Multicultural and multi-linguistic family

Raising a kid in such environment is fairly easy. It takes empathy, efforts and practice.5 min

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Reili does not mention it often in her articles, but the education of our kid is also influenced by the fact that we are a multicultural and multi-linguistic family. Even though each family is unique, our reflections can always be used by others. So today I share my experience and point of view as a father of a wonderful daughter raised among two different cultures and three different languages.

Different cultures

Reili and I come from two different countries. She’s Estonian (North-East Europe), I’m French (South-West Europe). Our food is different, our weather is different, our country landscapes are different, our traditions are different, local names are also very different. Everything is different. Still, if it seemed very important at first, with hindsight I realize that our experience is finally quite close to those of many other couples.

Starting a family together means realizing that what we take for granted is often just a small piece of what exists. And from there, to create our own family culture, made unique by all the influences it brings together. I every day realise a bit more, the joy our daughter can bring to our family. There’s simply nothing better in the world.

Give space to the other person

When you are expecting your kid, or even once the kid is born, it is easy to imagine all what you could do, teach, transmit to the child. Values, references, knowledge, dreams, passions. And then you realise this child also has another parent.

This other parent does not necessarily have the same educational reflexes than you. Where you agree “in theory”, when it is time to practice, your words may translate into very different actions!

I think that happens in all couples, cultural difference or not. But in the case of a mixed couple, we also discover the educational references of the other, which are not always easy to understand “in theory”. And it is at the same time as our child that we realize that there are other ways of doing things, sometimes completely the opposite way of all that we have known until then. This is part of the game rules you discover while being in a multicultural and multi-linguistic family.

The language

With us, the difference of culture is also in the languages we speak. I am a native French speaker and Reili a native Estonian speaker. We both have basic knowledge of the opposite language. I speak French to our daughter. Reili speaks to her in Estonian. And so our little one is then exposed to English when Reili and I discuss anything at home since we both talk to each other in English. We use then three languages at home.

A very important thing is to avoid having a “translator-parent”. That could have a negative influence on the kid who’d have a tendency to pick just one language. So we both make efforts to improve our understanding of the foreign language, so one or another don’t need to translate every time.

Obviously, the environment in which your kid is raised also plays a crucial role.

The link with the other culture

If like me, you are living in a cultural environment which belongs only to one of the two parents, the link with the other culture is very important.

In an ideal world, going to France often would help a lot. But plane tickets from Tallinn are not always cheap. Soon the complexity of traveling will increase when our daughter will go to school. We try to alternate having my family coming here or ourselves going to visit them. But overall it is rarely more than once a year. It is often for Christmas period that we go visit my homeland, even though Tallinn is an amazing place at this time of the year.

Thankfully, we also have friends here which are French and with kids. She gets to practice a bit with them and be more exposed to this culture. Overall, we try to build cultural references for our daughter. With food, clothes, music, language, some stories, books and explanations we give her.

Common efforts and home language

One fun fact I haven’t mentioned until now, is that we speak English to both our cat and dog. That also increases our daughter exposure to this “international” language.

Even though we are not fluent in the other person’s native language, I think we both get a good understanding of what is being said or asked to our daughter. Though, we probably both agree that we should improve this skill and master the foreign language. Or not, so we can both have our little secret way of communicating with our daughter! But in this case, English should become the official home language for everyone. And I’d have an “advantage” since I am the one living abroad. Thus I am more exposed to the local language than Reili is to French!

Anyway, we are still on a learning phase as this is our very first parent experience and we try to adapt ourselves every day. Our daughter just start saying a few words, most of them are in Estonian. But she already mixes them with French ones. That being said, I try to be with her as much as possible so she can sponge my culture and language to the most. All in all, we are very proud of being a multicultural and multi-linguistic family. It can only be a positive experience.

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