One of the most frequent questions I get in regards to us living in Australia is: “Do the girls speak both Australian and Danish?” followed by “do you speak Danish with them?”
The short answer is yes. They are, what you would call, bilingual. They understand Danish fluently and can switch back and forth between Australian and Danish effortlessly. However, they don’t actually speak much Danish when we are in Australia.
I guess it makes sense. Here in Australia it’s only me who speaks and understands it, but they know that I fully understand them if they speak Australian back to me. So why bother? That’s what it seems like they are thinking. However, in Denmark they learned that especially other kids don’t understand them unless they speak to them in Danish. This has been a huge eye opener for Abby, especially. She’s such a social little butterfly.
On our recent trip to Denmark magic happened and Abby started to actually speak a lot of Danish. Those 6 weeks we were there made such a difference in her Danish vocabulary and her pronunciation and it is obvious that the words are in there – she just has to practice using them.
And she does practice at home with me now. We speak Danish together daily and I love it. Billie is also tagging along as she does and says pretty much everything that Abby does. She is still mixing the two languages a lot, but she’s getting there and Danglish is so damn cute – and even if it is not perfect, it is so amazing hearing my children speak my language. It just matters.
How do we do it?
I am being very consistent, persistent and determined. Otherwise it wouldn’t work with me being the only Danish speaking parent. At home I only speak Danish unless we are having a group conversation involving Josh. I even speak Danish when Josh is present sometimes. It can make the communication in our house a bit messy, but Josh actually understands quite a lot of Danish by now and he can usually follow our conversations enough to join in if he wants to.
I also read Danish books to them, sing Danish songs, they watch Danish cartoons and we have started doing some easy Danish exercises with Abby, now that she can read and write a bit.
An added bonus is our Danish friends here in Brisbane, who gives us just that extra little bit of Danish almost every week. I do believe that makes a difference to get inputs from others than me.
Then, of course, we visit Denmark regularly. Every time we do so their Danish evolves with the speed of light. Kids can adapt and learn so much, so fast. It is amazing.
Why do we even bother?
I mean, Danish is not exactly a language they can use many places in the world. In fact, they can only use it in Denmark and in Denmark everyone over the age of 10 speaks English pretty fluently.
Well, first of all I would be sad if my children didn’t understand my language and my culture – which I believe is closely connected to language. It means a lot to me that they, not only know, but also understand where they come from.
Then, of course, there is the practicality of it. That they can actually speak the native language when we are in Denmark makes it both easier and more fun for them to be there. Especially now, when they are playing with cousins and friends there who have not yet learned English. I guess it’s also another way of better understanding the culture. To be completely integrated when we are there and not have a language barrier, makes a huge difference.
There are also other more, lets call them, intellectual benefits connected with bilingualism. They are not the direct reason why we do it, but they definitely are added bonuses. Being bilingual is supposedly a great way to train childrens’ brains and make learning easier for them in the future. Not only new languages but also other subjects. And it can potentially help them fight off brain diseases such as dementia in the future.
There really isn’t any downside to bilingualism, as I see it, so we will keep on doing my very best to keep them bilingual. No matter where we’ll live in the world in the future, we will speak both Danish and Australian in our home. At a minimum.
Actually, Abby has started learning Japanese in school now. I think that’s pretty cool, but it might be a Danish thing. Learning Japanese in Denmark is quite exotic, here it’s more common I guess. Anyways, learning a third language by the age of five is cool no matter what – and I have already started dreaming of a trip to Japan sometime soon-ish. To support my child’s education, of course 🙂
Have a nice day / ha’ en god dag / konichiwa (that’s all I know in Japanese)❤️