Parenting in multiple languages or “multilingual parenting” is common for expat families, and without doubt it has cognitive, sociocultural, educational, and economic benefits.
“Multilingualism is the ability of societies, institutions, groups and individuals to engage, on a regular basis, with more than one language in their day-to-day lives.” (European Commission: 2007: 6) Since NAS Jakarta is an international school with a multilingual community, you are highly likely to meet students at the school who communicate in more than two languages.
Research by Jim Cummins shows that multilingualism enhances cognitive and academic skills through the interdependence of concepts, skills, and linguistic knowledge in a central processing system. Cognitive and literacy skills established in the mother tongue or “Language 1” transfer across languages, supported by shared concepts and knowledge acquired through learning, experience, and the learner's own cognitive and linguistic abilities.
Parents frequently ask themselves if it is a good idea for them to speak to their child in a they do not speak fluently themselves. Research shows that when parents use a language that they themselves have not mastered very well, there is no relationship between the language instruction they give their child and their child's developing language skills in this language. So, the most important thing to do is to choose the language or languages you have mastered best yourself and provide a rich experience for your child in this language.
Another common belief is that some languages are more valuable and advantageous to learn than others. However, all languages are equally valuable as well as suitable for education and learning from a linguistic perspective. It is society that has determined any perceived status of languages.
Here are some tips for a multilingual family:
Mixing languages is allowed! You often hear the advice to choose one language at home and leave the other languages to school. Parents may also be advised to opt for the OPOL (One Person One Language) approach. However, there is no scientific evidence that you must strictly separate languages by location, situation, or the person you are speaking to. A strict separation is difficult to maintain and can also feel unnatural.If it is normal for your family to speak languages interchangeably, continue to do so. Mixing languages is certainly not detrimental to learning the languages.
Follow your gut instinct. Do not force yourself to choose a particular language - the choice is entirely up to you!
Make clear agreements on the use of languages within the family. Languages should connect people and language use should certainly not lead to family members feeling excluded, or laughed at, or parents feeling like they are losing control.
Try to incorporate the language of school to explain concepts in your child's mother tongue. Attend parent workshops or make an appointment with your child’s teacher to understand what your child is learning in school to support you with this.
In the end your family and the multilingualism that exists within your family are unique. There are many ways to make a multilingual upbringing a success and it is certainly a journey that is worth taking.