Oliver with basket

My bilingual baby!

My child is British but his ethnic origin is half Greek and the other half is well mostly English with a dash of French, Dutch and Welsh.

As a baby I started speaking at a super young age. My first word at 6 months was ‘look’ and I’d said 30 words by 9 months. My parents spoke to me in both English and Greek so I was fluent in both but remember clearly deciding never to utter another Greek word at home, once I started school and presumably feared being different in any way.

My forced weekly attendance with my brother to Saturday Greek School ensured I’d never forget my Greek though and although we despised ‘wasting our saturdays away’ at the time, on reflection, we secretly had so much fun learning Greek swear words with our mates (no they weren’t on the curriculum), scoffing penny sweets from the tuck shop (no hallumi in sight) and checking out the cute mini Peter Andre type boys on break time! Shamefully I got an A in French GCSE and a B in Greek by the time my journey at Greek school ended, but that’s besides the point-I think I believed I’d walk it being a British Greek and well I didn’t. C’est la vie eh!

Most importantly, Greek school cemented my roots, giving me a real sense of identity: a competence in another language which helped me connect with my grandparents and family here and abroad along with an understanding of my Greek Orthodox religion and most importantly, honed my ability to Greek dance Zemebekiko style. Opa!

My child is now 2 and understands Greek. He has a wide vocabulary in English and although he knows several Greek words, I’d love him to be fluent. My Mother has encouraged me to speak more Greek to him and not just rely on her and my father so I’m going to really put more effort in. Who knows by the time Oliver finishes Greek School and takes his own Greek GCSE I might make just make that A in retakes!

Yasas!

Photograph ©Peter Broadbent.

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30 Responses

  1. Mama and More aka Zaz

    I just stumbled across this post – I’m French by nationality (but a total Trini gal if you cut me open!), and when Missy was born just couldn’t deal with talking to her solely in French, for her dad to speak to her only in English, and so I feel like I’ve hampered her possibly being able to be bilingual by now as I was by 4. With my lil guy, I’m a bit better, and regularly speak to him in French, so who knows how he will fare. It’s not easy to bring up bilinguals, but ultimately worth the effort.

    By the way, I’d love to learn to do the proper Greek dancing! Opa!!
    x

    Reply
    • honestmum

      @MamaandMore I think she can pick it up again and especially as French is taught in school, you will be a huge help at homework time there! Oliver will hopefully start Saturday Greek School at 5 like my brother and I. Will have to take you to a Greek club for dancing one night x

      Reply
  2. Evie

    I’m new to the blogoshpere and looking to connect with other mums. I found this post and felt like you were writing about my life too. I’m Canadian Greek (but living in London now), attended Saturday Greek School, almost bilingual and trying to teach my 2 year old daughter the language too. It’s difficult cause I don’t feel fluent and worry about teaching her incorrectly. My husband who is Canadian Welsh (and speaks Welsh) is in the same boat. So she’s exposed to both languages and can sing in them but chooses to communicate in English. I think more holidays to Greece are in order! I think that’s where I became the most fluent 🙂

    I look forward to reading more of your posts. You can check out my new site at http://www.countingblueberries.com.

    Evie

    Reply
    • honestmum

      Thanks Evie, lovely to meet you. I commented on your recent blog post but think it went to spam. Happens to me a lot. Sure you are teaching your daughter fabulous Greek and soon enough it will be Greek School for her too. Since I wrote that post my parents speak Greek constantly to O and he’s nearly fluent. Kids pick languages up so quickly it’s amazing. Love your blog, welcome to the blogospehere. I’m @HonestMummy on twitter x

      Reply
  3. Sarah

    It’s great that O is learning Greek. I’m really pleased that Luca has managed to pick up Mandarin while we’re in China – in fact his Mandarin was better than his English at one point! It is amazing seeing him speak rapid fire Mandarin with his Ayi and friends while I have absolutely no idea what he is saying! My only hope is he manages to retain it when we come back to the UK. He might find himself being enrolled in Chinese Saturday school as well.

    Reply
    • honestmum

      Hi Sarah, how amazing is that and what a wonderful lifelong skill to have-you def have to enrol him into Chinese saturday school if you return. Please let me know when you are back so we can meet with the boys x

      Reply
  4. Alexander Residence

    I suppose my only equivalent is teaching my kids Northern English, and pointing out some of the sneaky Southern only rhymes in Julia Donaldson’s work. I wish I had got fluent in a language, but I also bitterly regret being forced to do 2 languages at GCSE instead of Art. I am not surprised you mastered them, and spoke so early, you can talk for England and Greece, in the nicest possible ways 🙂

    Reply
  5. Grenglish

    Morning! I am a bit behind on my blogs this week so only just seeing this but have email subscribed now so I won’t miss another post! I’d love Z to speak both Greek and English but the Greek Godzilla does not speak much Greek at home. His Yiayia and Papou speak only Greek to him though so I am hoping he will pick it up that way… before he starts Greek School!

    Reply
  6. Susan Mann

    I think if you can speak a language fluently then it is great to teach your children. I’d love for mine to learn another language but since I don’t speak another other than English, I’m sure they’d lose it pretty quickly. Good luck x

    Reply
    • honestmum

      @Susan Mann thanks for your comment-yep am fluent (although really need to speak more) and am determined to help O speak Greek too. He understands everything so shouldn’t be too hard x

      Reply
  7. mother.wife.me

    Kalimera!!

    Yeay! I think bilingualism is one of the best gifts you can give your child. As you know, I am on my own mission with French and English for the Tinkerous Toddler. I envy you at least having Greek as a native language, whilst I troupe on as a non-native French speaker.

    Look forward to hearing about how things tick along for Oliver on his Greek Odyssey!

    Reply
    • honestmum

      Hehe thanks Mother.wife.me the mission is on! Well done you-even more commendable that you are learning French as a non native.

      Reply
  8. Circus Queen

    Wow, I can’t believe what an early speaker you were. That’s truly impressive. I wish I had a language other than English to pass on. The best I can do is Trinidad dialect which is “an english”.

    Reply
    • honestmum

      Thanks-yes I was pretty early-Trinidadian English sounds fab-I think it’s as much about passing and sharing culture as language.

      Reply
  9. julesey10

    Wow lucky O!!! Keep at it honey. In a multicultural world any language skills are a bonus. I’m rubbish at languages but greek is so pretty! I’d love to learn. Xx

    Reply
  10. Kate

    I always wanted to bring my children up bilingual either English with Spanish or German (possibly even French). However I hadn’t anticipated my child having a speech disorder. He got diagnosed with Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia so he struggles with spoken English and is learning to sign at the moment. Maybe when he is older he can learn a chosen language and become pretty fluent. Heres hoping xx

    Reply
    • honestmum

      @Kate I’m sorry to hear about his speech disorder but I’m sure with the right guidance he will come on leaps and bounds and take on a new language in the futre, when he’s ready x

      Reply
  11. EmmaK

    Yeah it is really difficult to talk Greek to your son when your husband does not speak it but I am sure you can make the effort. I speak German because my mum is Austrian but I find it hard to talk German to my kids unless I am in Germany or with other German speakers but they do attend german school on saturdays. Also I know a german couple here who speak german at home all the time to their kids and while the kids understand german they mostly refuse to speak german saying they are ‘american’ so sometimes you can’t win but like you say it gives kids an identity and sense of their history.

    Reply
    • honestmum

      @EmmaK really interesting and I suppose as long as we can keep it up at home and he gets an greater understanding of some of his roots, that will be job well done. Great your kids attend German school on the weekend. They will thank you for it when they’re older!

      Reply
  12. Carolin

    I am trying to only speak German with Amy and although she is only 10 months old, she is reacting to it really well. In fact, I would say that she knows more German words than English words so far and I would love it, if she spoke both language equally but I guess we will see how interested she is in her mum’s mother tongue once she gets a bit older. Sunday classes sound like a great way to expose her to it in a different environment, which can only be helpful, I think…

    Reply
    • honestmum

      @Carolin well done you-I’m sure if you continue with the German, it will become second nature to her. The younger they are, the easier it is to learn a new language. Keep it up!

      Reply
  13. Babes about Town

    It’s one of the things I missed out on – speaking our native language – since my parents actually made a conscious decision not to speak it at home, maybe because they thought we’d have better English that way. So although we have a potential of 4 languages between us (hubby has a different tribal tongue and also speaks fluent French) the boys are growing up monolingual, which I think is a disadvantage in this modern world.

    But there’s always Saturday school I guess 😉 And I encourage every effort to raise kids in many languages – especially for that sense of connectedness you talk about x

    Reply
  14. SAHMlovingit

    That is SO cool. I was always rubbish at language but I long to learn Spanish and Italian and I’d love MC to have more than one language.

    Reply
  15. LatteMama (@LatteMamaUK)

    My Arabic is so incredibly bad, and because I grew up in Sweden I always thought that’d be the language I’d speak with my son, but as soon as I saw him it was “habibi” this and “yalla” that. It just came more natural to me, and it is now the language that he understands (he’s also 2). I’m hoping to improve my Arabic, so that what he’s learning makes sense to others too and not just me. Great post btw, I hated those Saturday classes….x

    Reply
  16. Monika aka mumonthebrink

    The key I found to bringing up truly bilingual children is speaking only your chosen language, in your case Greek, to then. That goes for in and outside the house. I would ask grandparents to do this as well. That way your child is immersed in the second language and associates it with you. It is likely to encourage them to speak it more too.
    However, remember Oliver is 3rd generation Greek, so any Greek he gets will be a bonus and a huge compliment to you and your family for passing it on to him!

    Reply
    • honestmum

      @Monika thank you Monica-I’ve heard that before too-as husband’s Greek is not great it is likely to be myself and my parents and we are committed to him learning Greek. Both my parents spoke Greek and English to me and I was fluent in both languages. My Mother was an English Lecturer too so grew up with a super education too!

      Reply

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