A - Z Challenge

Multilingual Children


We speak three languages at home. Namely: English, Afrikaans and Setswana. Most children in South Africa are bilingual so our situation isn’t the exception, but the norm. Mr speaks five languages, but understands about eight and I have a love for languages and learn them easily. It was only natural to pass this on to our son.


Our first strategy was to speak to our child as much as possible. He knows most commands and items in all three languages. This has resulted in speech delays as he has three times more languages to learn – Add some Xhosa, Zulu, Sepedi and Sotho to the mix and you have one hell of a concoction. South Africa has eleven official languages and living in the city exposes him to most of them.


Our goal with teaching him to speak many languages was that he could identify with and understand when his grandparents and family spoke. We also wanted him to be able to answer them as well.


He is really starting to catch on now. He would speak English and Setswana at home and English and Afrikaans at my parents, because they don’t understand Setswana at all. This fascinated me. I had no idea how he knew how to separate our families into languages.


He is also started to recite words in three parts. Cow, Koei, Kgomo is a great example of how he compartmentalises the words.


Teaching him three languages simultaneously has been met with some criticism. We often hear “Isn’t he talking yet?”

“When is he going to talk properly?”

“Where is he going to use Tswana anyway?”

That doesn’t matter to us, we understand him and he is doing great.


It is easy to throw in the towel when your child doesn’t meet the standard talking markers or milestones set by a child who only speaks one language, but don’t let that dishearten you. Keep going! It will pay off in the long run.


Are you raising bi, tri or multilingual children? Let me know. Do you have any tips you would like to share? I’d love to start a conversation.


Love and Blessings,

Lindsay Sign Off


15 thoughts on “Multilingual Children

  1. How wonderful for your children Lindsay. My kids speak English and a bit of Italian but the Italian hasn’t really flourished because they rarely hear it at home now. Maybe if my parents were around it would be different. I think you need to be immersed in a language to really learn it properly. It’s great that your kids are exposed to so much diversity.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that’s awesome! Pity I couldn’t teach my kids Arabic. We only speak English at home. It’s very difficult when you’re the only one speaking the language. I don’t have family around me and when I was still with their dad, who was barely there anyways Arabic was spoken rarely…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s why I try to learn as much as I can so that Mr doesn’t have to speak it alone. I know my son won’t have anyone to speak Tswana to this side, but hopefully it will help him when we go to his grandparents. Maybe your kids will pick it up later. It’s never too late to learn something new 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “I had no idea how he knew how to separate our families into languages.” That is exactly my question — not only separating families into languages, but how does he know where one language ends and the other begins? I wonder if, as he gets a little older, he’ll mix and match them, maybe in the same sentence. I’m fascinated. The brain is a most marvelous and mysterious thing.

    How fortunate he is to have parents who can provide him with such rich connections to many cultures!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 🙂 At least the languages sound completely different so I suppose that helps his brain sort them. His older sister mixed the languages and Mr decided to stop teaching her Tswana and Afrikaans. He said he was nervous last time, but he wants to take his time and teach the little one in a way that he would hopefully pass the language on to his own children.

      Liked by 1 person

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