Understandably, this is one of the first things I’m asked whenever I speak to people back in the UK. After all, I moved here hoping that within a couple of years the children could pick up at least one new language, and so could I. So, five months into our overseas adventure, how are we getting on?
It’s been reassuring to find that I can still hold a basic conversation in German (and muddle through buying & insuring a car!), but it is neither the most useful language in everyday life (French) or the one I’m supposed to be helping my daughter learn for school (Luxembourgish), so there’s not much to report here – my exposure to German has mostly been limited to listening to the gloriously cheesy RTL Radio while exploring Luxembourg in the hire car in our first few weeks here.
When we told our daughter (then 4) that we were planning to move to Luxembourg, she airily reassured us: “don’t worry, I can count to ten in French”. My own French wasn’t much more extensive, so I immediately started taking our 2-year-old son to Bilinguasing classes – these were excellent, and had noticeable results: he’s been singing about ducks going “tête en bas” ever since, and on the day we arrived in Luxembourg he greeted a waiter with a cheerful “bonjour”. Although my own French is still rudimentary, I am seeing definite progress: with the almost-constant help of Google Translate I can deal with our admin, read notes from school, work out what I can buy with my supermarket loyalty vouchers, join in the singing at my son’s gym class… and I’ve recently even managed to hold my own in my second argument in French!
Learning Luxembourgish is our current focus. Our daughter is in the local school system, and after the summer holidays it became clear that we need to do more to support her in learning the language. We’d picked up the idea from friends and family who’d lived abroad that it would be a natural process, but I think we’d underestimated how unusual Luxembourg is… It’s an officially multilingual country, where immigrants outnumber the locals, so although we overhear people speaking Luxembourgish, we are rarely addressed in it, and even within the school setting very few of the children are native speakers – hardly an immersive learning experience!
The global population of Luxembourgish speakers is only around 400,000, so the tools we take for granted in French & German (Google Translate, duolingo, a huge collection of Usborne sticker books…) just don’t exist for Luxembourgish. I’ve been particularly surprised by two things: my failure to find a ‘proper’ printed Luxembourgish-English dictionary, and the apparent absence of Luxembourgish nursery rhymes on YouTube. (At one point, having optimistically promised the children Luxembourgish songs, I ended up repeatedly playing them these home movies, which are extremely cute but do come with a disclaimer about unknown meanings and probable mispronunciation…)
Still, in the last few weeks we’ve learned that there are resources out there if you know where to look. A friend showed me a Luxembourgish-learning app, and pointed out that a local publisher has made a Luxembourgish version of the Usborne First Thousand Words books. My favourite find is a children’s picture dictionary which, although the translations are in French, comes with a CD so you can hear how the words should sound. I even spent an evening creating “Luxembourgish snap” cards which were well received – my daughter immediately sat down and drew “d’Prinzessin” cards to add to the set.
Now that we’ve become more motivated, we’re seeing real progress. It’s starting to feel quite natural to throw in words from the weekly school vocabulary lists into everyday conversations, and we’re quickly getting the hang of colours and numbers. We’ve started to take our daughter to hear Luxembourgish storytelling at the library in town, have enlisted the help of a neighbour’s teenage daughter for play-in-Luxembourgish sessions, and gratefully accepted the teacher’s offer of some one-to-one Luxembourgish time at the start of school in the mornings. I suspect the moment everyone warned me about, where my daughter’s language skills overtake mine, is fast approaching – time to dig out that Learn Luxembourgish book I bought when we’d just arrived perhaps?