[updated 12 December 2023]
When I shared my post on How to portray, feel and explain language use for a multilingual, in my facebook group Multilingual Families, several parents shared their multilingual journey with me.
When we raise our children with multiple languages one of the most important things to consider is how we, the parents/caregivers, acquired and learned our languages.
Our own experiences with acquiring and learning languages determines what we expect from our children, and our expectations can be realistic, motivating, positive or demotivating, discouraging.
During my Language Consultations for multilingual families I encourage parents to describe their own multilingual language journey with the help of the Multilingual Language Timeline© that I have designed especially for parents, caregivers and educators.
This exercise allows us to realize how many languages we actually know or knew, how many we understand, and also how those languages have shaped and still shape our everyday life.
If you would like your multilingual language timeline to be shared in this post, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "My Multilingual Language Timeline".
Xenia shared this multilingual language timeline with me. Born in Kyiv, she relocated to Greece at age 5 and to Germany when she was 30. Her current prevalent language is Greek – although it is not her mother tongue. In her twenties she discovered her love for languages. She worked on international projects. She learned Ukrainian as it was a prerequisite to get a job in Berlin, which she gladly welcomed as an excellent opportunity to get back to her roots. She also revived her Russian. When her daughter was born a year ago, she decided that she needed her first language, exposing her to the spectrum of Slavic languages. Following the recent events, she could not help but continue with Ukrainian.
She learned Italian when she found out that languages are fun and not so difficult as previously expected. When the universe sent her a Chilean friend as her first Spanish teacher it took her 6 months to get the Cervantes B2, 3 more to get the C1 certificate. Serbian was a short but intense relationship after she spent two weeks restoring wineries in a tiny Serbian village. She interrupted this stay to study English language and literature in Thessaloniki, while also working. When she came to Berlin, she organized two architectural competitions in Kyiv and then in Ottawa and Brussels. Fate, again, signalized that she needed to start with French. Once her daughter was born, she dropped it for Russian. Xenia's name is Greek, but she looks Ukrainian. Currently, she uses more Greek (as family language and among friends), German (as community and work language), English (at work and with friends), Russian (approx. two hours per day with her daughter and when they meet her little friends).
Julia Wilsch's Language Timeline
Julia Wilsch, a German mother of 2 children, living in the Netherlands, has shared her very diverse language journey with me. She spent the first 11 years of her life in Germany, where she attended a local primary school. During that period she grew up with German and Arabic (to a certain extend through music and the family's acquaintances), thanks to her mother who had studied Arabic. As they were always surrounded by Arabic speaking friends, it felt very natural to acquire the language later on in her teenage years and helped to develop her general language skills. When Julia was almost 12, they moved to the UK where Julia and her younger brother attended school in English. She had learned some English at the German school previous to their move, so the transition wasn’t too difficult, but thanks to some EAL lessons and lots of children's series on TV, friends and further exposure in daily life, she settled in relatively quickly. After 3 years in the UK, her family spent 6 months in Germany (she was 14) where she and her brother attended a German Gymnasium. During this very intense and short time, Julia started learning Spanish and continued learning French in school, as she had done in the UK. Her family then moved to Morocco, where Julia and her brother attended an American School, and learned Moroccan and Classical Arabic. Julia lived in Morocco from age 15 to 18. To her disappointment, no Spanish lessons were offered in High school whilst there, so she took lessons at the local Instituto Cervantes before graduating. At age 18 she then moved to the Netherlands for her gap year (FSJ), followed up by a Bachelor degree, and learned – or better, acquired – Dutch quickly, and learned to read and write in Dutch. During her studies, she also spent some time in Spain (doing a Erasmus program) and in Latin America (doing field work for her master's degree) to improve her Spanish even more. In the Netherlands she also took some more courses to improve her Arabic and to make sure to keep the language alive.
Since her children were born in 2020 and 2022, she focused more on polishing up her mother tongue, German, as her exposure to that language had been minimized during her stays abroad. She currently works as a German language coach.
Julia can speak, read and write in all the languages she has learned so far, but her oral speaking skills are the most developed.
My own multilingual language timeline is like follows: I acquired Italian and German from the start, as I grew up in Italy with German parents. I started understanding Swiss-German when I was 4 years old. I never spoke it until I moved to Switzerland (Zurich) for my studies at age 18. At school I learned French at age 6, English at age 11, Latin (12) and started to understand Dutch through my friends who were in the Dutch section at school.
My mother used to sprinkle her Standard German with some expressions from the local dialect of the region she grew up in. Whenever we visited my extended family in Germany, I would carefully listen to what the "grown ups" would say in that dialect and acquired a basic fluency in understanding of it, and catch myself using some expressions with my children every now and then.
During my studies (Romance Languages and Literatures) I learned Old Occitan, Old French and Old Catalan, and I studied several Italian Dialects, like the dialect of Poschiavo and Ticino, Lombardy, Laconi (Sardegna) just to name a few.
When preparing for a conference in Budapest, I had a smattering of Hungarian (una infarinatura molto lieve).
When we moved to the Netherlands, I taught myself more Dutch. Although the two languages differ, I found Flemish very helpful when learning Dutch, as the pronunciation in TV shows was for me easier to understand. Funnily, in the Netherlands I speak way more English than anywhere else I lived before. Although living and working in international settings, the "main" languages were French and Italian, for some time also German, but only since we moved to the Netherlands, English became the most dominant language as the international community here tends to prefer English. So, after barely speaking English for decades, it became the language I use every day, where I read and write in the most now.
Thanks to some Norwegian friends and a conference that brought me to Norway, I learned some basics in Norwegian. When I discovered Korean Drama in 2019, and got "addicted to it", I decided to learn this language too. I'm not very consequent in learning it, but I enjoy listening to it.
I would love to publish your own multilingual language timeline in this post too!
Please email me at email@example.com with the subject "My Multilingual Language Timeline".