Mooo or Merrhh?: A Guest Post by Patricia

I’m very happy to post this piece by Patricia who I first met at school in Zambia; the second in our series:
A Monday Morning Guest Post in Multicultural Mothering.

Patricia: I was born in the Dominican Republic to a Dominican mom and Peruvian dad. I left DR when I was six years old and grew up in many countries around the world, mainly in Latin America but also in Africa and Europe. I guess you can describe me as a ‘citizen of the world’, ‘third culture kid’ etc. I speak Spanish and English. I met Øivind at university in the UK, where we now live. He is Norwegian and grew up in Oslo, speaks English and Norwegian, and can defend himself pretty well in Spanish! We have a little girl called Mia; she is the apple of our eyes, born in August 2010. I don’t speak Norwegian, but I better get my act together soon otherwise Mia and her dad will have their secret language!

Mooo or Merrhh?

I loved Natasha’s idea of sharing our experiences of being parents in multicultural, multilingual households, and I must say the multilingual aspect is the one I am thinking about of late because Mia is beginning to develop her speech. She spends most of the day with me and I speak Spanish to her, but when Ø gets home, we speak English between us and he speaks Norwegian to her. That’s pretty standard for a multilingual household, except for the fact that both Ø and I are developing a competitive streak about whose language Mia will pick up first – so it’s early days. Mia is saying a few words here and there and making animals sounds.

Although I knew that animal noises may sound different in different languages, I never thought it would be an issue in my household or that I would be telling hubby to stop saying ‘Merrhh’  when we sing “Old Macdonald Had a Farm,” because it’s not like the Spanish cow that says “Mooo” . The other day we were trying to entertain Mia, who was understandably unhappy about being in the car seat for an hour. So there we were, singing Old Macdonald … and making our conflicting animal sounds, when Mia and I start playing peek-a-boo. By that time I had moved to the back seat to be with Mia, when, lo and behold, Ø joins in on our game. Did you know that ghosts also sound different in Norway?!

Aside from the confusing animal sounds Mia hears, she is picking up the languages. Although now, my worry is how it will be when she soon goes to nursery. A Swedish friend of mine started taking her 18 month old to nursery and up to that point she had only spoken to him in Swedish. He was finding it hard to settle into the nursery because he was not able to understand. My friend was “told off” by the nursery staff because they thought she should have also been speaking some English to him.

Oh oh, should I be speaking to Mia in English more often?  I wonder.

I have read that I should stick to my language, and be its “Leader”; and she will pick up the third language in school. But now, the anxiety of her not settling well because she can’t understand, aside from all other worries about putting her in nursery, are creeping in. By the way, my friend also had issues with the fact that English lions sound different to Swedish ones!

What advice have some of you received about raising a multilingual child? And how have some of you adjusted to sending your children to nursery in a language that is not the one primarily spoken at home?

Check out this fun site for animal sounds in different languages.

3 thoughts on “Mooo or Merrhh?: A Guest Post by Patricia

  1. Thank you Pascaline and Nat for your comments. You are right, I suppose M will start picking up English from listening to us – she is certainly learning it from songs too. Isn’t the human brain just amazing- amazing how children at such a small age can distingish and learn different languages!!
    On the subject of competitive parents, M said what sounded like ‘agua’ (water) this morning, as soon as Ø got home he start telling M ‘vann, vann, vann’ (water in Norgwegian)…funny parents we are! :O)


  2. Hey Patricia,
    Thanks for the post! I agree with Pasca; if you speak English between each other Mia is probably picking it up already. I have a friend in China whose son had been primarily exposed to Arabic. At three he went to a Chinese nursery. He struggled for a couple of months, then picked it up and he’s doing well in it now. I bet that if Mia goes to nursery at 18 months, she’ll pick up English quickly.
    I also found it fun how an English speaking cow says “Moo”, and a French speaking one says “Meuh”! Or an English speaking dog says “woof”, and French one say “waf”. L and R know the animals in both languages and they understand that it is the same animal.


  3. I loved your post, it made me realize that whatever nationality, background and place we live in we have the same issues when it comes to our little ones. Animal sounds issue is a big one at this stage.. We have fun with it, sometimes when my husband and I read a book with our daughter , each animal makes 3 noises. The bird goes first “cui cui” in French then “tsiou tsiou” in greek and finally “twee twee” in English.
    Anyway, I wouldn’t worry if I were you about english, if your husband and you speak English to each other in front of her she’ll pick it up. My husband learned Arabic just by listening to his mother talking with her friends on the phone or over a cup of coffee.


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