and to this day I have never spoken anything but Spanish to her and my wife nothing but Russian to her. Our only common language is English and we only speak it to each other. Because we're not raising our child on TV (that's a whole other story), she hears English when we speak to each other and from the outside world as well. You'd be surprised how many words she uses correctly already. Her most dominant language is Russian because she is with my wife more than with me, but she understands EVERY word I say to her. Sometimes she asks for something from me in Russian and even though I understand her, I don't respond. After a couple of attempts, she switches to asking me in Spanish and then she sees I respond. Each parent needs to stick to one language. Everything will work out in the end, believe me. Good luck to both of you.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.