Thursday, April 4, 2013

Three Languages



A few months ago I managed to finish reading this book: 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child by Naomi Steiner. Before you start reading this entry, I want you to know that I am not going to explain those 7 steps or write every information from that book, instead I am just going to share my journey in teaching my daughter a second/third language, and how this book has helped me in this matter.

Since I was in secondary school, I kept having this one dream: to have children who can speak Arabic. Coz I found it is super cute to see little kids talking (or arguing) in that language. :) However, of course the main actual reason behind that dream is Islam. I know you get what I mean. The author of that book stated that before starting with the bilingualism project, I have to answer why I feel attached to that particular language. (As for me, it's Arabic Language.)


Okay off with that for a while. Let us first see some of the popular myths and facts about bilingualism:

1st myth: If a child is not very intelligent, then he cannot become bilingual. (Fact: A baby's brain is naturally made to learn multiple languages).

2nd myth: A child will become "confused" and mix languages. (Fact: Mixing is a natural step in learning multiple languages.)

3rd myth: A parent must be fluent in more than one language to raise her child bilingual. (Fact: Monolingual parents can raise their child bilingual.)


Since birth till a few months ago, we talked to our daughter mostly in English. Approximately 70% English, 20% Malay and 10% Arabic. Day by day, I kept saying to myself that it is very crucial for me to start now. I remember the author said: "when it comes to bilingualism, later always means never." Plus, I wanted to start as early as possible because in learning languages, experts generally agree that earlier is better. So at that time, I tried this way: Today is English Day, then tomorrow is Arabic Day, then English day again, and so on so forth. Well, it's not so good. Coz it doesn't seem organized.

To cut a long story short, after I read this book, we tried the one parent one language method (OPOL) which is highly recommended since it is such a successful way to raise a bilingual child. (There are 6 reasons why it is effective, but I am not going to write them down here. But u can request me to list them specially for you). So, by deciding to use this method, my husband chose to use English to talk to her and me, Arabic. (I am not good in speaking Arabic, but the author said that it isn't mandatory for a parent to be fluent in certain language if she wants to teach her child that particular language. Hey, we can learn together with our kids!)

Actually little infants can already differentiate between languages being spoken to her. And as for me, I myself have witnessed it. Before we started using the OPOL method, I noticed that my daughter really knows if the word I use is an Arabic word. Coz everytime I point to something, then I mentioned its name in Arabic, she will immediately say Amin. For example, when I point to a pillow and say wisaadah, she will say Amin! What is that with Amin?!!! Ok, it goes like this, everytime I recite a prayer (which is in Arabic), I will recite it loudly and say Amin after I am done. So when Majdiyya says Amin after I mentioned Arabic word to her, it means that she knows I am using the same language that I use while reciting prayer, and also, it means that she knows it isn't an English word. (Even though it is the first time she hears that particular word)

Actually I have a problem in implementing this OPOL method. Mainly because my husband is a super duper busy man. His time with my daughter is very limited. If she talks with me more than with her dad, she might be late in learning English and her competency in using that language will come later than Arabic. (Since I speak Arabic with her). So I guess it turns out to be: OPTL (one parent two languages- this term isn't available in that book) Finally I read that book, and found a solution; I will still use Arabic as a dominant language in my conversations with my daughter, but I need to find certain activities which I need to use English. So far, the activities that will require me to speak in English are: meal times, reading books time, bath time. The rest, conversations will be conducted in Arabic.


You might say that you are not good in Arabic or English or any other second language, therefore you don't opt for raising a child bilingual. You should know this: monolingual parent can raise a bilingual child. And fluency in certain language is not a prerequisite for you to have the capability to teach your child that language.

I admit that since I have left university for about 3 years, surely it means that I no longer use Arabic in any of my conversations. I have forgotten lots of vocabularies and become very slow if I were to speak or write in that language.

So I seek help from a friend, who is an Arabic native speaker. I list down a few sentences in English, then I ask her to translate them for me. That's how I learn some new words regarding motherhood. I am so happy that in order to teach my baby, I myself will learn something.

I just use simple words, and mostly repeated words! Because everyday's activities are almost the same. ;) Alhamdulillah, even though I am still in the basic level in speaking Arabic, at least I use it in my conversations more than I used it during my degree.

My little problem is I am still shy to use Arabic whenever we are outside our home. :( I am still training myself to be good in Arabic and importantly, to have guts to use it publicly. Well, the author said that one of the methods to be brave to use the second language in public is by letting your friends or family members know that you are using that particular language with your child.

Till today, I still have lots of words that I don't know. So once in a while I will make a list of English sentences and send it to my arabic-native speaker friend, for her to translate them.


If any of you meet my daughter, please speak in Malay with her. ;) You are one of the resources that I have in order to teach my daughter Malay language. Well, my baby still will understand Malay because me and my husband are using that language in our conversations. Though my baby might not join our conversations, but still she will slowly understand Malay. Insha Allah.

Apart from that, extended family is also a good Malay language 'teacher' for my baby. Plus, I am not worried much about my daughter can't speak Malay, because she lives in a community where majority of the people she meets or will meet, are Malay native speakers.

Teaching Malay Language is somehow a way to make my daughter feels the sense of belonging. Family gathering is always a good idea and place for your kids to learn your family language. Well, one important thing: don't forget to inform your families that you are raising your kids bilingual. Insha Allah you will get support from them, or at least you won't feel awkward to use the second or third language with your kids, in front of them.


p.s.: you can request the list of the common phrases used during motherhood (in Arabic) from me. Only a few sentences but will benefit you if you are thinking of starting the bilingualism project!



  1. Masya allah,a very good sharing. saya pun sudah lama berniat nk jadikan anak2 bilingual in their daily life, harap dapat share lebih banyak lagi, jakillahu khairan katheera

  2. haa afeefah kan terer cakap arab. lagi senang la. akak ni kena mintak tolong org. haha. mmg better ajar dari kecik sebab otak masih dlm keadaan senang serap dan paham. inshaAllah.


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