Raising bilingual children [Natural child photographer in London]

Candid family photographer in Central London

We are a bilingual Polish-English family living in London.

There are some well-documented advantages of bilingualism. It’s supposed to positively impact kids’ creativity, cultural awareness, social and listening skills and overall cognitive development.

All these are great but for me, as a mother of bilingual, Polish-English kids, the best thing is when one of my children says something embarrassing and totally inappropriate in public and no one can understand that except me.

My personal, real life examples, include:
“Mummy, this gentleman is pregnant!” (I could see where she was coming from but still…)
“Mummy, are you having a pee or a poo? Have you wiped your bum well?” (In public toilet.)
“My willy is sooo big! And it’s sticking up. It’s my best friend!” (Note to self – we need to socialise this kid more. Easier said than done in a pandemic!)

At home, we follow One Parent One Language (OPOL) approach. I speak with the kids in Polish, their British dad – in English, and Maja and Lenny switch between languages when talking to each other, depending on the context and whether they want others to understand them or not. (Cunning from the very young age!)

The method helps children acquire both languages at the same time and is particularly helpful if only one parent speaks the minority language. Which is the case for us – we live in London and my husband’s Polish is limited to ordering various beverages in bars. And by various I mean two 😊

Thanks to OPOL, when they speak English, Maja and Lenny do so with my husband’s Oxbridge accent, rather than with my Polish one. (Nobody thinks Polish accent is cute, it isn’t French!)

Below is my very personal account of OPOL’s pros and cons, as well as some tips for raising bilingual kids.

  • Choose one language to speak to your children and stick with it.
  • It can feel awkward or rude when you are socialising with people who don’t speak the language, but I have found that if I explain why I am doing this and translate our conversations, people are mostly understanding and even interested.
  • Keep the non-bilingual parent in the loop; translate what’s going on to them so they don’t feel left out! Yes, it can be a lot of work as you end up having every conversation twice, but you get used to it and it’s worth it. (Think all these cognitive development benefits – the kids can thank you in their Nobel Prize acceptance speeches :-))
  • Bilingual kids often start speaking a bit later than their peers. It’s only a short-term delay but may be an issue if you are trying to get your children into competitive schools. And these days in London so many of us are! Try finding a school which sees bilingualism as a value and understands language-develpoment in bilingual children.
  • Finding other families who speak the same language and spending holidays in your home-country both help to increase kids’ exposure.
  • We have a screen-time-only-in-Polish policy at home. Netflix is helpful here as it is available in multiple languages. We also purchase Polish DVDs and books in bulk!
  • I’m pretty much bilingual myself but Polish remains my dominant language for emotions and I feel speaking to the kids in Polish helps me to better support their emotional development.

The bottom line is – raising bilingual children and sticking with One Parent One language method can be tough sometimes. But in the end, it is completely worth it. And often rather funny 😊

2 thoughts on “Raising bilingual children [Natural child photographer in London]

  1. Jin

    This is also why DS and I wished for the children to be in an IB school – and you know the length we’ve gone to make it happen. My brother and I spoke English to each other growing up. A few years into our return home, my brother’s English had receded to the extent that he couldn’t really converse in it anymore. But it was too awkward to speak Korean to each other. (He needs to address me, his elder sister differently for starters. You never call names.) He then went to boarding school, I went off to college, and we only saw each other on holidays. When he started college in Seoul too, our parents (appallingly) put us in an accommodation together. It was only after this hiatus that we could start a new Korean-dialogue relationship, I think. I am hoping that Madrie and Eunho will have each other to “play” with in Korean. The language of play is strong. But already Eunho is using a lot of filler-words in Korean. His written Korean was not completed before we left home. It will require a lot of work for him to master it at home.

    1. Agata Photography Post author

      How fascinating that you and your brother would talk differently to each other depending on the language you use and how that would affect your relationship. The politeness rules differ in Polish and English (with English being more formal among family members) and my kids are trying to get their heads around that and figure out how they remain polite with both their parents!


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