Sunday, May 20, 2007

profile: Joseph learning Indonesian, French, and English in the US

Santi is an Indonesian married to a Frenchman, now living in the US with their 3.5-year-old son, Joseph, and newborn daughter, Louise. She and her hubby were Third Culture Kids (TCKs): she grew up in Jakarta (Indonesia), Wassenaar (the Netherlands), and Damascus (Syria), while he was raised in Strasbourg (France), Ougadougou (Burkina Faso), and Djibouti City (Djibouti). Santi speaks native Indonesian, fluent English, "fair written and verbal" Dutch, and basic French. Her husband speaks French, English, Dutch, and basic Indonesian. They met in Amsterdam while pursuing graduate degrees (she in law and he in physics), married in Jakarta, spent time working in the Netherlands, and now reside in the US, where she blogs about her multilingual, multicultural family at Trilingual. Santi also writes for Multilingual Living Magazine.

What languages are you exposing your child to, and how? Indonesian and French using OPOL [one parent one language], and English. For English, we’ve been sending my son to the day care twice/week 8 hours/day since he was 8 months old. He’s now 3.5 and at preschool, also twice/week 8 hours/day.

Why do you want your child to learn his parents' languages? From our own life experience (my husband is biracial and both him and I are adult TCKs), we think it will be much easier for our kids to cope with their multiculturalism by becoming multilinguals. Being able to speak, read (and hopefully write) in our languages are valuable tools for them to be comfortable with their multicultural identity.

How well does your child understand, speak, read, and write the parent languages? Does he have a preference for certain languages in certain situations and with certain speakers? For a trilingual, my son understands and speaks Indonesian and French very well. English is still catching up as he goes to preschool twice a week only. We will let him learn how to read and write in the school language (English) first, but we’ve been teaching him pre-reading in all three languages. For now, he treats Indonesian and French equally, but each time coming back from preschool he tends to speak more English for 1-2 hours before switching back to Indonesian or French. My son's choices of language depends on to whom he talks to (ex: if he hears the other person speaks Indonesian, he will reply in Indonesian). He does code switching very often whenever he forgets a word in a language.

How have you been able to expose your child to the culture(s) where the parent languages are spoken? We've been to Indonesia and France two times since he was born. I held a once/week music and art class at home with other Indonesian mothers where we teach them Indonesian children’s songs and some simple art works.

What challenges have occurred as you teach your child the parent languages? The challenges come from our families and his day care. Our families are still skeptical about teaching a kid three languages simultaneously. His day care teacher once felt frustrated (our son was two years old) because they did not understand each other.

What resources have been most useful to you? For our knowledge, we’ve been reading books, magazines, other people’s blogs and have joined a mailing list. For our children’s language development, we have collections of videos, CDs, and books in our languages.

What do you think parents, caretakers, teachers, and/or researchers need to know about teaching a second language to children?
There are more and more multilingual pupils in the US. I think it would be better if teachers know how to handle and teach multlinguals. I noticed instead of trying to solve the problem at school, teachers tend to blame the parents for not speaking English at home and even ask the parents to speak English to their children at home. I started reading about multilingualism when our kid was a newborn, so I’ve been well informed from the beginning.

What a gift you and your husband are giving your children, Santi! Congratulations on the birth of Louise last month, and thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us.

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