I’m a monolingual parent of a multilingual child.
This is a post without tips and solutions. It is for me to check if I’m alone and nuts with my fears and at the same time, to let others know they’re not alone with their fears and nuttiness.
I spent 23 years of my life in one country, using only one language. Although my English education started in preschool, and although I consider myself fluent, I will never call myself bilingual (even though I am by definition). I had 3 years of German that resulted only in me understanding a bit and 3 years of Italian that is forgotten from not using, but speeded up my French education. I understand French, can have quite normal conversations, can read, but I stopped believing I will ever write properly.
On the other hand my daughter, not even yet 3yo speaks Polish fluently, English very well and next year will start preschool in French (one of official languages in Switzerland). When she starts school she will learn German for years (another official language of Switzerland). In other words, if we stay here, at my age she will be fluent in 4 languages at least. Which will be her native? I have no idea, she will have to decide.
And while I know all the benefits of multilingualism, it sometimes breaks my heart.
1. I feel like our relationship will lack the element of common childhood. As soon as she goes to school at the age of 5, she will sink into French rhymes, books and movies. It will be so hard to keep up with Polish without Polish surroundings and friends who would have same Polish-themed passions. I can’t quite explain it, I never planned to live abroad and I’ve always imagined it all happening in my home country.
2. I won’t be able to help her with her French essays the way my parents helped me with mine (explaining poetry, discussing, proofreading etc.). For me, it was an important element of the relationship with my parents. They’ve always discussed work with each other and I always shared school details with them. I can’t yet imagine same kind of bond with Z, as I will never be confident enough with my French.
3. I fear I won’t be able to understand her friends and so – exist in her social life. Sure, I can understand a lot of French now, but switch to slang and pop-culture jargon and you could as well be speaking Chinese…
4. What if she marries a non-native Polish speaker (which is what is going to happen)? Will Polish no longer be our family language? Can I cope with that? How?
5. As you probably noticed I am very attached to where I come from. I love my country. It is also the only country I understand 100%. I want Z to share my passion but will I be able to pass it on?
6. She will speak Polish, I have no doubts about it. But will I manage to teach her to write and read? Without these skills she won’t be able to ever feel truly Polish, or will she?
7. So many times I wonder if multi is really better than solid roots in one place? Surely that means I am not really made for being an international citizen, but also I never claimed to be one. So am I a material for a parent of a multilingual child brought up in international place?
To be honest, no week passes without me seriously considering moving back to Poland, to raise my child the way I know how to, in the place I know how to. Would she hate me for taking away multilingualism and multicultural life away from her?