Raising Bilingual Kids

by Admin on March 14, 2012

The Budapest-based mommy blogging community is burgeoning and Adri is one of the moms leading the way. She has her own fantastic blog full of great Budapest tips and more. She’s a busy woman, but has spent some of her time to doing this guest post for us:

My kids, aged 5 and 8, are beautifully bilingual. When they were born, I was worried that they would never learn English, even though I’m American, since my husband is Hungarian and we live here. I read books and articles about raising bilingual kids and didn’t find the perfect advice. But now I can relax, because they really do speak both languages beautifully. Here are some of our experiences…

  • We didn’t stick to the “one-parent, one language” rule. I speak Hungarian, and felt strange speaking English to the kids at a purely Hungarian playground where the other kids and moms wouldn’t understand. So I spoke Hungarian to them then, and English when it was convenient. It didn’t matter. Nowadays, the kids pick bedtime stories regardless of language, and it often happens, for example, that I hear my Hungarian husband reading to my daughter in English while I’m reading a Hungarian story to my son.
  • It took them until about age 3 to figure out which was which. Until that point, they were just talking. They didn’t care what language they were speaking, and they didn’t have the self-awareness to realize or understand why the person they were speaking to didn’t understand. One summer, we’d been in the States for two weeks when my son, who had been speaking Hungarian up until that point, took me aside and whispered, in English, “Mom, everybody here speaks ENGLISH!” I tried not to burst out laughing and just said matter-of-factly, “Yep, and so do you!” He took it in stride and spoke English for the rest of the trip.
  • They attend(ed) Hungarian private preschools where there is some English taught. I chose the kindergarten (www.tigriskolyokovoda.hu) based largely on how friendly it is, and the location. I also figured they needed a solid base in Hungarian prior to starting school, and I didn’t want to pay the prices that the international kindergartens charge. We’re thrilled with our choice, although my son sometimes insists that what he learns in English at kindergarten is right. So we ended up with two Christmas carols with the same melody, one called “Jingle Bells,” which we sing with Mom, and one called “Jee-goo Beows,” which we sing at kindergarten. Oh well!
  • My daughter is now in second grade at a Hungarian public school that has a bilingual program called Vineyard (www.szoloto.hu, they also have two kindergarten-level programs). It’s based on the idea that being bilingual is a lifestyle, not a method of schooling. That certainly fits with our family’s way of life! Each subject, except for reading, of course, is taught in both languages simultaneously. That is, two native-speaking teachers, one English (Australian) and one Hungarian, are present for every class, and they take turns presenting the material and quizzing the kids, switching every 10 minutes. It’s really amazing to see the kids take it all in stride.

That, in fact, is my main message – kids take it all in stride. So don’t stress about ensuring your kids learn both languages. It’s possible, because kids just soak it up. Now both my kids want to learn Spanish. Why? I don’t know, because we’ve never been to Spain, and I don’t speak Spanish! Anyway, we downloaded a language game on my phone and listen to it in the car. Hurray for multilingualism, and holá, Budapest Moms!

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Adri Bruckner is an American who’s been living in Budapest for 12 years and shares her experiences and insights on her blog, www.adriknows.com. She’s a writer and editor, Zumba instructor, board member of the North American Women’s Association and a singer with the Budapest Sirens, in addition to her No. 1 job as parent to Eija, 8, and Edi, 5, together with her Hungarian husband.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Andi March 14, 2012 at 10:20 am

Hi Adri,
Great post! Having a 2 yr old daughter in the same bilingual setting just the other way around :) I am already stressed out about the school situation if we end up staying here in the long term. I have heard good things about Szoloto before. How easy was it to get in? Do you have to live in the district?

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Adri Bruckner March 14, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Hi! I think the District III (Óbuda) program is hard to get in because it’s well known and because it has two kindergartens feeding into it. Here in Budakeszi, the elementary school took several kids from the surrounding towns without question. As far as I know, it’s up to the school, not the Szoloto program, as to how many kids they accept. I would go to the Szoloto informational sessions in your neighborhood as soon as you can and find out how it works there, and also see if they are expanding to other schools and districts. Good luck!! Adri

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Tony InternationalCouples.net April 16, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Hi guys,
thanks for sharing your experience about raising bilingual kids! Here is what I wrote about it in my blog http://www.internationalcouples.net/blog/.
Cheers!

Reply

Zsofi July 5, 2014 at 1:35 pm

hey Adri! I came across this post looking for ideas on how to raise children bilingually. My situation is a bit different from yours but you might be able to give me some advice! I’m expecting my first baby, I’m Hungarian and my husband is English. We live in the UK. So, I would be the only person in the child’s life (apart from grandparents, relatives living in Hungary) that talks to her in Hungarian. Unfortunately the Hungarian community here is not very big so I don’t even have the opportunity to take them to Hungarian playgroups, let alone bilingual schools. I am really afraid that it will be almost impossible for me to teach them Hungarian on my own. My husband doesn’t speak any apart from koszonom and szeretlek :-) do you have any tips for me? How could I prepare for raising a child bilingual?

Reply

Adri Bruckner September 10, 2014 at 9:29 pm

Hi, Zsofi! I’m not an expert, “just” a mom, but I think you’ll have to be strict (with yourself) about speaking to your child in Hungarian only, and when s/he starts to talk, try to respond only (or more enthusiastically) to Hungarian. Get lots of Hungarian music and videos so your child knows that people other than you speak Hungarian and gets max exposure. As I said in my post, both my kids only started speaking English when they were 3 – until then, the dominant language, well, dominated! Kitartas! Sok sikert!!

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