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Pregnancy & Parenting

My Kids are Multilingual

Recently, on one international parenting social site, a mum posted asking for advise on enrolling her kids into the government system versus all the extravagant expensive international schools.


She got quite good advise, some harsh bits,  but the post generated into a language post on the benefits of having the kids in the government schools with learning Kiswahili as an added advantage. I wondered whether to comment on it or not, I choose the latter. I never had the slightest doubt after giving birth that I was going to speak Swahili to my babies. At that moment, I just knew that it felt natural for me to parent in Swahili. Fact that I was in a foreign country might have pushed me to English, but I knew I would not have been 100% taken on it, so I settled for Swahili.


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Something that started off so casually has opened my exposure to the benefits of multilingual parenting way and out. The gains of multilingual parenting are immeasurable. It takes a lot of dedication to stick to one language, especially when you are in an environment that has many languages being spoken at the same time. Not to mention the misconceptions on it.


Yes, the kids will grasp all the languages in the early years. Yes, they will struggle a bit too but it wears off as soon as they get the flow of words together. Right now, I know my 3 year old is facing the struggle, but it eases off very fast too and soon she will have her flow of thoughts in each language without mixing them up.



I am a proud multilingual parent. The girls, 5, 3 and 1 year speak Swahili, English and Finnish.

The joy of seeing them switch between languages depending on who they are engaging with goes beyond anything I ever imagined. It is always amazing how a lot of people are surprised that the girls (being mixed raced) speak and understand Swahili.  In Nairobi at the moment, a lot of parents use English with their children, I have nothing against that, but I wish they put more effort to have their kids multilingual. We grew up speaking  our tribal languages, and most of us speak more than 3 languages that we learnt while growing up. Why do we have our kids now only speaking English, or Swahili. Research has shown that multilingual kids have better reading and writing skills than a monolingual kids on top of so many other countless benefits. So why not?


On a recent visit to the Salon, my beautician was in awe that my girls spoke 3 languages and she really regretted that her son was only monolingual. I asked her why and she said it was just lack of knowledge on it. Parents have taken to use English with the thought that with English the kids will be more advanced. Definitely not! It has ended up to be a class thing.



My advise from a personal parenting experience point of view is this, as a parent chose the language you are most comfortable parenting with and stick to it, do not mix. If you want a nanny to help with the language, she must be 110% on it, no mixing up. She must understand why you insist of her to speak only Taita to you child with no mixing it up. This means that, even when you the parent is home and is speaking a different language to your child, the nanny must not change. Kids can learn upto 5 languages comfortably before the age of 5.

“If you know all the Languages of the world but not your mother tongue, that is enslavement. Knowing your mother tongue and all other languages too is empowerment”. – Ngugi Wa Thio’ngo

¬Susan Karambu¬


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