How many languages Do you Speak?!

This is a question I get asked a lot. Along with the question “which languages do you speak to your son”, so I thought I’d clarify this in a post since a reader wrote me a comment on this the other day.

It is not that strange really that people ask since I live in Sweden and they hear that I’m not from here. Outside the house to all my Swedish friends, and in Open Daycare I speak a mix of Norwegian and Swedish- kind of a “Swevigian” one could say. My intonation is more or less Norwegian, and so is the way I build sentences, but my words are a mix of both languages.

For those of you who are not from Scandinavia here is a short (kind of long) summary of the history of the likeness in the languages Norwegian, Danish and Swedish. For those of you who know this, just scroll past it ūüôā

Back in the Viking days  Scandinavia was more or less one area with many many kings who each had their own little countries. The language that was spoken back then was very similar in all these areas, and is NOT the languages that are spoken now.

As vikings,primarily from Norway, settled on the island Iceland, and since they were isolated from most of the language changes that took place on the mainland, the language we find  spoken there today is very close to what we spoke in both Norway, Sweden, Denmark and The Faroes back in the day, although their written language has changed some.

The dialect we spoke in Norway and Island split with the one spoken in Denmark and Sweden into east Norse and west Norse, a big part of those changes took place in Denmark, so eventually there was a split between the Swedish and the Danish language as well.

As trade took over from raiding villages and plundering during the late middle ages our languages changed, as most languages do over time, and the Danish started getting influence from German, and then later from French. When Christendom was brought to the Scandinavian countries it brought with it influence from Latin and Greek as well..

Why is all this information of any use to you, you may ask. Well I am getting to it, just bear with me here.

Between 1396 and 1536 Norway was a part of the Kalmar Union, a union set up by Queen Margaret of Denmark, and then we were more or less owned by Denmark from 1536 to 1814, and then Denmark gave Norway as war spoils to Sweden a union that was dissolved in 1905.

So basically the three languages Norwegian, Danish and Swedish all evolved from the same common language to begin with, and even though they have now changed some, and are not identical they still bare large similarities to each other- to the point that most Norwegians fully understand spoken and written Swedish, and written Danish as well (written Danish and Norwegian looks just about identical) For many Norwegians the Danish accent is difficult to understand or speak, but they could probably easily adapt to a Swedish accent. So even though we speak a different language in each of these countries the similarity is so big that one can move from one place to the other,  and work or study, without even bothering to learn the language of the country you are residing in.

Puh! For you who have not yet fallen asleep, here is the answer to the question.

I speak fluently;

  • Norwegian – since I was born and raised in Norway.
  • Danish – ¬†since I lived there for a year when I was 18
  • English – well because we are taught English at a very early age in Norway, and because since the age of 10 just about every book I’ve read has been English, and thus I am more comfortable writing in English than any of the other languages I know. It also helps of course that my favourite ballet teacher was English, that my best friend Amrita spoke only English when I got to know her, and that my husband is Canadian.

I also speak a reasonable Greek and understand most of a normal conversation, because we lived in Greece¬†for 10 months when we were six. (Read about where I lived here, here and here) And I of course understand and somewhat speak Swedish, although most of the time I mix in both Norwegian and Danish.. I can understand a lot of German, and probably even read a children’s book in the language too, since I had German for 2 years in high-school.

So those are the languages I speak. Now over to the other question”Which languages do you speak to your son?”

Well, Nicholas is getting input from 4 languages at this time in his life. I speak Norwegian to him,pure Tromso Dialect most of the time, but I also read to him in English and Swedish to make sure he knows the animals and colours, and different words in all three languages.

Kenny speaks ONLY Greek to him, well he tries anyway, and kenny and I speak only English together, unless he is practising some Swedish that is.. So of course it happens that we speak some English to Nicholas at the same time. It is easy to get confused, we do all the time!

In other words he is getting input from four languages at any given time. So I think it is safe to say that he will probably be a bit slow with speaking as he has to sort out 4 different languages and grammars in his head.. Poor thing. Well in the end it will be totally worth it as he will have comprehension of four languages without even having to work for them! I have heard of many people who have kids that have been raised with three or four languages, and as with everything else in life the kids have handled it differently. Some change between the languages without pausing, others choose two or so that they answer in, no-matter what language you asked the question. Only time will tell.

And as for if he speaks Norwegian or Swedish, I couldn’t care less, the two languages are so similar that it makes no difference- he will be able to speak to and understand his Norwegian family

and that is all that matters. In fact I might completely drop speaking Norwegian for a while once he goes to daycare, and focus on teaching him English as our eventual plan is to live in Canada and he needs to speak good English to go to school there without problems..

We are also so lucky to have so many English speaking friends here in A.I.K that he gets quite a bit of input of English when we are with them, and I make sure to specify that my dad only speaks Greek with him, and that my brother only speaks Norwegian with him, and that Kenny’s parents only speak Greek with him so we get a even amount of input in each language. We read books in all four languages together, so he sees that an it is “SUN” in English, “SOL” in Norwegian and Swedish and “Ilio” in Greek.. Thankfully he loves reading, and he can point to the animals in all the languages

Some of our many books in each language

And we see clear signs that he understands questions in English, Norwegian and Greek all the time. If I ask him for the pacifier, sutt or pipilla, he gives it, no matter what language I ask in. We also make sure to buy some toys that count, sing or speak in each language, here are some of the Greek ones

If I ask him to close the door, or get the ball it’s the same. So far so good, he seems to comprehend most of what we say, now we will see which languages he speaks when he starts saying words..

Oh well, time will tell, as long as we stay here things are ok, but if we had to move to China?? Then we would be in Trouble, another language would be too much for all of us!!

So there is the very long, and somewhat tedious answer to that question! Blog to you all later!


p.s If any of you readers have some experience with multilingual families I would love to hear from you!

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4 Responses to How many languages Do you Speak?!

  1. Ami says:

    u did forget to mention that in addition to being fluent in English, you also have the unnerving knack of switching from one accent to another like its the most natural thing in the world !! xx

    • Haha:) yeah it is quite strange for most ppl! Which is why i didnt mention it;) miss u sweety! Wish we cud come visit in august, but no point if ur not there!!!

  2. Marte :) says:

    Hvorfor snakker Kenny gresk til ham, n√•r du skriver at han er fra Canada? Og er faren din ogs√• gresk? Mulig du har skrevet om dette f√łr, men jeg har ikke f√•tt det med meg. Morsomt at han f√•r muligheten til √• l√¶re seg s√• mange spr√•k!

    • Oi, det glemte jeg helt √• si!! Kenny (kyriakos) er f√łdt i hellas, med greske foreldre, men oppvokst i Canada!! S√• hjemme hos ham snakker de KUN gresk. Selv om han og hans bror snakker engelsk seg imellom! Jeg er halvt gresk, s√• mamma er norsk, pappa er gresk, men jeg er oppvokst i troms√ł!

      Ja det er fint tror jeg, i lengden, at han f√•r s√• mange spr√•k s√• og si “gratis”

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