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Trilingual family

Japanese, Hungarian and English in everyday life

We use three languages in our family - it's how life has brought us together.Our daughter Juliska was born in Auckland to Japanese and Hungarian parents. She didn't have a choice; she was born into the "linguistic kennel". Because even though she is most comfortable with English "talking", we also interfere with it with our Hungarian and Japanese English - mum with her one from Tokyo, and dad with his one from Pest... 

As adults, we talk over her head with English that works for us, "works" between the four walls, but by no means "kiwi", but a kind of "Nippo-Hungaro", so let's go Juli! Or Yuri, in Hungarian Juli, but to her daddy it's mostly "Csibe": the mixed language is also reflected in the naming. Yuri was registered as Yuri-Naomi-Mārie, three names, three continents, three cultures - all three of us come from different places in this colourful pereputty'. 

For dinner, we sit down at a small round table to hear everyone talk about their day in which case the mother tongue (that is, the mother's language) is the strongest. even-year-old Juli often gets tired at the end of the day and tells stories only once, mostly in Japanese, which the mother interprets for the father in English. What the father does not understand, he asks in Hungarian and then interprets Juli's answer in English for the mother. Fortunately, the table is tiny, and apart from the words, the slightest gestures of body language are easy to catch: 'yes, hai, igen...' - we nod and hum a lot (this is a very strong Kiwi English conversation after all!). 

When Juli was born, we agreed that we would both speak to her in our mother tongue, there was no argument between us about this. We have experienced how strong and rapid language deterioration is after a few years of absence "in a foreign country". Whole words and phrases have sunk into passive vocabulary. Juli's birth allowed both of us to experience our mother tongue daily and to feel more at home here, across the Óperencia sea.

And this has been the case ever since: Mom and Dad are happy to tell stories in their language so that they can be touched by the magic of the mother tongue daily. In the evening, Juli listens to bedtime stories in Japanese or Hungarian, but she reads English schoolbooks to her parents and eagerly corrects their pronunciation (fair enough!).

Neither of us had any prior experience or knowledge of how to live together in mixed languages (cultures); when we get to the end, maybe we'll know if we did it right (ugh, ugh). It certainly requires a lot of patience and attention, but what good form of coexistence doesn't? So we don't have a recipe for the multilingual family model yet, but we, the parents, have no regrets that it turned out this way. We hope Juli won't either!

István Csata



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