Sign Languages are “Real” Languages and it’s Time to Recognise Them

This month we published The Legal Recognition of Sign Languages edited by Maartje De Meulder, Joseph J. Murray and Rachel L. McKee. In this post, and the accompanying video at the end, the editors explain why this book is so important.

With cover art by Deaf artist, Nancy Rourke

Since the 1990s, when Finland and Uganda were the first countries to give their sign languages legal status in law, many countries have followed suit or are still campaigning to achieve recognition of their national sign language(s) in legislation. Until now, these campaigns and their outcomes have remained understudied: why have deaf communities felt that it was necessary to achieve legal status for their sign languages? How does this status relate to that of spoken languages in a specific country? Who was involved in the campaigns? Were there specific strategies used to achieve certain outcomes? Did the legislation have any effect and if so, what kind of effect? Some of these questions have been discussed in separate journal articles or book chapters, but a comprehensive overview and analysis of these laws and campaigns was lacking until now.

Our new book has partly filled this gap. It appears in a context of increasing interest in sign language rights, both among academics and within deaf community discourses. For example, the theme of the upcoming World Federation of the Deaf conference in Paris will be “Sign Language Rights for All”, Norway is preparing a Language Act and draft legislation for Sign Language of the Netherlands will soon be introduced.

The book contains 18 chapters discussing the situation of diverse countries in Europe, USA, South America and Asia. Chapters discuss how countries achieved legal status for sign language, and the state of implementation. This book does not just focus on sign languages; chapter authors discuss the status of the national sign language(s) in relation to laws and policies for spoken languages, and certain ideologies about languages.

While some chapters discuss very recent sign language laws, other chapters look back and assess impact. Other chapters discuss ongoing campaigns. All together, they illustrate the different ways that sign language laws are implemented and managed by governments and deaf communities. For some countries, this book is the first time that the information is available in English.

The campaigns which are the focus of this book were often led by national deaf associations working in partnership with academics in sign language linguistics or Deaf Studies. Since many of these campaigns took place in the past decade, key activists are still involved, and in the book we have actively encouraged academic/community collaborations. All chapters are joint writing efforts of deaf and hearing academics and language activists active in campaigning, researching, or policy work.

The word ‘recognition’ in the book’s title reveals a unique aspect of campaigns for the legal status of sign languages. In most cases it refers to the ‘recognition’ or acknowledgement by governments that sign languages are languages. This concern about sign languages’ status as ‘real’ tends not to occur with other minority languages and is linked to a long history of sign languages being seen as inferior, not ‘real’ languages.

By now, we know that sign languages are languages and the time has come to focus on what it means to effectively recognize those languages and their speakers. This is also the main take-away message of this book: legal status in itself, while often presented as such, is not a panacea. It’s not an end point, but merely a beginning. It is only one part of the bigger picture that alters the status of a language.

We hope this book helps elucidate the process of the legal recognition of sign languages, shows how this is similar or different from other minority language laws, and guides other countries in their campaigns and reflections about future directions.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Understanding Deaf Culture by Paddy Ladd.

Dual Language Immersion Programs: The Importance of Maintaining Heritage Languages

This month we published Mandarin Chinese Dual Language Immersion Programs by Ko-Yin Sung and Hsiao-Mei Tsai. In this post Ko-Yin explains the motivation behind the book.

The state of Utah, where the research described in this book was conducted, is the most ambitious state in growing dual language immersion programs, and is seen by other states as a model. However, the Utah model receives criticisms such as that it targets primarily Caucasian students for the purpose of world language enrichment, rather than for minority students to maintain their heritage languages. For example, Delavan, Valdez, and Freire (2017) and Freire, Valdez, and Delavan (2016) found that the discourse in the policy documents and promotional materials were geared toward competitiveness in the global economy, which marginalized language minority students and drew attention away from heritage maintenance.

When I learned the researchers’ findings and saw the rapid speed of the state implementing foreign language immersion programs, it worried me. Maintaining one’s ethnic identity through their language and culture is essential to help heritage learners succeed in education and life. As a trained second language acquisition researcher, a former teacher of a Chinese two-way dual language immersion program, and a mother of three young heritage learners, I felt the need to use my professional knowledge and teaching experience to examine the rapidly implemented Chinese dual language programs in Utah. My former student, Hsiao-Mei Tsai, who has been a Chinese dual language teacher in Utah, was also interested in the research topic. Together we explored many aspects of the Utah Chinese programs in the book:

(1) Parents’, teachers’, and administrators’ perspectives toward the Chinese dual language immersion programs in Utah

(2) Teacher-teacher and teacher-parent collaboration

(3) Chinese dual language immersion teachers’ teaching identities

(4) Chinese language learning strategies

(5) Learning Chinese characters through the chunking method

(6) Oral interactions between a teacher and her students

(7) Emergent bilinguals’ daily translanguaging practice

We hope that the publication of this research book, which was conducted in the rarely investigated, but quickly growing foreign language immersion programs, sends an invitational message to all bilingual education researchers to focus their attention and effort toward the research needs of the newly developed programs.

Ko-Yin Sung

References

Delavan, M.G., Valdez, V.E. and Freire, J.A. (2017) Language as whose resource?: When global economics usurp the local equity potentials of dual language education. International Multilingual Research Journal, 11(2), 86-100.

Freire, J.A., Valdez, V.E. and Delavan, M.G. (2016) The (dis) inclusion of Latina/o interests from Utah’s dual language education boom. Journal of Latinos and Education, 16, 1-14.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Teacher Leadership for Social Change in Bilingual and Bicultural Education by Deborah K. Palmer.

Language Management in European Education Systems

We recently published Multilingualism in European Language Education edited by Cecilio Lapresta-Rey and Ángel Huguet. In this post Cecilio reflects on the inspiration behind the book.

I remember very clearly the day I met professor Ángel Huguet in a small town near Lleida (Catalonia – Spain). After coffee and an intense conversation, I joined his research group, venturing in the study of bilingual education models and multilingual management in different Spanish territories.

That coffee talk was followed by many others, but also led to an ongoing process of branching out to other contexts, thanks to research stays abroad, and hosting researchers from many regions of Europe and the rest of the world.

This was the background that pushed us to conduct a symposium titled “Managing Multilingualism in European Schools”, which brought up some questions that may seem basic yet are so important and complex to answer, such as ‘What are the differences and similarities in language management in Andorra, Asturias, the Basque Country, Catalonia, England, Finland, France, Latvia, The Netherlands and Romania?’ and ‘What are the historical, political, sociolinguistic and legislative reasons behind them?

The success of this meeting gave us the encouragement to continue further, aware that this topic was relevant enough to extend the information to many more people.

Therefore, we have put together this volume Multilingualism in European Language Education. In its chapters, renowned experts tackle language management in the educational systems of several European regions. Furthermore, historical, political, sociolinguistic and legislative factors are included for a comprehensive understanding.

Consequently, this book combines an in-depth analysis of each territory with a broader general overview of the whole, resulting in an excellent resource for anyone interested in the topic, and highly useful for professionals in the scientific, educational and linguistic domains.

That, at least, is my wish.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Bilingual and Multilingual Education in the 21st Century edited by Christian Abello-Contesse, Paul M. Chandler, María Dolores López-Jiménez and Rubén Chacón-Beltrán.

Global Englishes in Asia: 10 Things for Language Teachers to Take Away

This month we published Critical Perspectives on Global Englishes in Asia edited by Fan Fang and Handoyo Puji Widodo. In this post the editors list 10 important things for language teachers to take away from the book.

As language researchers and practitioners, we frequently encounter the unequal use of languages where different languages co-exist. This inequality happens because some languages are deemed as dominant or major languages, while others are considered minor or underrepresented languages from socio-historical and socio-political perspectives. In more multilingual contexts, socio-economic and cultural globalisation exerts influence upon the status of a particular language. For example, English has gained popularity as an international language, a transcultural language, and a global lingua franca in which people of different countries with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds interact with each other for different purposes, such as education, business and tourism.

Critical Perspectives on Global Englishes in Asia reframes our English language education by situating the theory of Global Englishes into English language policy, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. Here are 10 important things for language teachers to take away from the book:

  1. Raising a critical awareness of the global spread of English to challenge the ownership of English – as English is used as a global language, no certain country can really own the language
  2. Going beyond the prescribed language curriculum to experience real-life communication with people of different lingua-cultural backgrounds – it is important to go beyond classroom instruction and encourage independent learning for learners to discover linguistic and cultural diversity
  3. Engaging with both native and non-native English accents themselves and providing such accent exposure to students – this is of pivotal importance because many textbooks today still focus (only) on Anglophone varieties of English and may serve as an agent of the native speakerism ideology
  4. Focusing on communication strategies instead of teaching dominant English accents through drilling from a de-contextualised approach. Language teachers may teach students how to re-appropriate their own English accents
  5. Understanding and introducing local varieties and other varieties of Englishes so that students can increase their awareness of different Englishes used in different countries
  6. Designing curricula that fit their students’ needs and goals of English learning – it is important to contextualise ELT practices
  7. Designing testing and assessment that contextualise the situation of learning and reflect students’ needs. Language assessment can be New Englishes-sensitive
  8. Understanding linguistic and cultural diversity and respecting students’ use of L1 and translanguaging practices – learners’ linguistic resources should be recognised instead of reinforcing an English only classroom
  9. Challenging the fixed native speakerism model and norm of English language teaching – such awareness should also be developed in job application and recruitment processes
  10. Challenging the native/whiteness privilege and non-native/race marginalisation to readdress both teachers’ and students’ identities

This edited volume both theoretically and practically addresses various issues and involves both established and emergent scholars to present a critical perspective of English language education in the Asian context. We understand that such ‘things to take away’ may not be generalised in every context. The issue, however, is how language educators, policymakers, and recruiters view the English language from an ecological perspective to respect multilingualism and multiculturalism.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like English as a Lingua Franca for EFL Contexts edited by Nicos C. Sifakis and Natasha Tsantila.

The National Institute of Education, Sri Lanka

We were recently approached by the Director of Bilingual Education for Sri Lanka’s National Institute of Education, G. H. Asoka, with a request to donate some textbooks to them for use in teacher development courses on bilingual education. In this post the Director tells us a bit about the National Institute of Education and how the books we’ve donated will be used.

Sri Lanka’s National Institute of Education (NIE) is the apex body of developing curriculum of Sri Lankan general education. Its role consists of four tasks: advising the Minister of Education in any succeeded government, teacher development, curriculum development and educational research. The department offers services on bilingual education and foreign languages addressing these four areas.

The books donated by Multilingual Matters will be used in the teacher development courses on bilingual education initiated islandwide and several will be kept in the library of the Institute and for the use of the Department of Foreign Languages and Bilingual Education.

The NIE is a national service with links at international level too. As the Director of Bilingual Education, I am responsible for these four tasks in line with bilingual education in addition to National Curriculum Development in general education.

There are different types of projects run under different educational disciplines. In 2019 the projects being run with regard to bilingual education are as follows:

  1. Action research programme with 40 researchers in 2019 islandwide
  2. Trainer-trainer programme on CLIL
  3. Awareness programmes for different stakeholders such as parents, principals, ISAs, teachers, directors and other stakeholders of education
  4. Five research reports on learning in bilingual education
  5. One research report on pre-service teacher development in bilingual education
  6. School and cluster based bilingual education programme islandwide
  7. Handbook on Sri Lankan CLIL
  8. Teacher Moderator Manual on CLIL
  9. Research conference in the Eastern province on Bilingual Education
  10. National Curriculum Framework on bilingual education
  11. Publishing the research journal
  12. Reviewing articles in international journals

We’re pleased to be contributing to the important work the National Institute of Education does and hope the books we’ve donated will prove useful.

Building Bridges as We Go: Connecting Schools with Multilingual Families

This month we are publishing Connecting School and the Multilingual Home by Maria R. Coady. In this post the author explains how her own experiences provided the inspiration for the book.

I grew up navigating various ethnic and linguistic enclaves north of Boston, Massachusetts, where I was born. My grandparents’ families had emigrated from parts of Italy, and I fondly recall my great uncles and aunts speaking their local language and mixing English and Italian. I imagined what they thought while sitting under the cool shade of the apple trees while younger generations of American kids ran through the yard and played bocci. Family was central to our identity, and our identity was our culture, our history, and our language.

My sense of both family and language permeated every aspect of my own educational experience up through college: what I thought I could do, how I could do it, what I would study, and who I could become. One thing for sure was the message that I received from my family: being successful in school was paramount. I was the first generation to navigate access to college, so I learned the hard way (alone) to unravel the complexities surrounding educational programs, relationships, and even financial aid.

As my career matured from an early start in business into bilingual education, the same lens of access to education illuminated the barriers that other families—children, parents, and caregivers—faced. I could envision the bridges between the school and immigrant, multilingual families but remained dismayed by how infrequently I actually saw them built. What remained obvious to me was how many multilinguals have a similar experience—valuing education without having the knowledge of how to access it fully.

Rural multilingual family working in the horse farming industry, southeast United States

The inspiration for this book stems from my own experiences and 25 years of working with multilingual families in the northeast US, Colorado, and rural north central Florida. I have also had the experiences of working with international rural communities. I find that rural, multilingual families’ strengths go largely unnoticed, and are definitely not tapped into as a resource. Their many languages and literacy practices differ from those assumed by educators, leaving families positioned as disinterested in their child’s education.

The Gómez family is one telling example. A family of five children, I recall the second youngest daughter wanting to participate in a 4 day, overnight field trip to Washington, DC—a very long distance from Florida. This annual 5th grade trip, organized by the school, required students to have cameras (back then, disposable cameras), a suitcase, spending money, and good walking shoes. Although the parents understood the importance of the trip to their daughter, they did not understand the process of completing the extensive field trip paperwork, which was provided in only English, nor the details and items needed for the trip. The father and mother worked overtime and sold personal items in order to pay for some of the trip itself. My students and I fundraised to ensure that the daughter had the shoes, camera, and suitcase needed, and while advocating for one family at a time is important, we need the tools to make more systemic changes in schools on behalf of multilingual families.

Our job is to build relational trust (Bryk & Schneider, 2002) with families, and as Michal Domínguez (2017) notes, hacer puentes al andar – building bridges as we go.  That is the spirit of this book, which is filled with concrete ways to support reflection, action, and to humanize our work as educators by connecting schools with multilingual families.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Narratives of Adult English Learners and Teachers by Clarena Larrotta.

Multilingualism As Lived Through Visual Means

This month we published Visualising Multilingual Lives edited by Paula Kalaja and Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer. In this post the editors explain how they used visual methodologies to examine multilinguals’ emotions and their expression of those emotions.

It is only gradually being acknowledged that multilinguals, or people who use more than one language, form the majority of people in the world, not monolinguals. However, multilinguals find themselves in different contexts and for different reasons, and their knowledge of the languages varies. In addition, becoming and being multilingual are quite heterogeneous and individual achievements are experienced very differently by subjects, depending on their contexts and life trajectories.

There are two approaches to multilinguals. The objective approach attempts to figure out the mechanisms inside a multilingual’s mind and trace developments in his or her knowledge of any language (and possible stages in the process) in terms of mastery of a linguistic system or in terms of an ability to communicate or interact with others in the language. In contrast, the subjective approach attempts to find out how a multilingual feels about becoming or being multilingual, or what the different languages and their use mean to him or her personally. In other words, the second approach focuses on multilinguals and their lives as subjectively experienced or as lived, including positive and negative emotions, attitudes, beliefs, visions and identities.

Traditional methodologies (such as questionnaires, interviews and observation) may not be the most suitable options when tackling issues like this, as they may suffer from a “linguistic bias” in their attempts to describe or explain emotions, which are not always easy to put into words. So, to address these sensitive issues, we decided to make use of visual methodologies of various kinds, including drawings and photographs, as mediators between emotions and their expression by multilinguals. However, as a rule, visual data were complemented with other types of data, and the starting points and ways of analysing the pools of data for form and/or content vary from one study to another. But even if visual materials are not always used as the only pool of data, they bring to the foreground aspects that individuals choose to visually represent and comment on. So, using visual methodologies may also be about what is not visible, not represented or not valued by the multilingual subject.

As editors of Visualising Multilingual Lives, we invite the readers to learn about visual narratives accounted by multilinguals in different parts of the world, printed in full color. The different chapters of the book offer coherent, original and individualized insights into multilingualism as experienced in three domains: the multilingual self, the multilingual learner and multilingual teacher education. With a preface by Claire Kramsch, the volume acknowledges the potential of arts-based methodologies in grasping the singularities of multilinguals and their linguistic biographies.

Paula Kalaja paula.kalaja@jyu.fi
Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer silvia.melo-pfeifer@uni-hamburg.de

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas.

A Tour of English Learning and Teaching Around the World

We recently published Conversation Analytic Perspectives on English Language Learning, Teaching and Testing in Global Contexts edited by Hanh thi Nguyen and Taiane Malabarba. In this post the editors take us on a world tour of English learning and teaching…

This book offers a tour around the world, but unlike the casual tourist, you will get right into the scenes that take place daily at each stop. So, put yourself in the shoes of the people there to appreciate for a moment the constraints they are under, and the possibilities they find.

In Denmark, you are a child in an integrated-grade class of first- and second-graders. Your government has just mandated that students must learn English from first grade. First grade! You’re barely finding your way around in class, and now you’re learning a foreign language. But your teacher is creative – she has a game for the children. You and a classmate walk outside while the other kids stay inside and each chooses a clothing item drawn on the board (later you hear that some kids try to choose a diaper and a jockstrap, but the teacher doesn’t allow those!). When you and your partner come back in, you have to name two clothing items on the board, in English, and the two kids who chose those items are supposed to swap seats. It turns out that you mostly learn “swap seats,” and how you acquire this phrase reveals quite a lot about how language is learned.

In Vietnam, you are a hotel staff member in charge of escorting guests to their rooms. You need to tell them about the WiFi in the hotel, but the problem is, every time you pronounce “password,” people seem really confused! How you ‘crack the code’ here shows the creativity that users of English as a lingua franca exhibit on a daily basis as they learn language ‘in the wild.’

In China, you’re teaching a large high-school class of 70 students. Keeping them focused and engaged requires clear routines. Yet, you need to encourage their participation as well. How you approach this dilemma exemplifies the tricky balance between structure and expansion.

In Turkey, you are a teacher in training. You have your lesson plan all laid out and you have prepared your instructions in advance. But what to do when your students say, “Sorry, what are we doing?” or “We don’t understand!”? You soon realize that the lesson’s success depends more on how you respond in these moments than on the lesson plan in your mind.

Image derives from original world map in acrylic by Lara Mukahirn, photograph by Nicolas Raymond, http://www.freestock.ca

In Japan, you teach engineering students, and you need to assess their speaking abilities. So you ask your students to tell you how to draw geometric shapes in English, step by step. What you then wonder is, whose competence is being assessed? Yours or theirs? In another class, also to assess speaking abilities, you ask your students to talk in pairs. To be fair and to manage your class time, you put a timer in front of them. It turns out that they pay a lot of attention to the timer, and you are surprised to notice how the timer has become an integrated part of their interaction.

In South Korea, you are an American co-teacher assigned to assist a Korean host co-teacher. This co-teaching business is tricky since there are no clear rules about who’s supposed to do what. One moment you are giving out heart sticker awards to student groups and the host teacher says something. Another time you tap a student on the head with a folder and the host teacher says something (well, maybe he has a point there, but you are a teacher, too!). You soon learn that co-teaching, in practice, often involves a lot of tension and negotiation.

In Iran, you teach a college-level class, and you want students to participate in open discussions about controversial issues, such as capital punishment, body piercing and charity donation. The problem is, sometimes what the students say resonates with your beliefs and fits with your lesson plan, but sometimes it doesn’t. Now, you must face a fundamental problem: how much control do you want and how much freedom do you give?

In Brazil, you’re teaching a beginner-level class, and your students can’t speak a lot of English yet. However, the school promotes an unspoken ‘English-only’ policy in the classroom. How do you stick to English when explaining new words or when students talk to each other in Portuguese? It turns out that even the constraints of the rule can sometimes open up opportunities.

In Mexico, you teach English at a boarding school to indigenous children of Mixe (ayüük) ethnicity. What this means is that your students are learning English as a third language, besides Spanish. Furthermore, what is the relevance of English in this remote, rural village? The adolescent students are a lively bunch (they don’t call you ‘Teacher Bikwahet’ for no reason!) and you are devoted to bettering their lives through education.

Reading this book, you will leave your tourist binoculars behind and join the authors to look at these scenes through the lens of Conversation Analysis. Your close-up observations will connect to concepts such as interactional competence, centrifugal and centripetal forces, embodied actions, power relationship and social relevance, which are at work in many other global contexts.

So welcome on board!

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy English as a Lingua Franca for EFL Contexts edited by Nicos C. Sifakis and Natasha Tsantila.

Mother Tongue – The Most Beautiful Gift We Have

Today is International Mother Language Day. To celebrate it, we have a blog post from one of the editors of our book, New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education, Boglárka Straszer. In this post she reflects on the importance of our mother tongues.

Many years ago, I took the bus every morning to my office at the university in my home town Uppsala. One sunny spring morning I noticed unusual graffiti on the ground in front of my feet at the bus stop. It was a mysterious statement in Swedish: “Jag gav den orden” – “I gave words to it”. I was mesmerized. After that day, I found myself studying this graffiti on the concrete every morning for a long time, enormously fascinated. My thoughts always seemed to roam wildly when I stood there at the bus stop waiting for my bus. What did the scribbler mean? What was he/she thinking? What were the words? A linguistic act was suggested; and it was something that made me reflect on the power of words and language, the strength of this short sentence in front of my feet in this public space. A little graffiti that we can interpret in many ways. Words we give to each other, words we get and take from each other, and words we use are significant. They transform people into thinking and communicating beings.

Language deserves attention and especially today on International Mother Language Day.

30 years ago I got the opportunity to learn Finnish. In this picture I am with my host and good friend Ilpo in Riihimäki, Finland, in July 1992 at the end of my year as Rotary Exchange Student.

Many writers have tried to describe mother tongue with beautiful words and emotional expressions. Therefore, there is no point for me to try to describe mother tongue more exquisitely. Instead, I will simply allow myself to state that for me, the mother tongue is intimate – one of the most beautiful gifts an individual can have, and also the most important tool for communication and the way to the soul. Our mother tongues and languages are our treasures that no one can take away from us, as long as we care about and use them. But, is the mother tongue really the most important tool for communication and the most important key to the soul for everyone and in every circumstance?

I think that there is no one truth about languages and there is no single way to define mother tongue, although in my own case it is quite simple to argue that I have Hungarian as my mother tongue. Hungarian was the only language that my family used during my childhood and it was the only language that everybody used in my surroundings. It was also the majority language in Hungary, even though some other languages were visible in various contexts in Hungarian society.

Today, however, I can and want to add that happily enough I have two other named languages with me in my everyday life as well as in my heart. These two languages, my first second language Finnish and my second second language Swedish, which I learned later on in my life, are as equally close to my mind and heart as my Hungarian. I love them each just as much and they are equally important for me for to be able to express all my thoughts and all my feelings. In some situations it can be easier to choose and use one of my languages. Sometimes I benefit more from using one, while in other situations I benefit more from another one. And this is the joy with multilingualism! Also, these three languages – Hungarian, Finnish and Swedish – are my children’s first languages, which they have been socialized in since birth. I hope with all my heart that they feel that all three languages are their own mother tongue.

Most of the people around the world use more than one named language in their everyday life and many of them have more than one mother tongue, making them all the richer. In my research, I have met, among others, many second generation Hungarians in Finland and Sweden, people who were born and grew up in another country and in another linguistic environment than their parents did. I also have friends with Sámi origin, who speak or have connections with South, North or another Sámi language. All these people have varied attitudes towards languages, defining mother tongue not only as a language they know best in all kinds of situations and not either as the language of their childhood. Instead, many of them argue that Sámi is their mother tongue, regardless if only their parents or grandparents used it and they themselves do not have skills in the language at all. They do so because of strong emotional ties to the language and the associated culture. Their relationships to their parents, relatives and roots play an important role.

Today Boglárka has a multilingual repertoire and is Assistant Professor in Swedish as a Second Language at Dalarna University in Sweden

Roots, however, are not always the most crucial aspect when you define mother tongue, as every individual who has some kind of connection to one or more languages has the right to determine what to call that language or these languages. For example, some years ago I carried out a study where I interviewed elderly Hungarians who had moved to Finland or Sweden as young adults more than 40 years ago. Some of them have a purist view of language and have clear opinions on mother tongue, such as “the mother tongue is the language you are born with” or “the language you use without any obstacles in all domains”. However, these people could also contradict themselves and say that Finnish or Swedish was already or “almost” like their mother tongue – despite the fact that they had not learned these languages since birth nor did they use these languages in every situation. Many of these people do not draw boundaries between their languages. Rather, their languages are natural parts of their life and they use them unhindered in different situations and in different contexts. All of their languages are integrated in their repertoire.

I share the same feelings with them. I want to emphasise that it is wonderful to celebrate mother tongues and every mother tongue today, delighting in the fact that we all have right to determine which languages we want to celebrate as our own mother tongues. I personally do not want to only celebrate my Hungarian, but also my Finnish and my Swedish, too.

Finally, these words are for my beloved, old, and always wise close friend in Finland, who unfortunately does not have much time left to share with us in this life. This is for you who opened a way for me to find new linguistic and cultural spaces and gave me many wonderful years to speak about languages and enjoy the bilingual and, nowadays, multilingual lifestyle. With you, I started to understand the meaning with my mother tongue. And with you, I learned to love both Hungarian and Finnish deep in my heart. With more languages than one mother tongue, I am stronger and have more self-confidence than ever before. This happiness with languages is the most valuable thing individuals can give to each other. Your work, my friend, to give me a new language gives pleasure and joy forever. Mitä lämpimimmät kiitokseni siitä! / Thank you with all my love!

Boglárka Straszer, Uppsala, Sweden

What’s It Like Growing Up With Three Languages?

Last month we had a work experience student with us from Germany. Loïc grew up speaking three languages (his father is one of our authors and you can read about his multilingual journey in our book Raising Multilingual Children), so we wanted to ask him about his experience of being multilingual.

How many languages do you speak?

Loïc (left) and Laura on a tour of our distributor’s warehouse with our account manager, Matt

I would say that I fluently speak three languages: German, Dutch and English.

Did you grow up learning all those or did you learn any later in life?

The first language I learnt was Dutch, as my mom is a Dutch native speaker. Shortly after that, through my father speaking English with me, I became proficient in English as well. Then lastly by living in a German environment, going to German kindergarten and having mostly German friends, German was the third language I learnt.

Do you think of any one language as your ‘mother tongue’ or do you count them all?

I would count all of them as my ‘mother tongue’ even though I speak some better than others and also feel more comfortable depending on the language I speak.

Do you feel your personality changes depending on the language you’re speaking?

I personally can only refer to me feeling most comfortable whilst speaking English. From my friends and family I have heard that I get annoyed a lot faster, and on account of that, curse a lot more, when I speak German.

Which language do you find most difficult and why?

It is most difficult for me to speak Dutch, because I don’t often have the opportunity to speak it. My mom and I stopped speaking Dutch to each other about five years ago as I usually just responded in German. The reason for that I still haven`t figured out (ultimate act of teenage defiance?) I must say that I do regret that, but if I stay with my Dutch family for more than 3 days I usually get the hang of it again.

Which is your favourite language to speak and why?

Loïc on a visit to Sarah’s new house in Dawlish with Tommi and Laura

My favourite language to speak depends a lot on who I’m talking to – with my friends I feel the best speaking German, with my family English or Dutch (depending on what they would rather speak). Overall I must say though that English is my favourite language and usually that is the language I go with when I am emotional.

You live in Germany – how do you maintain your other languages?

I do live in Germany, yes. Maintaining my German is understandably easy and my English also mainly easy, as I practice in school, with foreign friends, online, with media and with my father most of all. My Dutch on the other hand is somewhat more difficult to maintain, but I recently starting speaking more Dutch with my mom and some of my Dutch friends. Mainly I practice my Dutch though when I am in the Netherlands or in Belgium.

What are the advantages of being multilingual?

The range of people I can speak to is a lot bigger. In general, all the benefits you gain from speaking other languages, just that I didn’t have to undergo the time-consuming process of learning a different language… which is supremely helpful. I think every person who has tried to learn a language knows the frustration of not being able to express yourself correctly in that language, because of a lack of proficiency. So I am very happy and lucky that my parents brought me up to be trilingual.

There are also some disadvantages of being multilingual. These disadvantages for me would be that I often switch words in languages or sometimes forget to address a person in the correct language. Generally speaking though I think the cons are strongly outweighed by the pros.

 

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