Know the Family’s Heritage Language to Stay Rooted

Rita Rosenback is a Family Language Coach, speaker and author. Her book “Bringing up a Bilingual Child” is an easy-to-read guide for parents navigating them across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. On Rita’s website you can find more than 300 posts and Q&As on the topic of raising children to speak more than one language. Rita is a Finland-Swede, now living in the UK. She has two multilingual adult daughters and is currently helping to pass on Swedish to her grandson.

  1.   Tell us a little about yourself and your family. 

My name is Rita Rosenback and I am a Family Language Coach, author and speaker on the topic of raising bilingual and multilingual children. I am originally from Finland and moved to the UK over 20 years ago. I have two adult daughters and two wonderful grandsons, who are growing up to become bilingual in English and Swedish.

  1.   Which cities have your lived in/ visited in your lifetime? Which is your favorite?

I was born in a little village on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. I then moved to Turku in the southwest of Finland to study languages and also lived in Göttingen, in the then West Germany, while studying German. When my eldest daughter was small, we stayed a couple of months in Phagwara, Punjab, with her Indian grandparents.

I now live in Derby, UK. Choosing a favorite place is like answering the question “Which one of your children do you love the most? – an impossible choice. Every place has its charm.

My home village in Finland will always be very dear to me and a peaceful place for the whole family to return to every summer. The cities I studied in will forever have a magical memory of learning, growing as a human being and making life-long friends from across the world. India fascinated me with its warm people, natural beauty and vibrant communities. My current “home” city is Derby in the gorgeous Derbyshire in the middle of the UK, close to the magnificent Peak District.

Part of my heart is in each of the places I have lived – on my bed I have an embroidered pillow with the phrase “Home is where your heart is,” and in my mind I always add “and your heart can be in many places.”

  1.   What brought you to what you do ?

Family Language Coach – Languages have always been close to my heart and most jobs I have done have been somehow related to speaking more than one language. I grew up bilingual in Finnish and Swedish, Both my daughters grew up to speak the family languages: Swedish, Punjabi and later English.

My eldest daughter also learnt Finnish while we lived in Finland. When we moved to the UK, I noticed that my daughters were able to speak their father’s language, Punjabi, better than many children who had been brought up by two Indian parents in the UK.

I was intrigued by this and also saddened by the loss of the family language in many cases. While analyzing what we had done as a family to successfully raise our daughters to speak three/four languages, I noticed the differences in our approach compared to those families whose kids were not fluent.

This inspired me to start my blog and later to write my book “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”. I am passionate about this topic and know that parents can be successful in passing on their languages. Sometimes they need a little bit of support and advice and this is where I can help.

3. What is one aspect in raising multicultural children do we need to be MOST aware of.

 When raising multicultural children, the most important thing in my opinion is to make sure that they are aware of and proud of all cultures that are part of their identity. (Of course, this comes after making sure they are fed, safe, loved and educated.) Because of what I do and what I am passionate about, I will bring up the importance of sharing the family languages with our children, to the best of our ability.

For children to know the heritage language of their parents and grandparents makes it so much easier to learn about and stay connected with their culture. Knowing more language also makes children more open-minded and aware. They will be able to act as bridges between generations, countries and cultures – something what is badly needed in today’s world.

  1.   What is one personal challenge you have overcome growing up? 

When I was 21, my mother died in pancreatic cancer within three months of her diagnosis. At the time I was still finding myself and my place in this world. It took me several years to find my feet again. Based on my experience I would like to tell young people that you can recover from anything.

Advice: Don’t ever suppress your feelings of grief. Ask for help and take it when offered. Speak to someone about your challenges.

  1.   Share with us two parenting hacks that have made your/child’s life easy.

It may be an old-fashioned view, but I think children should learn the importance of working/doing chores early on in life. The earlier you start, the easier it is. I have let me daughters help me since they first were able to walk! Allow them to empty the washing machine, moving on to the dish washer according to their capability. Instill the pride of doing it themselves and it will become second nature – and this of course goes for both boys and girls! If we wait on our children hand and foot when they are small, we cannot suddenly expect them to participate in chores when they are teenagers.

Another “hack”, if you can call it so, is to trust your children. I believe in giving children responsibility and trusting them to do the right thing. Of course, you must be a good role model for this attitude – never expect of your child anything that you are not able to model yourself.

  1. What projects are you working on next? 

I am writing my second book, which is a fictional diary of a bilingual mother. The book follows a multilingual family’s journey over several years and touches on the joys and challenges of raising children to speak more than one language.

  1. What is one piece of advice you would give to children?

Depends on the age, of course, but after they are past the age of “follow your parents’ advice to keep you safe” I would say: Keep an open and inquisitive mind, keep asking those difficult questions and believe in yourself!

  1. Tell us three things that are on your bucket list? 

Just crossed off one of my bucket list items by visiting Iceland – still remaining: parachute jump, visiting lake Titicaca and publishing my 10th book!

    1. What 3 books OR movies would you say changed your life? 

I read Wayne Dwyer’s “The Sky’s the Limit” when I was a young adult, and it made a deep impact on my vision on life. I struggled after my mother died and the book gave me a new belief in my future. No other book or film comes even close, so I will leave it at that.

  1. Do you have any freebies for our readers/listeners? 

Once a month I hold a free live Facebook session where I answer parents’ questions about raising bilingual and multilingual children. Everyone is free to send in their questions. Previous episodes are recorded and can be accessed through my Facebook page.

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