When I went to join a voluntary camp in Songkhla for two weeks, I got a chance to meet an 18-year-old Belgium girl. There’re other volunteers from France, Holland, Ireland, and Germany also. She can communicate with everyone in the camp, yeah that’s not weird at all. But the interesting is she communicate with them in different languages! not just English, she talked in German with German girls, in French with French girls. I know later that she can speak Spanish also.
Her name is Sara Lopez. Here’s an interview with her.
Q: What are the effects of family, society, and education on achieving and maintaining your bilingualism? Like how you learned all those languages you speak?
A: My father spoke Spanish with me and my mother French since I was a baby and then I went to school in German since I was 3 years old.
Q: Oh cool! So you only speak Spanish and French at home, right?
A: Actually, I speak German with my mom now because all our friends speak German and after a time she had to speak German at work too.
Q: You studied with the monolingual program at the school you went to, right? I mean other languages than German are taught as subjects. Not being used as a language of instruction.
A: At primary school, everything was in German but I had French classes. At secondary school, I was in the bilingual section so I had mathematics French and sciences in French.
Q: You think your French skills are getting worse from not using very often?
A: Oh yes of course at school, my classmates were all bilingual but more German than French so we did not have such a good level. But now since I’m traveling I speak more French than at home.
Q: What about society? You think society around you support you to be bilingual?
A: I think it depends on where you live
Q: You live in the capital city, right?
A: No, I live in a small town where almost half of the people are bilingual but they just want to speak German so I never speak French in my city. I think living in a big city would support the bilingualism. And work also, I mean I’m not working yet but it’s a big advantage to be bilingual
Q: You speak Spanish to your dad, so you’re half Spanish? I’m not sure if I heard about this at Kok Rieng camp. I might forget or something.
A: Yes that’s right
Q: You learned English at school, right? How have u learned to speak it so well like this? Being able to speak many languages affects you in what way?
A: Yes but just at the age of 13. It was very hard for me because it was the first language is learned at school. I may be able to speak many languages but to learn them like at school is not my thing
As you can see from the interview, She’s half Spanish half Belgium so Spanish and French (her mother’s language) become home language. She needs to speak Spanish and French all the time when she’s at home.
This is an example of simultaneous bilingual: a person who learn two languages or more from the beginning at birth.
German followed by those two languages because she lives in Eupen, a German-speaking area. So, everyone in her community speaks German and she went to German school. By the age of 13, she started to learn English. Even though that she learned it late than other languages but she’s able to communicate in English well enough.
Belgium is a country that really supports people to become multilingual since there’re three official languages: French, Dutch and German. People there usually speak at least two languages.