Our home here in Guangzhou has been mainly surrounded by Mandarin Chinese as that’s the love language between me and my husband. We met in Mandarin, fell in love in Mandarin and also got married in a Mandarin wedding ceremony. Of course we throw in a few phrases of English every now and then, especially when we have guests or when hubby wants to practice his English.
But as we are getting ready to welcome a new family member at the end of the year, we are also getting ready to become a trilingual family. According to what I’ve read, in a multilingual home it’s best that each of the parents speak their native language to their children, helping the kid to grow up bilingual. In our case I will be speaking Finnish and my husband Cantonese to our baby girl or boy.
Now that our baby has already started to make herself/himself known by kicking inside my tummy, we are also trying to form a habit of talking to the baby in a daily basis. But what has surprised us, is how strange it feels to be speaking our native languages in our home.
For years I’ve been used to speaking Chinese even with my cats, now I’ve been trying to change and talk to our cats in Finnish instead, creating more opportunities for our baby to hear Finnish. I also try to talk to my tummy in Finnish when I feel the little kicks, but often it feels pretty strange.
At the same time my husband feels odd speaking Cantonese to the baby in front of me, he is so used to speaking Mandarin in my presence that changing to his own dialect doesn’t come naturally. I try to remind him of speaking Cantonese to my tummy, even though that means I can hardly figure out what he is saying.
Mandarin will of course continue to be an important part of our life, as it’s the main language of communication between us. Our kid will then be hearing a lot of Mandarin as well, which I hope won’t get him or her too confused!
Getting our child to understand and speak Cantonese is not going to be a problem, as my husband’s whole family will be speaking it, but what about Finnish then? I have a feeling, that I really need to make an effort to bring more Finnish to my baby’s life by taking to her, watching Moomin cartoon together and actively finding other Finns to interact with.
I would love to hear about your experiences of raising bilingual or multilingual kids! Please share your story in the comments.