I live in a multilingual household: I come from France, my wife is Hispanic and we are both fluent in English, French and Spanish. We both decided early on that we would like to offer a multicultural education to our children. And we did just that. Our first born Enzo is now 6 and is fluent in Spanish, English and French. We both spoke to him exclusively in our native language and he learned English at school. We plan to do the same for our new born daughter. However raising multilingual kids is more than just language learning.
Multicultural education is about connecting with older generations
Our motivations behind a multicultural education through language learning are beyond setting our kids up for professional success. While our ego is always flattered when somebody compliment our son’s language skills, the number one motivator is more personal. Our main goal is to give our children the ability to communicate with their grandparents and their respective family. Most of my relatives are hopelessly monolingual in French. Living in New York far away from all, I knew that if I wanted my son to communicate with his French family I would have to teach him. So I only spoke to him in French since the day he was born. The French skills of my son were gradually strengthened by weekly Skype sessions with my parents, book reading, cartoon watching and vacation time in France.
As my in-laws mainly communicate in Spanish, my wife did the same and only spoke Spanish to our son from birth. Luckily for us, Enzo digested the two languages flawlessly and picked up English naturally at daycare. We feel beyond grateful that our son is able to connect and bond fully with both sides of his family.
Multicultural education is about teaching that no culture is better than the other
A multicultural education means constantly navigating from one culture to another, which goes beyond language learning. It means different cuisines, different beliefs, different traditions. Our son is raised around cultures that can seem very foreign from one another. Yet, Enzo does not believe that one culture is better than the other. They are just different. Enzo picks and chooses what he likes. He has affinities in all three cultures but does not put them in competition. Because Enzo is surrounded with different traditions that co-exist peacefully, it is easier for him to understand that different people have different beliefs. An that is OK.
I believe that a multicultural education sets strong foundations for acceptance, compassion and togetherness. It teaches that being different is not a negative thing. It teaches that different beliefs can live together in harmony and even thrive within one person, under one roof and within a community.
“As many languages you know, as many times you are a human being.” Czech proverb
Multicultural education is about empathy
In one word, multicultural education through multilingualism strengthens empathy. And while it may seem like an easy fact to accept do not take my word for it. According to The Economist, a study published in Psychological Science shows that children exposed to several languages are better at seeing through others’ eyes.
The article says:
In a simple experiment, Dr Fan and Dr Liberman sat monolingual, bilingual and “exposure” children aged between four and six with a grid of objects placed between them and an experimenter. Some objects were blocked from the experimenter’s sight, a fact the children could clearly see. With a large, a medium and a small car visible to the child, but the small car hidden from the adult, the adult would ask “I see a small car” and ask the child to move it. Both bilingual and those in the exposure group moved the medium-sized car (the smallest the experimenter could see) about 75% of the time, against 50% for the monolinguals. The successful children were less likely even to glance at the car the experimenter could not see.
It goes to show that a multicultural education goes beyond just language learning. It is about human connection. It’s about seeing the world through somebody else’s eyes.
Multicultural education: where to start?
Raising multilingual kids can be challenging. I would recommend to connect with parents and like minded people who support multicultural education and uplift diversity in our schools. For information on raising multicultural kids, lots of useful information from caregivers from all over the world can be found on MulticulturalKidBlogs.com.