Raising a bilingual Child in Turkey | Being a Parent in Turkey

teaching my child turkishWhich language should my son speak Turkish or English.  How do you go about raising a bilingual child in Turkey?

My challenge to Learn Turkish is ongoing and I am really doing well now and feel more confident with the language.  But recently I have had thoughts about which language our Son should learn firsts, which language will he speak and how to go about raising a bilingual child in Turkey.

I went to a school where we had a diverse range of kids many from mix cultured families and these kids always had an easy time picking up other languages and I always admired them.

Now my Son will be bilingual speaking English and Turkish and possibly trilingual if he learns Kurdish and any other languages he feels he needs to know.

I think this puts him at an advantage in life already rather than a disadvantage, I am hoping like the kids from my school he will easily adapt to new languages and be able to enjoy the world around him because of this.

The hardest part is deciding which language he should learn first Turkish or English.  The argument should be that he speaks Turkish as that is currently his native language and the language he will need when he starts school.

The next thought is to allow him to learn English and when he goes to school what Turkish he already knows he will build on when starting school.  For me this would possibly set him at a big disadvantage and create learning difficulties and problems for him at school.

Children are very adaptable and pick up on things very quickly, they still have their natural instincts of survival and their minds are still like sponges and I think to worry and fret over which language he speaks is not necessary.

I watched two 3 year old boys on a boat trip once, one Turkish and one English, neither knew each others languages but because of their ages language wasn’t a barrier and they both were able to communicate with each other.   One was eating sweets the other crisps, one child was able to tell the other the crisps were finished and the other said it’s ok as he still has sweets, they then carried on to have a conversation which none of us adults where able to understand but they understood each other easily.

This shows how children adapt and change to their circumstances they haven’t yet learned all the negative social behaviors and closed their minds off to learning and experiences.  If anything I have learedt from my son and my Learn Turkish Challenge is you need to open your mind completely and be as childlike as you can when learning.

We also met a couple here in Turkey before we had our child, they were Turkish/English, their boy 6 or 7 years easily switched between Turkish and English depending on who he was speaking to.  He knows no difference as this is the way of his world, he has no problem being bilingual.

And as parents neither should we, our child will grow up using the languages which he needs to survive in his world.  It’s only us Parents who worry over what he should learn and how and when.  Whereas for him it’s natural to have his Baba speak with him in Turkish and his Mum in English.

After a few discussions with hubby, we both feel he will naturally pick up both languages as he goes along, especially if I speak English with him and my husband speaks Turkish with him.  He watches TV in Turkish, our neighbours, friends and my in laws speak Turkish and we speak with my parents every week via Skype in English and he also has a lot of toys and books in that use English.

Overall we have decided to allow him to learn quietly in a natural way, and fill in the gaps as is and when it is needed and continue to teach him as you would any other child to speak.

Do you have a Bilingual child, how do you help your child learn both languages? Please leave your comments below

© 2012 – 2015, Kerry Arslan. All rights reserved.

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19 Responses to “Raising a bilingual Child in Turkey | Being a Parent in Turkey”

  1. 8th November 2012

    Ann Jukes Reply

    he will also speak Scottish if his granny has anything to do with it…that was a well written artical.

  2. 9th November 2012

    Lynsey Marie Rossiter Reply

    my son was raısed ın uk for 1st 2 yrs of hıs lıfe and had only englısh, when we moved to turkey a year ago he knew nothıng of the turkısh language, he ıs now stronger ın turkısh but speaks lıttle englısh but understands everythıng you say to hım ın englısh. ı speak englısh and turkısh mıx to hım all else ıs turkısh. he even tanslates what ı say to hım to famıly members.. they wıll just learn but as tıs ıs hıs country he wıl speak, read and wrıte turkısh more strongly and englısh wıll always come 2nd.

  3. 6th December 2012

    Nilgun Gulagiz Thomas Reply

    Hi my son has the same good fortune as yours but different way round !:) İ âm a Turkish

    • 6th December 2012

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      How does he manage with the two languages Nilgun? It really is a good thing for them.

  4. 18th April 2013

    julie Reply

    Hi, I don’t have any experience of this myself, but I work with a Polish girl, who’s husband is English, they had a daughter 4 years ago & decided that they wanted her to learn both languages, as although they lived in England & she would need English, it was also important for her to understand both aspects of her heritage; as such Aggie (the polish girl) speaks nothing but Polish to her & her husband speaks only English…at the age of 4 she can now speak both languages without ever having to even think about it. It did take her slightly longer than a child learning only 1 language, as she obviously had over double the amount of words to learn & her sentence structuring etc. was slightly behind those of her age, however she has already begun to catch up & she now knows 2 languages fluently!
    Sorry to just whitter on, but thought you might find it interesting.
    By the way, I’m loving your blog, only just found it & already working my way through all your posts. 😀

    • 27th April 2013

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      Thank you Julie for your example, its great to hear of other people in the similar situations. My son understands us now both equally but is yet to start speaking properly but I am sure he is not far off.

  5. 26th April 2013

    theveganfoodophile Reply

    Your approach seems right, just let it happen and if there’s any gaps then fill them in as and when they appear. I think we worry that we will be putting too much stress on our children making them learn multiple languages, but really children are so adaptive and I think that if being bilingual is all the child ever knows then it wont be a hard task for them to learn two languages, it will just be normal.
    My 5 year old nephew is half Japanese half Australian. My brother’s Japanese isn’t that great so as a family they speak English but he speaks Japanese with his mother and her family. He has no problem switching between the two languages, it’s normal for him.
    I’m about to embark on the same journey having a half Turkish half Australian baby. We plan to speak Turkish as a family but I will speak English with the child and my husband will speak to him in Turkish.

    • 27th April 2013

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      We are really relaxed about it all, I mainly speak English with him and my husband speaks both English and Turkish, which he understands fully. It amazes me when I watch him do the things he is told in Turkish and then I tell him something in English and he responds equally. Though he hasn’t yet start speaking fully I am sure it wont be long before he is chatting away in either languages. I wish I had been brought up bilingual its a great thing.

  6. 6th July 2013

    safiya Reply

    hi i found this rather interesting as at the moment im deciding which languages my 2 kids should speak. my husbands turkish(kurdish) im british but we live in sweden. our eldest is fluent in english and swedish, our daughter is fluent in swedish and part english. the debate we have is whether they learn kurdish or turkish my husband works long hours so if he speaks kurdish they dont understand so i was thinking it might be better for them to learn turkish as the kurdish isnt in books for them to read so it would basically be oral communication in kurdish. anyone know of any good learning materials for teaching kids turkish please let me know plz. ive seen many bi and tri lingual kids and thy seem to cooe very well , even seen some younger kids translating for their parents and elders. your very lucky to be raising your son in turkey , i would love to but thats a no no from my husband haha. x

    • 7th July 2013

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      Hi Safiya, I would agree Turkish is the better of the two languages as Kurdish is a minority language here a bit like Welsh or Galiec in the UK. I think with your kids already Bilingual they will pick up new langagues easily. One of the best ways is to get their Dad to speak in Turkish to them and you can find books, Cartoons/films online and Music for them to listen to. There is also a good site called dinolingo which is for kids learning languages and they have a Turkish section. I haven’t tried it myself but it has had good reviews here is the link http://dinolingo.com/languages/turkish.html#.UVwF-Veivos

      Good luck and I am sure if not now but later in life they will speak Turkish and maybe Kurdish too.


  7. 6th August 2013

    Maria Iskenderoglu Reply

    My daughter is an American Turkish child, living in Turkey. She has always heard both languages from the time she was born. I always speak to her in English and her Baba always uses Turkish. She can easily switch from language to language. I encourage you to not just teach your child one language at a time, but both together. Our daughter spoke later than average, but when she began to speak, she spoke in big sentences. She was also slower in reading than her monlingual classmates. However, today, she is reading at grade level in Turkish and at a higher level in English. Our kids growing up with two or more cultures and languages will have an advantage over their peers when they are older. Happy learning with your child!

    • 4th September 2013

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      Thank you for sharing Maria its lovely to hear from someone who has been there already. Yes I do believe it gives them an advantage, my school was a boarding school and many kids there had more than one language and they always seemed just that little bit smarter! Any way congratulations on your daughters success with her languages 🙂

  8. 13th August 2013

    Leisa Reply

    Thank you for a great article! My husband (Turkish) and I (Australian) are about to have our first child in Istanbul, and this thought has been on my mind quite a lot. My husband and I communicate primarily in English, as my Turkish is still quite bad. I’m keen for our children to learn English, but I had a dream where my son was ready for school, but hasn’t yet learned any Turkish! 😀 So that started me thinking about which language our children should learn first. Thank you again, Leisa.

    • 4th September 2013

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      My MIL always says your dreams at the opposite to what you dream! So he will be fine, talk both languages and a friend of my made a great suggestion to have English in the home one day and Turkish the next. But kids learn so easily at that age and us parents worry to much. My husband and most of his family forget that they are all bilingual speaking Kurdish and Turkish and none of them were sat down and taught it, it just came naturally and through the need to survive in their world. So don’t worry and good luck and congratulations for your coming birth xx

  9. 1st October 2013

    Claire Reply

    I think youre doing the right thing. We are doing the same. Im English and speak English to our 3 year old girl and 10 month old boy. There father is Turkish and speaks a mixture of both to them and we live in Turkey so they are exposed to Turkish from everywhere. They watch television in both languages. I would say our daughters speech probably isnt as advanced as other monolingual Turkish kids but she understands both languages really well and talks in both languages too. They are so lucky to be learning two languages!

    Apologies for the missing punctuation in my comment – my keyboard is in English mode but its a Turkish one and I need to swap it back to Turkish so I can find all my keys properly.

  10. 5th October 2013

    Mary Reply

    Just found your blog and think its great! I am bilingual myself but the problem was I was not taught to read or write much in my native language it was more just the speaking at home and when I went to school was taught in English and did not have the opportunity to study my native language very much again until high school and it was really too late then. So my advice would be it is a great thing to be bilingual but make sure you teach your son reading and writing in both languages so he will not have the same problems. This is Scotland by the way but in the 80’s there was no such level of Gaelic Education that they are so lucky to have now.

    • 8th October 2013

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      Hi Mary

      My husband is similar, he can speak read and write Turkish and English but can only speak Kurdish. My little mans main language will be Turkish but they also get taught English at school so will get taught both and also that will be reinforced at home. Gaelic is taught a bit better now in Schools in Scotland, did try to learn once but I am really hopeless at languages!

  11. 23rd October 2013

    Dany Bosseler Reply

    Hi Kerry, I usually don’t bother answering blogs but for once I thought I have an input. I have 2 multilingual kids (17-20). I also studied a bit of linguistics. So here is the deal:

    1) your child is born with an empty memory and can memorize absolutely anything and as many languages as you want.
    2) your child doesn’t know what a language is. For him, this word is the “key” that opens mom’s brain and this other word opens dad’s and this other still opens granny’s etc. Personally, I believe that it’s essential each speak the language you master best with your child and ONLY that language to avoid confusion in his mind (If you use 2 different words, eventually he’ll have to choose which one he will use).
    3) remember that before age 7, a child only has a short term memory, hence he will forget anything taught to him before that if it’s not used. Choose languages he’ll be able to practice.
    4) the time when you’ll have a real decision to make is when he starts school, and whether he’ll need support with homework etc. might determine that… usually the language learnt in school will be the first language.

    In our case, because we were living in the US and thought the kids would be exposed to English outside, we decided to have a French only policy at home (quite tough at times especially when they realized we too did understand English!) and Spanish with the nanny. Well they are definitely anglophone but they really speak French fluently and Spanish fairly well. Pfff that doesn’t make learning Turkish any easier though ;o). Anyway, life is full of surprises… Cheers. Dany
    PS: I came across this while searching for the definition of Kandil. Thanks for your input!!

    • 24th October 2013

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      Thank you very much for sharing your experience and knowledge Dany, I really appreciate it, it will help many. Wonderful that you have helped your kids learn different languages, I think its really good for kids to have this knowledge. I wish I had learned more when I was younger.

      So far my little boy has a good understand in both English and Turkish, I find him leaning more towards Turkish in the words he picks to use and I know this will be his dominate language. He also has to cope with Kurdish as well!!

      Hope you found what you were looking for on Kandil, if not please feel free to message me 🙂

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