In this final – and therefore extra-long – episode, three parents who have previously been guests on the podcast talk about how their family’s bilingual journey has progressed since then. I look back over the past four years, reflect on the future and, to conclude, we hear a poem written about and dedicated to bilingual children, and inspired by the podcast.

Our first guest is Liz. I first spoke to her in the first season of Kletsheads (in episode 4, about language mixing). Liz is originally from Limburg in the Netherlands but has lived in Canada for 10 years. Together with her Egyptian husband, she has a 4-year-old son, Otis.

Next, we hear from Marjolein. Marjolein grew up monolingually in the Netherlands, studied English and then became an English teacher. When she became a mother in 2018, she decided to also speak English to her infant son Owen. She now has a second son, James. Marjolein was first featured in this episode 2 of the first season on how much input does a child need to hear to become bilingual.

Finally, I speak to Christi. Christi was first on the podcast back in 2020 (in the same episode as Liz) as our Kletshead of the week. She spoke about her own upbringing as a trilingual child in Vienna, and about the choices she faced now that she had become her mother herself. In this episode she tells us how speaking German can sometimes be a challenge (especially when ‘life’ gets in the way) and how her eldest daughter has picked up Spanish from her mum. If you want to know how these three parents and their bilingual families are doing now, listen to the podcast!

To conclude this episode and thus the entire podcast series, we hear a poem, Three words for squirrel. This poem was written and is performed by spoken word poet, Wieke Vink. You might recognise Wieke from the first episode of this final season, when she interviewed our Kletshead of the week. If you listen carefully to the poem, you will hear many references to conversations, topics and words that have passed by in the past four in the podcast.

Three words for squirrel

This poem is for the little ones
Whose mother tongue
Is more than one
With words in different flavours
On the tip of your tongue
Or flowing out of your fingertips
This is for the children
For whom the crossroads of thoughts in your head
Could be spread out
Into at least two different languages
With womb-held babies
Bathing in sound
Following the rhythmic patterns
That are with them – all around
Out into the world
A holder of knowledge
Growing up
You already know
How to be gentle with yourself and with others
How to wobble on the table of conventions
How to take it slow
When a word doesn’t immediately come to mind
When in search for the right ‘mmm’
The nuance that you might know
From the flow of past conversations
Not yet fully interpretated
But held onto brightly
In the library of your mind
Your shelves full of boxes
With vocab and grammar
Tu sais que somewhere
Between the Malayalam, French and Finnish
there will be a great find
This is for you
As you’ve felt
How language is part of connection
For all our neurodiverse minds
Language as a connector
For all things funny and wise, silly and kind
Dear multilingual child
You might not be able to speak it all
You might not be able to read it all
Yet you are able to hold it all
In a map of the world
That’s unique to you
And the communities that you belong to
Your cultures sometimes resonating
In the tones of your skin
The rhythms of your sentences
The sounds of your name
You know, language is part of identity
Yet our schools may be
So monolingual or full of variety
With the need for heritage language education
And intercultural communication
Within and across our different nations
With all these languages holding the world in their embrace
And a dialect in every corner
And when seasons seem out of order
You are asked to braze both our physical and our cultural landscapes
As three seasons of a podcast dropped
From the northern hemisphere
Covering all things bilingual – its difficulties, its grace and its flair
Listened to long after the last episode went on air
With stories from children and researchers
Parents, educators and practitioners
So much to share
For as all small and adult translators know
Switching between contexts
Is more than just finding the right words to connect
It’s being receptive to the realms of resonance
As the edges of each soundscape
Warrant different worlds of understanding
For we summon worlds with our words
Words for the moments that make life worth sharing
Words to express our concerns and our caring
And sometimes, when words are not what’s needed
There is gestures and the willingness to sit together
And listen to the whispers of the evening sun
With multilingualism looking different for everyone
Some being asked to sit down
And study some grammar
Others being showered with word clouds
In a more day-to-day manner
And seeking it out
In comics and fairy-tales and everyday sounds
With all of us
When we are young
Holding an innate understanding of universality
And you were born open to the idea
that one thing has multiple meanings
As you know there are at least three words for squirrel
Perspective-taking a skill
Tangled up in your linguistical landscapes
In the sounds of your childhood
The letters of your alphabets
In what is shared when you are happy or sad
And language control?
Let’s rock and roll
In Twi, Arabic and Español
For it’s hard work, being bilingual
With word recognition, false friends and learning to read
Brains building lyrical nodes with lightning speed
As heritage languages need attention and input
And words with less clues might leave us clue-less
Yet diversity of resources is positively correlated to language richness
Plucking the fruits of hard labour
Some of the peaches
That taste so sweet
To be able to communicate with grandparents and peers
And the fun of having a secret language to speak
For you know there is magic in words
Beyond the words on the page
When the name of your language
Is itself a palindrome
Bringing up worlds of jokes with friends and parental aspirations
And if poetry is about making connections
Then multilingualism is creating the spark
That brings new things together
Creativity being part and parcel of the bilingual mind
The paint brush that creates beauty
In multiple styles and a triangulation of techniques
When words stick together in new compositions
When Elsa from Frozen gets crowned in Italian
And joy might be written differently
In different scripts
But it’s unstoppable
When it bubbles up
High towards our cheeks
Bubbling out, so to speak
In that deep physicality of belly laughter
So dear multilingual children, hold onto the songs of your linguistical mosaic
Each piece fitting together
As you are navigating its currents and graduations
No thing ever as one-dimensional as its written representation
Never as plain on the page as it might seem
For you, dear child
Have multiple languages in which to dream
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