Wednesday, May 1, 2013


My cousin's recent post on her blog, ProjectProcrastinot, about raising children in multi-lingual families got me thinking about our own situation again.

Despite my own dad's concerted efforts to teach us kids Esperanto when we were little (can you tell where my hippy inclinations come from?), I really only spoke English until I was 17. With only a couple weeks of private tutoring from a local Brazilian, I graduated high school and headed to Brazil for a year as a Rotary exchange student. My first host family didn't speak a word of English and I had absolutely nothing to do but learn Portuguese and go to the beach. I learned Portuguese. Spoke it fluently with a northeastern coastal Brazilian accent embellished with the adolescent slang of 2003. With the exception of a couple college courses after I got back, I never used it again. 

Instead I moved to Denmark. I figured out pretty quickly that 1) Danish was a fuckload harder than Portuguese 2) Fluency is not so easy to pick up in a country where everyone speaks English and 3) Balancing learning a language with other  responsibilities is exhausting. I managed to get fairly conversational in this mumblejumble language when I moved to Sweden. 

To someone who had only ever heard Danish, it's cousin, Swedish sounded absolutely ridiculous to my ears. Although, I've been informed ad nauseum that it is actually Danish that is the weirder sounding of the two languages. Trying to speak Swedish felt like putting on a fake BBC accent. I was terrible at it. Absolutely terrible. For 3 and a half years I've balanced work, studying, keeping a roof over my head, participating in local LGBT activism and managing somesort of social life while also attempting to come to grips with Swedish. A big part of the problem is that Swedish is a bit taboo at my work place. International researchers from all over the world come and go all the time, thus the working language is English spiced up with a few Swedishisms like "fika," "Valborg," and "smultron." However, I feel like I've gotten to a less shameful level of fluency that involves being able to complain about the weather, read ads on and understand the announcements on the train intercom. 

And at home our language is also English. NightDaddy was raised in Stockholm by Polish immigrant parents and grandparents. He attended English school as his parents did not have longterm plans to stay in Sweden back then (I can relate!). Despite living his entire life in Sweden, he didn't actually learn Swedish until he was a teenager and he still doesn't feel entirely comfortable with the language. We even met on an English language dating site primariliy used by non-Swedes in Sweden. 

So what on Earth are we going to do with our little Piggelin? English at home? Polish at Babcia and Dziadek's? Swedish at school? Or should we send her to the nearby English school NightDaddy attended? At first, I thought the obvious answer would be the local Swedish school, but we're having second thoughts. Will we stay in Sweden longterm?  What are the consequences of being the only foreign kid in her class? What are the consequences of going to that school while having non-native Swedish speakers for parents? Since both NightDaddy and I are blue-eyed blonds there's not a lot of guesswork in what Piggelin will look like. What are the consequences of being a blue-eyed, blond child with 20 blue-eyed blond peers? At least at an international school there'd be a bit more diversity...

I guess we'll just have to figure out what works best as we go along!

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