Rachel Hand speaks three languages in her house, subconsciously mixing them to suit the situation or topic being discussed. This is how her trilingual household developed.
When I met my husband Jarwo, I had been living in Indonesia for six months, having visited this amazing South East Asian country several times before and taken a course in Indonesian language at the United Kingdom University. As a result of this, I already spoke reasonably fluent Indonesian, which was just as well, because Jarwo’s English was extremely limited.
In the beginning of our relationship, we used a hundred percent Indonesian. As our wedding was approaching, it became apparent that Jarwo needed to know some English, not to speak to me or for his profession, but simply so that he could form relationships with my family and friends in the UK.
In the same way, I knew his large extended family did not speak English and I felt that he should connect with my family who did not speak Indonesian. I wanted him to create his own relationships with my British family and friends, forming his opinions of people, topics of conversation or shared interests, without relying on an interpreter.
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Teaching my husband to speak English
So I taught him. We started with weekly lessons, perhaps a little formal, but it worked, using a textbook and with homework. He studied and practiced. You might ask, why we didn’t just use English at home all the time to make him learn, but it is difficult to purposefully change the language you use to communicate with a particular person.
Six months later, we traveled to the United Kingdom and he put his learning to good use, building a lovely friendship with his mother-in-law, getting to know many of my friends, and finding his way around London.
Back in Indonesia, our weekly lessons had subsided and I worried that his English would slip, but it didn’t. In fact when we returned to the United Kingdom eighteen months later, everyone commented that his English has improved. How had this happened?
At home our use of language had evolved naturally to incorporate English into our daily lives, much of it instigated unintentionally by my husband, who would throw some English words into the mix.
The third language, Javanese
A trilingual household incorporates not two, but three languages. Indonesian is the national language of Indonesia, but throughout the archipelago, many regional languages are spoken.
Where we live, in Central Java, Javanese is the regional language that my husband grew up speaking and is commonly used for communication.
The older generation, my grandmother-in-law for example, only speaks Javanese. And so I continued to learn Javanese, and it has worked its way into the patchwork of languages spoken in our house.
Take away from a trilingual household
Every day in my household is an opportunity to enrich our linguistic experience, and my husband agrees that he often picks up new English words around the house, while I pick up Javanese or Indonesian.
Knowing each other’s languages not only enables us to become close to our in-laws, but also means we can communicate with each other at a whole new level. Where one language doesn’t have a suitable word to express something, we can substitute another language. We often mix languages within a single sentence, unintentionally.
Impact with having children
And our children? We don’t have any yet, but if we do, they will be inducted to the linguistic medley that chimes around our house.
Do you also have a multi-lingual household? What languages do you speak with family and friends? Let us know in the comments below.