Multilingual Family Profile № 1: Nicole & Ihab

A few months ago I shared that I would be launching a series of posts featuring interviews with bilingual (or multilingual) families, and today I am delighted to share the first one! The "S" family lives here in Oregon and speaks native French and German with their two young daughters. But their linguistic background is broader than that: Nicole grew up in Mexico, and Ihab grew up in Egypt. Here's their story, shared by Nicole:

  Ihab & Nicole celebrating their daughter's fourth birthday

Ihab & Nicole celebrating their daughter's fourth birthday

Tell us about your family and background:

Both of my parents are German. My dad, though, grew up in Spain and has been living in Mexico for almost 60 years. My mom grew up in Germany. I grew up in Mexico but my parents always spoke German to me. I went to American schools in Mexico.

Ihab's parents are both Egyptian and he was born and raised there. He attended a Jesuit school there (in French).

Both of our girls were born here in Portland, Oregon. The oldest is four and the younger is two. They are both mostly outgoing, although the oldest feels shy to talk in English if she is in an unfamiliar environment. She has a harder time than most kids to express emotions. The younger is just starting to talk but already knows to whom to talk in English, French, or German. They love to play outdoors and to swim. Both like books (the older more, but reading is growing on our youngest.) The oldest attends preschool in English twice a week for 2 1/2 hours each time. She also does ballet and gymnastics. Our youngest really enjoys music.

  Nicole & Ihab's older daughter

Nicole & Ihab's older daughter

  Their younger daughter

Their younger daughter

How did you meet your husband? What do you love most about him?

I met Ihab on Match.com. I love that he is honest and loves to travel as much as I do (although we have different travel styles, but that makes it more fun.) Now that we have the girls, travel is an even bigger adventure.

When or how did you decide to raise your children multilingual? What were your primary reasons?

  Nicole and Ihab with their oldest daughter (photo from 2010)

Nicole and Ihab with their oldest daughter (photo from 2010)

I decided while I was pregnant with our firstborn. I asked Ihab to pick a language to use with her (Arabic or French) and I would also pick one (Spanish or German). We discussed which languages to choose and decided on French and German for many reasons. German because of my German parents (as a thank you to them), and because it is a harder language than Spanish and less available in the U.S. German is not too different from Spanish if she chooses to learn Spanish later. Also, I have family in Germany and Ihab understands German (his mom and dad spoke it as well.)

Ihab chose French because I could understand it and because he feels the language is very versatile.

What do you mean by German being a harder language than Spanish?

German has 3 genders, 4 cases for pronouns, nouns, and adjectives, their plural nouns are unpredictable, verbs often go at the end of long sentences and so on.

What difficulties have you encountered as you raise your children bilingual? What solutions have helped?

Which school to enroll our girls in. Also, our oldest daughter's difficulty making friends and expressing emotions. I figure time is key. We need to be extra patient.

  Their older daughter pulling a quarter from behind her ear during a magic show

Their older daughter pulling a quarter from behind her ear during a magic show

What advice would you give regarding raising bilingual or multilingual children? Is there anything you would do differently now? 

Have fun with it! It is never perfect; just do the best you can. I don't think I would do anything differently.

What are some amusing comments or quotes your children have said in relation to language or by mixing languages?

Strangely, they've said very few funny comments in mixed languages. Our oldest daughter borrows "J'aime" from French, saying "I love" ("ich liebe") in German when we usually only say "I like" ("ich mag" or "mir gefaellt") in German. Our youngest daughter kicks the verb in French and English to the end of the sentence, like we do in German.

  multilingual sisters

multilingual sisters

What family language moments have made you feel embarrassed or proud? 

I honestly only feel pride. Our oldest daughter has such a beautiful accent in all languages and speaks them so naturally; our youngest daughter is coming right along.

Which language resources and media have your children enjoyed? 

We take many English books and translate them on the spot, and we listen to music from all over the world (especially Putumayo CDs). I also saved story tapes from when I was little and they listen to those along with new ones (like Conni) from family and friends.

Sometimes the girls watch German cartoons (Prinzessin Lillifee, Jonalu, Kikaninchen, Coco der Neugierige Affe) or French cartoons (Trotro, Oui-Oui, Caillou, La maison de Mickey, L'ours Brun) on YouTube. They also watch Andre Rieu (who uses French, German, Dutch, and English).


Friends, don't you wish you had had several languages to choose from when it came time to raise your first child? I love seeing how both Nicole and Ihab are able to share their respective languages with their young daughters. What a linguistically rich family life they have! I also found it interesting that Nicole chose German partially because it is less common than Spanish here in the U.S.; I sure many Americans would have chosen Spanish precisely because it is more common here. Every multilingual family has their own reasoning!

I hope to feature interviews with bilingual/multilingual families here at least once a month. If you'd like to be featured or know someone who would be willing to share their journey, please send me an email at michele@intentionalmama.com.