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Language Learning Stories Interview - Growing up Bilingual
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Language Learning Stories
Interview
Growing up Bilingual

Lingo Mama Language Learning Stories Interview - Growing up Bilingual

Language Learning Stories
Interview
Growing up Bilingual

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Welcome back to Language Learning Stories

In this episode of Language Learning Stories – Growing up Bilingual, we explore topics such as

  • speaking ‘Spanglish’ at home,
  • attending Greek school every weekend for 12 years,
  • integrating language learning into the next generation and
  • advice for parents bringing up children in a bilingual home.

I interview Marcia and Sophia, who have both grown up bilingual about their experiences. Marcia speaking Spanish and Sophia speaking Greek.

It’s a fantastic chat and I hope you enjoy it!

Click below to watch now or Link Here!

Transcript

Lingo Mama

Hi everyone, we are back with another Language Learning Stories interview and today I am very happy, and privileged to be with two of my very best and long-term friends, Marcia and Sophia.

Marcia

Hi everyone, I’m Marcia and I come from a bilingual background. I was born in Chile and came to Australia when I was only 2. I grew up speaking Spanish, but my Father was from New Zealand so I grew up in a household where we spoke mainly ‘Spanglish’! Now, I live in Melbourne with my husband and two daughters.

Sophia

Yiasou! I’m Greek and I’m both first and second generation Greek-Australian. My grandparents migrated here in the 1950s and my mum was born here, and my dad migrated in the 1070s for study and they met and married and I was born here. I grew up speaking Greek with my family, through childhood and at Greek school.

Lingo Mama

Thanks for the introductions. As a person who comes from a monolingual household, I have always been somewhat jealous of you two growing up speaking another language. Marce with your situation was a little bit different because as you said your Dad was from New Zealand but he spoke really good Spanish, didn’t he?

Marcia

Yes, he did, he spent about 11 years living in Chile. He picked up the language really well, and even when we came to Australia he was able to teach Spanish. He and Mum always spoke Spanish at home but for some reason, I always spoke to my Dad in English as did my brother. We always use to joke that if anyone came to join us at the dinner table, it would be a mesh of languages being spoken. A lot of Spanglish, I would speak English with my Dad, Spanish with my Mum, my Mum would always speak to us both in Spanish and my brother would answer in English! My brother and I would speak English to each other and my parents spoke Spanish to each other!

Lingo Mama

When you grew up, did you do formal study of Spanish or was it just from home and immersion speaking with your parents?

Marcia

I feel blessed now looking back, I never knew any different. As long as I can remember I’ve spoken both English and Spanish and understood both. I’m really lucky! I did do a bit of Spanish in high school, as a subject for my VCE (final year of high school).

Lingo Mama

Soph your situation is a little bit different because your parents migrated really young, didn’t they?

Sophia

Dad was young, but Mum was born here. She was that generation that always translated. The generation that arrived in the 1950s didn’t have a high level of English skills, so she always translated. As a child, her English and Greek were both excellent.

Lingo Mama

So at home did you always speak Greek with your Mum and Dad?

Sophia

Well we always spoke Greek but we always switched around! Dad would always speak Greek and I’d reply in English, and with Mum it was usually English. But with certain expressions or phrases it is easier to use Greek.

I remember with the word ‘cucumber’ – I never knew the English word for that until I was 10/15 years old, because we would always say it in Greek.

Lingo Mama

And with your formal study, did you do any Greek school as a child?

Sophia

Yes, I did find it important to do formal study, I did have grandparents and family back in Greece and I wanted to understand the language. We met different people in the community and made different friends and experienced a lot of different things through my 12 years studying Greek! And being able to communicate and read and write and use technology now in Greek is such a big thing.

Lingo Mama

I guess we all grew up in that era when we didn’t have Skype, Facetime or really internet..! So kids growing up these days! If we were to transplant ourselves it would be such a different environment to grow up in now, wouldn’t it? Because you would have that exposure to technology like Facetime with native speakers, every day if you wanted it.

So you do hear “oh I’ve got Greek school on Saturday…” “Mum’s made me go to Chinese school….” As a kid did you have those feelings? And now has an adult do you look back and say oh jeez wasn’t it awesome, or jeez I wish I’d done something else?

Sophia

Because it was over a span of 12 years, there was a love-hate relationship. But we did do activities afterwards too – we’d go to Scouts or a birthday party, there was always something on! It would have been nice as a kid to have a sleep-in obviously! I do have some cousins who chose not to go and they no regret it because they don’t understand Greek and going back to Greece is hard with limited understanding of the language. I’m glad I did go, even if it was a bit of a struggle sometimes. It wasn’t just language either – we learnt history, religion, dancing, lots of different aspects of Greek culture.

Lingo Mama

Marcia, you didn’t do your formal education in Spanish until your later years in high school, how do you think having that second language in your life as benefitted you? Looking back now, or even at the time as a high school student, did you feel different? Did you feel like you had some kind of superpower?

Marcia

I definitely felt different. I grew up in a country town, and in the 1980s and 1990s, there weren’t too many immigrants.

I was the only one in my class who’s Mother had an accent. I was the only one who spoke a second language in my class.

I remember doing a study in grade 6 (approx 11-12 years old) when we had to do a study tracing back who was the first person in our family that migrated to Australia. For me, it was super easy, because I could write about myself! Because I migrated from another country! Some of the kids could write about their parents who were born in England, but a lot of them had to go right back to almost First Fleet type era and that was the environment I grew up in.

I never thought being from another country was a hindrance – I loved it. I thought I was special and different. All my friends loved it too. My brother felt differently I think, and maybe that’s why he never really spoke a lot of Spanish. I’ve never discussed it with him actually – maybe he’s watching now and he can tell me!

Even as an adult I feel blessed. Moreso lately I’ve been thinking about it – unfortunately, neither of my girls are speaking Spanish and I would really love them too. I see it in my family too, as adults, there are some who wish they’d paid attention or done the study as a child and could speak Spanish more fluently. Especially as you travel and Spanish is one of those languages that is growing in the world. Even in France, New York I got to use my Spanish skills.

Lingo Mama

So Marcia you’re married to Dan, who has Italian heritage, you have two girls together. Potentially they could be little trilingual speakers! They’re only little now, but what are your thoughts and hopes for them language-wise for the future?

Marcia

I would definitely love for them to have a second language, and if I have my way it would be Spanish. Mariella is nearly 7 and Ilian is 2.5 years old if anything Iliana is probably at the best age to get her speaking now. Daniel even though is of Italian background doesn’t really speak it at home – they’ve always spoken English. Partly because his parents came from two different regions in Italy and they spoke different dialects and they both migrated to Australian whey they were quite young as well. Daniel can speak a little and tries to bring in Italian words. Mariella is learning Italian at primary school, which for me is a little bit tricky because Italian and Spanish are quite similar. So what I have taught her in Spanish, she’s now learning in Italian. Which has its benefits but I think at her age when she’s trying to learn, it could make it a bit trickier.

I feel bad at the moment because I never really spoke to the girls in Spanish. My intention always was to speak to them in Spanish, but English comes really naturally to me. I found with other people too that when Mariella was young and saying some words in Spanish other people didn’t understand what she was saying. I just wanted her to communicate effectively when she was young and that was probably my mistake. I have asked my Mother to speak to the girls in Spanish because even if they just hear it from that one person, that can be really good, but she reverts to English a lot these days!

I have considered sending Mariella to Spanish school as I’d like her to at least understand and be able to respond in basic ways, especially as I have a lot of family here that all speak Spanish. That’s my goal! Through your blog, it has inspired me to get in there and try and mould them!

Lingo Mama

It’s interesting because it does sometimes feel like work to carve out the time in a busy schedule and factor in language learning with your kids when you’re just trying to get dinner on the table and kids out the door. So don’t beat yourself up about it! It will come!

Marcia

With Iliana (youngest daughter) I can talk with her while we’re at home, doing things. It’s harder with Mariella because we’re focussing on her English skills, writing and her vocab. Having said that I know the window is getting smaller – kids up to the age of 7/8 absorb the most.

Lingo Mama

I’ve also heard 11 as well!

Marcia

Oh, that’s good! I like that! It gives me some more time! I did French at school and I can still remember all my French I learnt in my primary school years.

Lingo Mama

You’re probably the only one!!

Marcia

Maybe because it’s similar to Spanish too – I always really liked French and the skills I learnt at that young age have really stuck with me.

Lingo Mama

Sophia your niece and very new nephew, do you think they’ll grow up speaking Greek?

Sophia

I hope so! At the moment they live in the UAE and there are not many Greek speakers around them. They do speak a lot of English at home so the hope is when they do come back to Australia, they will be around Greek speakers and have the opportunity to learn.

Lingo Mama

As bilingual speakers from a young age, have you been able to use your language skills as an adult in a career/professional sense?

Marcia

I have. My background is in tourism and I’ve had a few different roles where I’ve had to deal with Spanish speakers. Even some Italian speaking tourists actually! I worked for a visitor centre so I’ve had to use my Spanish to help direct tourists and I’ve worked in a hotel too. I’ve had other less formal side roles too – I’ve helped translate websites, which is good for a bit of extra money on the side. My second language has benefitted me in this way.

Sophia

I haven’t had quite the same experience, but in customer service roles, yes. But for me, it has been more about building relationships. In many roles I’ve had there’s always been another Greek speaker, and we instantly form a bond. So for me, it’s been more about networking and developing relationships, rather than using the actual language in the role.

Lingo Mama

I’d love to know, given the experiences you’ve both had growing up in bilingual households, what advice would you for parents who might have both parents speaking the second language or perhaps one English and one-second language?

Marcia

Not that I’m doing it myself, but I think it’s about consistency.

If you’re going to teach one language, to be consistent with that language and keep it going. Especially with young kids, it’s all about repetition, it’s how they learn.

I’ve tried to introduce as many fun language aids. My girls have a lot of books in Spanish, toys  – thanks to Dora the Explorer! Spanish is one of the easier ones because there is so much out there. I get them to watch some shows and I try to use the basics with them as much as possible – ‘please’ ‘thank you’ and ‘hello’ and colours.

Sophia

What I remember growing up, is a lot of kids coming into primary school knew another language and learned English at primary school.

My advice is to start young, before primary school and if you can learn in the home that’s great.

Start young and they will always learn English, as it is the every day, most used language. So that’s my advice.

 

Lingo Mama

I have thought of one more question, even though I promised that was the last one. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is, as Australians unless we grow up in a multilingual household, we tend to be very monolingual. We rely on English and we tend to be adverse to learning a second language. What’s your theory on this?

Marcia

I think it’s because we are so isolated. In Europe, all these countries border other countries and people are forced into learning other languages, in order to be able to communicate and travel. Travel in the past for us Australians was expensive and not what people did. Now with technology, it is opening up our world a lot more. On the other side, there are a lot more people speaking English in the world and some people might feel they don’t need to speak another language because everywhere you go there are English speakers.

Sophia

You can learn another language throughout school and it can help with your career too. The opportunity is always there.

Lingo Mama –

You have to take the opportunity.

My very last question is what are your personal language dreams, hopes and focus for the next few years?

Sophia

I would like to learn Italian and French. I learnt some French in high school and those two countries always pull me in. My dream is to travel through the Silk Road and understand the cultures on this route.

Marcia

I’m a bit similar. Since I was young, I’ve had a goal that by the time I turn 40 I’d like to know 4 languages fluently. I always say I know 2.5 languages – my French is conversational level and I can get around ok, but I’d like to develop it a lot more. And Italian for my husband’s side of the family and also German. I have relatives in Austria and I’ve always thought ‘why not’. And it’s my goal to teach my girls a second language – particularly Spanish.

Lingo Mama –

Thank you both for your time today, I really appreciate it! It’s so interesting to hear the benefits your bilingualism has had on your life. Many thanks!

 

Read and watch my other Language Learning Stories Interviews here!

Are you also from a bilingual background? How has your language ability benefitted you?

Please leave a comment or question below for me, Marcia or Sophia. We love hearing from you.

 

Until next time,

Lingo Mama

xx

pennywilson
penny.wilson2010@gmail.com

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