Recently, Mirta Desir sat down with Esther Loiseau, Mabou Loiseau’s mother, for a lengthy interview about raising a little polyglot. Esther is a work-at-home mom that has taken the reigns in her child’s education. Her daughter, Mabou, is 8-years old, speaks eight (8) languages fluently, is learning her ninth language, plays four instruments, sings beautifully, and loves swimming. This mother and daughter team are always busy! This is part 1 of a 2 part interview with Esther Loiseau.
How old were you when you became pregnant/ gave birth to Mabou? I was 41 [years-old] when I gave birth to Mabou. We always wanted children . . . then Mabou came along.
When you were pregnant did you want to have a multilingual child? I had no idea when I was pregnant that I was going to introduce languages at all. I just knew that I was going to homeschool her. I visited several schools while I was pregnant and after several school visits, I was not satisfied — I just could not find the “it” factor. So we decided to home school her.
After giving birth, did you create a formal plan for raising your child with more than one language? No, not initially. Mabou was a year-and-a-half when she started repeating French words that were never taught to her. The only way she could have learned them was from the French language DVD’s that I would let her watch for about an hour a day. At the time I was not making a conscious effort to speak French with her.
When she picked French up so easily, I created a formal plan, incorporating French, Haitian Creole, and Spanish. When she was about two years old, we incorporated Russian. She was about 2-1/2 years old to 3-years-old when we formally introduced English.
How many languages does Mabou speak? Mabou speaks eight languages fluently and is working on her ninth language (Haitian Creole, Spanish, French, Sign Language, Russian, Arabic, English, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese).
How was the decision made to speak those specific languages? In the home, three languages were spoken naturally. My husband spoke Haitian Creole fluently so he only spoke to Mabou in Haitian Creole. My sister, who lived with us for some time, spoke Spanish fluently, so she only spoke to Mabou in Spanish. I spoke French fluently, so I spoke to her only in French. So choosing the initial languages were easy. I gave piano lessons in our home, so she was exposed to English with myself as well as the students I taught.
Some of the other languages were chosen because they are the official languages of the United Nations (Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, English, French, and Spanish). While the rest were chosen because Mabou showed an interest.
Why is it important to you that Mabou speaks so many languages? First, I want Mabou to be free to go wherever she wants and not to feel limited by something as natural as language. Second, it gives her unlimited opportunities in life.
What is a typical day like in the life of 8 year-old Mabou? Mabou’s days vary depending on her scheduled activities or lessons. However, a somewhat typical weekday for her is like this:
8 p.m. – 9 p.m.: Swimming lessons
How do you reinforce the languages for Mabou? When Mabou was younger and was not reading yet, in addition to the native speaking nannies, we used music, movies, and books from the learning language country to reinforce the respective language. We asked the nannies to bring us additional materials from their home countries when possible.
Stay tuned. Part two drops next week. In it Esther discusses how her daughter is doing academically, the criticism she has received about Mabou’s education, the cost of raising a little polyglot and how she persuaded her husband to join her and her daughter on the multilingual journey.