Bilingualism equals diversity

Hands on a globe


Raising my children bilingually means a lot to me, and to be honest, there simply hasn’t been any other option for our family. Being Polish married to an Englishman and living in England means I’m in a minority here, but when the children were born I put my foot down and with the support of my husband and family we now have two beautifully bilingual and bicultural kids. Of course at the age of 8 and 4 their language development is far from finished! The most recent development in this area is us changing the wife-husband language from English to Polish in order to maximise the children’s exposure to the minority language. Not easy, but believe me, it helps! As a result of this change our two littleuns already use more Polish between each other.
On my Polish blog some time ago I wrote about how maps and geography are close to our hearts. It’s been like this ever since I can remember. Both children have classroom style maps on their walls and often look at them analysing countries, capitals, flags, mountains, rivers and oceans. This interest is totally natural to them and I believe it’s a result of their bilingual and bicultural upbringing. They genuinely want to learn more languages and discover more cultures. Even though their first encounter of air travel happened at the age of three months, and they visit lots of different places by car on a regular basis, these trips mainly concerned our two countries. Still, just like speaking two languages makes learning further languages easier, constant travelling between Poland and England seems to create this hunger to see more counties. I’ll take it further: having experienced two different cuisines, sets of customs, traditions and holidays makes children eager to get to know yet another and another culture. Travelling further away is not possible for us at the moment, but there is nothing to stop us from starting our preparations already!
So this is how, apart from roast dinner, fish and chips, bigos and pierogi, dishes from Turkey, India, China, Thailand, Hungary, Spain and Italy frequently land on our table. Unbelievable how welcoming and open minded children are to all these new and exotic flavours.  We also keep adding more!
I believe this openness to other cultures and keen interest in them is not just the result of our bilingual family lifestyle. Just living in an ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse country such as the United Kingdom plays its part here too. My husband classes himself as British but his Italian origin is really close to his heart and he often talks about how he regrets how the Italian language has been lost in his family over the generations. Luckily the tradition of delicious Italian cooking has been passed on! Our neighbours are part Egyptian and their youngest daughter gets on really well with mine. Some other friends of ours are half Irish, Japanese and Philippine. Being surrounded by such diversity makes it quite ordinary. I have to admit it also makes being half Polish much easier – it’s just normal!
Recently we came across this charming book by Yugoslavia born author-illustrator Manja Stojic called “Hello World!” that totally captivated our kid’s imagination. On every page there is a beautiful picture of a child and underneath the word “hello” in their native language. The whole book contains greetings in 43 languages! When reading it we’re not trying to memorize all these hellos (feel free to do it if you wish) but just enjoying the huge diversity of races and languages in this world. Amazing how children naturally compare and analyze these greetings. It felt like quite a discovery when they gathered that “hello” sounds nearly the same in English and Dutch. Then straight to the map to check the geographical distance between these two countries. Serbian “Zdravo!”, Russian “Zdravstvuite!” or Czech “Ahoj!” may be very different from Polish “Cześć!” but they still sound very familiar to us due to being from the same Slavic language family. Again the children notice or sense it without any formal linguistic training just the experience with two languages.
Books like this really power children’s imagination. Just like Albert Einstein said:
„Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”