We arrived in France in 1973 & nobody at the State primary school where my then 9-year-old daughter was enrolled had any idea how to cope with her. Now 40 odd years later I could write a book about how I would solve the problem. Back in those days I was very young & naive. Now, with years of English teaching behind me, I would act completely differently.
This subject both fascinates and worries me. We have a 3 month old baby girl who hears daily 5 languages, in order of frequency:
1. Romanian, my mother tongue,
2. Russian, my husband’s mother tongue,
3. English, the language we two speak most often between us,
4. French, on the street, with friends, in the shops, with doctors, etc.,
5. Hebrew, the language of the previous country we lived in and of many of our friends and relatives.
Our “private” English is sprinkled with more than a bit of all other languages, enough for friends and family to remark that the non-English content is substantive enough for them not to easily understand what we tell each other. This comes naturally to us, we do not notice it anymore. In Israel we knew of many children who grew up bilingual and trilingual with no adverse effects on their speech, but I worry that five languages are too much for our baby, since we do not maintain a clear context for each language. Especially here in France where multilingualism is not considered an asset, to say the least.
When in France and people ask me what my native language is, I say German so they forgive my mistakes in French and are even impressed by my level of proficiency. And when In Germany, I do the same but the other way round. You’re always putting yourself in a box, in the outside box, cos you know you’re not really in the inside box, cela ne sert à rien de dire je fais partie car tu sais très bien tu ne fais pas partie (there’s no point claiming to belong cos you know all too well that you don’t).