Category Archives: ELT

Feat No 2: Bilingual Maggie turns Multilingual and then there’s Nicholas…Multilingual from scratch

Today was German Day, as shown on our Family Calendar. It used to be just English Day and Greek Day. But then, as I mentioned in my first post, bilingual Maggie, who was four and a half and strongly vocal Nicholas, who was two and half months, moved to Zug in Switzerland. Not alone of course, but not with everyone, either.

So the Big Plan had changed. And so had the participants. And the environment. The whole environment: Another country, with a new language none of us knew, a new home, a new member in the family, no grandparents and just one aunt this time. Vicky.

Again, I was stressed about Maggie, as I was in the 1st Feat. Maggie was about to start school which for any child and family is a whole Volume in itself. And she had a new brother; Another Volume. And she moved house; and country; two more volumes.

I decided to tackle the Language Issue and through that I was determined to smoothly deal with the other issues at the same time. In English. I would deal with everything in English. And Thomas would deal with everything in Greek. And Vicky would continue as usual in English. Why would we spoil a successful recipe? And we would do this not just for Maggie but also for Nicholas. So far, so good. But while I was still pregnant to Nicholas, I had to start preparing for the move. Before the Game Plan changed. It was more challenging than ever.

Raising Multilingual Children was my next choice of books, written by Tracy Tokuhama-Espinosa, a distinguished educator and mother of three.

I had to study this very well as we were about to add a new language to Maggie’s life. I studied and revised, chose and adapted, skipped and adjusted until the last three months before giving birth, both Nicholas and I were sleeping only three hours a day. I had to be very strong in the language department so as to be able to deal confidently with all the other issues that would arise when moving.

I was assured through this book that Maggie’s age was just right and Nicholas’ even better. Nicholas was in The First Window of Opportunity and Maggie in The Second, according to the book; when learning a language, consistently, was guaranteed to be fruitful.

All we had to do was find ways of being consistent. Without all that Greek around anymore. And with all that German around now.

* Well, we will just have to make appointments with Pappou and Giagia on Skype. And we did.

* Keep to English and Greek Day when DVDs and Children’s Channels were concerned, but also add German Day. Through some practical investigation, we discovered the safe educational channels for children in German and also made an investment in German DVDs. There had to be as wide a selection of German ones as there were English and Greek. And they had to be just as fun and interesting as the rest, so as to make this new addition another productive pleasure.

* We had to invest in German books as soon as possible. We were lucky in that department as our local library often sells perfectly maintained books that they do not need anymore, at prices as cheap as fifty cents or one Swiss franc. We bought a car load upon our arrival. Things started looking and feeling better.

* Schools? Do we send them to an International school that is bilingual and this way we are sure they will not forget but also progress in English? That is what many expats do. But, Eugenia, you and Vicky ARE your children’s English Language Teachers. Do it consistently, even professionally and there is no need to deprive them of the full integration offered through the Swiss Public Schools. Yes, I was convinced that this was the best way. (Besides the book on Multilingualism, I cannot begin to describe to you how well I studied the Canton – our Province – and all its aspects). Maggie is now in the First Class of Primary School as if she were a native speaker and at the proper age. Here I must express our tremendous appreciation towards the educational system and also Maggie’s spectacular teachers. We are forever grateful to them.

* And now the tricky part! What about their Greek? Thomas was still the Greek-speaking parent and we did make several phone calls to Greece. Also, the first two years we all made several trips back and forth to Greece. Our families and us. (This also helped in making the transition to a new country easier for the children.) We had already found out that a large Greek community resides in Zurich and there we found quite a few options for once-a-week Greek language lessons. Another investment, mainly in time and endurance. Now every Monday, Maggie does her Greek homework with our sister Christine via Skype.

But we all took a deep breath, smiled and did it. All of it! And we are still doing it. And sometimes it is so difficult to smile when doing all these things. But at the end of the day, we end up smiling. Even if we are already sleeping deeply from exhaustion when doing so.

We had our general plan set out now. We have made and are still making great investments in time, energy, money. We are sacrificing extra free time and sometimes even depriving ourselves of material things so as to be able to support this very important mission. A mission with two structures:

  1. To maintain Maggie’s two languages and reinforce her new third language, while simultaneously developing them all.
  2. To help Nicholas be properly multilingual from scratch. Being even more patient than with Maggie in the language development department. Trying not to forget what was successful with your first child. Trying to maintain a clear head and a lot of will power while raising two children now. But that is Feat No 3.

Thank you.


Maggie, four and a half years old and Nicholas, a newborn


Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2001). Raising Multilingual Children. Westport, USA: Bergin & Garvey.

Feat No 1: Bilingual Maggie… and how it worked

On March 15, 2005 Maggie was born. Not just my first child, but my very first full-time student.

During my seventeen years of teaching, I have been fully or partially responsible for teaching English as a foreign language to over 2,500 students – from 2 years of age to their parents’ age.
Therefore, bilingualism should not have been such a stressful issue for me. Up until then, I could teach English to any age and any level with great joy, but great confidence as well. And I was honoured by being considered a role model in many cases by several young students who have made us very proud upon becoming adults. I will take this opportunity to thank each and every child and teenager that made our lives so special. We thank you!

What was different in this case was the fact that I was going to be a Parent And Language Teacher all at the same time. I was worried that it would be too great a challenge to deal with properly. The book that I studied intensely and provided me with the professional and experienced guidance needed for such a productive task, is Growing up with two languages, written by Una Cunningham-Andersson and Staffan Andersson. Both professional teachers and with four children of their own. And in this, I trusted.

So we raised bilingual Maggie based on this book and our humble instincts. And it worked perfectly. After several and severe readings and revisions, choosing the ways that best suit our personalities and our family, adjusting and adapting these tips to our family environment, Maggie had none of the problems I feared or guessed she would have.

We chose the One person, One language Method. I spoke to her in English and my husband, Thomas, spoke to her in Greek. We remained consistent to this plan from day one. Our families, too, being very cooperative, became part of this consistency plan. My sister, Vicky, spoke to her in English and my younger sister, Christine, in Greek. My father became the English-speaking Grandpa and my mother, the Greek-speaking giagia (1). My husband’s family enthusiastically became part of the Big Plan, too. His father was the Greek-speaking pappou (2) and as for Thomas’ sisters…his eldest sister, being an English Language teacher herself, spoke to her naturally in English and his younger sister, Caroline, in Greek. We were very lucky to have such a supportive team on our side. We were very lucky to have family members who trusted in our choices of raising Maggie. That played an extremely important and decisive role, too.

Beyond the speaking, there are other skills in language learning that needed to be treated in the same consistent manner.
*Our library became as rich in English books as it is in Greek books.
*Our collections of CDs with songs and stories are fairly divided language-wise.
*Her Teachers/Babysitters, Jahnavi and Elpida were each responsible for one language and we are very grateful to them both for being with Maggie in her early years. While mom was just next door having lessons with her own students in English, Maggie was in The Loras English Academy playroom, playing and learning in each teacher’s native language.
* My opinion of television is quite conservative and to some extent, strict. I really do not trust what might come up next on the screen. That is why we usually have two time zones during the day of extremely carefully chosen children’s channels and educational DVDs. And what scheme did we have to follow for this? English Day, to watch English language programmes and Greek Day, for the second language entertainment; these days alternating one after the other.

Consistently. Year after year. So productively. So smoothly.

Even the small issues that might come up and stress a parent… I had been prepared for by this excellent book.
When Maggie was 2, she was not saying as much as her monolingual (in Greek) peers. The other children were talking to us in paragraphs and Maggie was just saying words and short phrases. And patiently we waited and at the age of about 3, she not only spoke eloquently in both languages but knew in which language she was spoken to and answered in that same language. With beautiful expressions and even special vocabulary, Maggie just progressed and progressed.

Another issue I was warned about through this treasure of a book was that we parents should not feel embarrassed using the language our role requires. We were living in Ioannina, Greece at the time and I had to speak to Maggie in English wherever we were, whomever we were with. Even if I was considered a snob, or a show-off or a real piece of work for our society, I remained loyal to this role.
PLAYTIME with the word CHILD: Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me, we used to say when we were children. So there was no way I was going to be childish and shy about the way I was raising my child, because of other people’s childish behaviour towards us. My child is more important than that.
And then Maggie turned four and a half. We were going to move to Switzerland. Specifically, Zug; a German-speaking Canton. Along with newly-born, Nicholas…
Feat No 2!

Congratulations and a huge thank you to Una Cunningham-Andersson, Senior Lecturer in English language and linguistics at Dalarna, University in Falun, Sweden and Staffan Andersson, Teacher of Computing. Both authors of the book Growing up with two languages and parents of four children.

And a Huge Thank You to our family and friends who supported us throughout Feat No 1 and trusted us in Feat No 2.

Thank you.

Maggie, two and a half years old

Maggie, two and a half years old

1. giagia = the Greek word for grandmother
2. pappou(s) = the Greek word for grandfather

Cunningham-Andersson. U., & Andersson, S. (2005). Growing up with two languages. A practical guide. Great Britain.