Polish-German Intercultural Marriage – The Problems and Benefits are The Same as Other Couples

in Intercultural Marriage

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polish-german intercultural marriage

Although it´s not always the case, some intercultural marriages are as normal as any other non-intercultural marriage with the same problems and benefits. However, language, the number one challenge of interracial or intercultural marriage, is almost never avoided. Questions like what language to use at home, how to expose the children to both their parents´ language, and better yet, if the family resides in a country with a different language than both the parents´ mother tongue, how to raise multilingual children who are able to cope up in school as much as their monolingual peers.

The Offbeat Couple

Names: Olga& Nikolai
Location: The Netherlands
Children: 2 (and a third on the way)
How long have you been married? 3 years
Website: The European Mama

What makes your marriage offbeat?

We are an intercultural marriage. Olga is Polish and Nikolai is German. Also, we happen to live in yet another country, the Netherlands. However, we don’t see ourselves as an offbeat marriage. We have the same problems and benefits other couples have, we just happen to come from different countries, and speak different languages.

What made you end up in an intercultural marriage? What was your motivation in deciding to marry someone of different culture or faith?

We didn’t feel as if that played a big role. We didn’t consciously choose an intercultural marriage, instead we just happened to marry someone from another country.

Tell us about the wedding. Did your different religious or cultural background affect how you planned the wedding?

We got married in Germany but also included Polish translations of the texts and songs we had for the wedding ceremony. The reception was partially bilingual, and we also had guests from all parts of the worlds, making for an interesting mix of cultures. Also, friends of ours met on our wedding (he is a Malaysian German and she is Latvian), and got married this year. While Nikolai is an atheist, we decided to get married in a Catholic church (Olga considered getting married in a church a part of her heritage- it’s very uncommon in Poland not to get married in a church).

What are your biggest challenges (as an intercultural couple) and how do you solve them?

I think the biggest challenge is raising our children multilingually. We have to make sure that the children get equal input in all the languages and that all the languages are well supported. Also, not everybody in our environment is as committed to raising multilingual children as we are and it’s hard to deal with all these misconceptions, especially as far as Polish is concerned. We only use our own languages when speaking to the children, and try to explain, and explain and explain some more. Another challenge is the travelling: last year we had to travel from Amsterdam to Warsaw, from there to Osnabrück, then Hamburg and Kiel, and then back. It was a lot of travelling and we were pretty tired after that. This year, we’ve tried to have extended family to visit us in the Netherlands.

What compromises are required in order to make your marriage work?

Olga had to move to the Netherlands when their daughter was 6 weeks old. She moved there from Germany which was far away from home already. However, Olga was already a proficient German speaker, and we always used German as a means of communication. On the other hand, Nikolai rejected a job offer in Canada because Olga wouldn’t have gotten a visa. As for now, Nikolai is working hard to learn Polish in order to better understand his children.

Did you ever encounter people who frown upon intercultural marriage? How did you deal with them?

No. The only comment Olga heard on this is “how would your parents react if they knew you had a German boyfriend?- but it turned out that they were not only fine with it but they were indeed very happy.

How did your in-laws and extended families from each side react to your intercultural marriage?

Both of our families are supportive and we didn’t have any problems. Nikolai’s parents strongly insist on the children speaking German but we have already arranged for that.

What are the benefits of an intercultural/interracial marriage?

You get to think a lot what you’re saying, so it’s less probable that you’ll say something you can later regret- just because you communicate in a different language. You get to think a lot about your own culture and learn to accept others. You get to travel a lot, and see lots of new places, and you get to teach your children about diversity, and raise them with different language since birth. You get to meet fascinating people and get very creative.

What are the things that you learned about each other’s culture?

How does learning about each other culture benefit your relationship? Olga was in contact with German culture since she was a child, but she has learned that contrary to what common stereotypes say about Germans, they are in fact warm, welcoming people. Nikolai has never been to Poland prior to meeting Olga and he was especially delighted by the food. Also, this has given him an opportunity to travel places that he probably would never had visited.

Does cultural difference affect how you raise and discipline your child/ren? In what way?

We happen to have similar ideas about raising children- and we do it in a similar way. We don’t punish, and instead believe in explaining things and talking them over. We like to take the children with us wherever we go and think that having children doesn’t mean you only get to do “children’s stuff”. The difference is that while Olga likes to read and think a lot about how to raise children (and particularly how to raise multilingual children), Nikolai does whatever works for him and the children.

What’s your favorite way of spending time together?

Watching TV series, talking, going out to eat

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Shiela

Truly enjoyed reading as always. There’s one thing I would like to suggest to this beautiful couple if I may. Start a class or become advocates for focusing on the teachings of all the languages. They stated that the challenge presented itself in making sure that their children get equal input in all the dIfferent languages and that not everyone in their environment is committed to doing this. Well I say be the change that needs to take place in order for this to not be a challenge but instead an opportunity. Not only to help their children but others as well. Because I’m sure that if this is a challenge for them there’s at least one other person or person’s facing the same challenge. Please pass this on to them until the next read. Blessings.

Olga @The EuropeanMama

Hello, Shiela! Thank you for your comment and your suggestion, you are so right. This is definitely something we need to work on, and we already do: I am reading whatever I can find on this topic, and seeking all opportunities for ensuring an equal input in all the languages. I also describe my experiences on my blog (www.europeanmama.eu) For me, challenge is something positive: it’s difficult, but fun at the same time- and this is what this feels like. I also had to realize that I don’t need to have everybody on board, and I can’t expect everybody to be on board. The important thing is that I have the right people on board: friends who are in the same situation, specialists on multilingualism, my parents (also multilingual and who raised me to speak multiple languages), my blog readers who are always supportive. This is so much, and I feel blessed. We have also chose a school that would support the children’s multilingualism, and there are more possibilities for Polish (like a Sunday school, etc). So we have possibilities, it’s not easy but we can do it, I think.

Glee

Mainly sharing your story is already a lot of help, it inspires others and it´s good to know we´re not alone. Although I´m not yet a parent, I and my husband are already worried about raising multilingual kids. I have four Filipino languages, two dialects from each of my parents, one I learned from an island where our family have settled since I was a teenager, and the fourth is our National Filipino language. I also fluently speak English. I learned to speak Thai from my 6 years of living and working in Thailand. And now, after moving to Germany upon marriage, I speak German.

My husband is a Filipino but since he grew up in Germany, he used to speak only German fluently. After we dated, he learned English and became fluent. We use English at home and we plan to continue using English when the kids come. I probably wouldn´t be able to introduce my Filipino languages given that we´re also challenged to raise kids who are already fluent in German before they enter school.

My husband is worried that if our kids aren´t fluent in German when they start to go to school, they would be marginalized as not-smart kids. But at the same time we want them to be able to speak fluent English. This is the plight that we´re currently trying to find a solution.

Olga @The EuropeanMama

Oh no, I just wrote a long answer to your comment, Glee and it didn’t show up, so I’ll just try again. I find your situation absolutely fascinating! I think that it is possible to introduce at least one Filipino language to your children. For example, is there one you feel particularly attached to? Or maybe you’ll choose the national Filipino language to “represent” the Filipino culture? On the other hand, you might decide to speak English to your children, and if that’s the case, you can either go with the OPOL method (you speak English, your husbands speaks German, or the Majority language at home (ml@h) method (the two of you speak German while on the streets, and English at home. Both of these methods work, and it’s just a matter of choice. If you decide to go with the Filipino languages, you can speak that, your husband will speak German and the both of you can use English to communicate with each other (and the children will catch up soon enough!) But then it depends whether you have others to speak the language besides yourself. It’s great that you’re already thinking about this, as you can then consider the many options you have. But once you’re pregnant you might instinctively decide which language to speak with your children! And you are right: in Germany, society and schools push for all children to speak German but I think it results from lack of knowledge about bilingualism, and it’s not really beneficial, because every family should have the right to speak their language. I agree that with Filipino you will have to work harder on achieving your children speaking it, but I wouldn’t the fact that the language is not a priority language influence the decision not to speak it, rather there might be other reasons. With English, it will be much easier, with many bilingual schools, playgroups and maybe even daycares. Should you have any more questions, let me know! Other than that I’ll be happy to share resources, (like http://www.onraisingbilingualchildren.com), and Colin Baker’s books.

Glee

Thank you so much for these helpful suggestions, Olga, they´re really opened a lot of options. My husband has indeed thought that he will speak Deutsch to the kids while I speak English to them. Although I can also put in Filipino as the third language, my worry is that the kid will have speech delay. I also wonder which language should I teach for something like counting, colors, and reading.

Thanks too for the resources you´ve shared, I believe I need more reading for this topic.

Olga @The EuropeanMama

You’re welcome. No, your children will not have a speech delay because they speak 3 languages. Rather, if they are supposed to have one, they will have one regardless of the number of languages they speak. The theory that multilingual children start speaking later is not supported anymore. If anything happens, they might end up speaking German and English and have only a passive knowledge of Filipino. SO, it would make sense for you to set your language goals for all your languages. Would you be OK if your children only understood Filipino but didn’t speak/read/write in it? Or do you want them to speak and read and write Filipino? Also, a good idea to do is to make a family language plan where you specify your goals for all the languages, and how to achieve them, starting from birth well into University years (although this won’t be necessary for all the languages). However, given that you don’t have children yet, you have some time to consider all the options available to you.

Glee

I wasn´t aware that speech delay theory isn´t supported anymore. I´ve heard it from several child doctors as an explanation to some of my multilingual godchildren´s speech delay problem. But it´s good to know that it isn´t always the case. I will do more research about this too.

Thank you so much once again for this thorough tips, Olga, now I´ve an idea how to approach this problem.

Olga @The EuropeanMama

Yes, it is true that many pediatrician explain everything that is wrong with a child’s speech development with multilingualism, but often don’t have any training, so it often happens that we parents know more about our children’s speech development than the doctor. Also, often healthcare professionals understand “speaking” as “speaking in their language”, so for them if a child doesn’t speak the majority language, they don’t speak- also a shame. To give you an example: both of my children started speaking at 18 months. I have a friend who is in a similar situation (she’s from one country, he from another- none of them is Dutch, but they live in the Netherlands. Their children started speaking at 10 months!

Sheila

🙂 I’m so happy that you have such a great support in making things better for those in like situations of your own. May you continue to thrive and accomplish all that you set your hand to do. As I’m sure those whose lives you touch are very grateful.

Olga @The EuropeanMama

Thank you, Sheila. This is so very kind of you. I hope for all the best for you, too!

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