TCK: Language Study

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A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.
David C. Pollock

Not every Third Culture Kid’s experience is exactly like another and when it comes to language study the same is true.  I have known some TCKs who are bilingual from their time growing up between two countries.  There are TCKs who only know one language from not being immersed in a second language while others know multiple languages.

When I was living in England I was learning French at school.  I moved to Italy and French lessons were replaced by Italian.  Three years later I am in Germany learning German.  Two years pass and I am back in Italy learning Italian again.  Two and a half years later and I am stateside in town where Spanish is spoken a sizable part of the population. On top of going to english speaking schools added to the high mobility I went off to University fluent only in English.  I have a well traveled vocabulary in some countries and know just a few choice words or phrases in others.

Third Culture Kids

Not being completely fluent in any other language has always been on thing I want to overcome.  

In recent years I have tried learning Italian again or have ventured into German and French.  Italian makes sense to study as Italy still is the ranking champion of the one place in the world I have lived the longest in my life.  German is spoken in the three countries I would love most to move to next in Europe: Austria, Switzerland, and of course Germany. Living in England and being so close to France makes French seem ideal. Not to mention it is officially spoken in thirty three countries around the world.

I am a Third Culture Kid who keeps hopping between each language not knowing which one to go with whole heartedly. 

This weekend I took my boys to the library and filled my arms up with french language books from the children’s section.  While my bookshelf at home boasts many language books, I like getting books that will engage my children as we do language study together.  On my walk over to them I noticed a lone Chinese language book and grabbed it as well. I asked my boys which language they would like to learn and the both chose Mandarin. Being that husband knows Mandarin I decided to go with it.


Mandarin.  It challenges me because I do not feel confidant with how to go about learning it most effectively.  A tonal language without an alphabet intimidated me in the past when I attempted to learn.  My kids on the other hand are very excited about it and love learning it.  This has been my biggest motivation.  I want to offer my kids something I never had growing up, being fluent in another language.  From here we go onward and do our best to learn Mandarin.

Q: I would love to hear you thoughts on languages.
Do you speak other languages or are you learning any now?
Do you speak Mandarin Chinese?

  • Kaelene Spence

    Your passion for learning languages is amazing. I wish I had more opportunities to study languages when I was in school. With the budget cuts we hardly were able to hold onto the small Spanish program we had. I am currently learning Icelandic but it is so hard having no prior language learning skills. I love the challenge though!

    • Bonnie Rose

      But how awesome for you Kaelene (or do you go as Kiki?) to push forward in language study despite any limitations you had in the past. I am right there with you and I joke that I speak English like it is my second language sometimes. 😉 Hopefully with hard work and motivation you and I will meet our language goals! So proud that you are learning Icelandic x

      • Kaelene Spence

        Kaelene is fine:) thanks so much! I hope your language studies are successful as well. And how wonderful for your children to get to experience and learn so many new languages, wonderful!

        • Bonnie Rose

          So far they really like it. So lets hope they keep on that thrill of learning it. They are not preteens yet and I’m hoping to get all this in before they become too cool for school so to speak. x

  • Dannielle @ Chic-a-DeeDee

    We studied french and Spanish in elementary school, and then got to choose which we wanted to carry on with going into high school. I chose spanish because I wanted to go to Mexico. I carried on with it in College as well and was quite fluent, but now I feel like I’ve lost almost all my knowledge! I definitely feel like continual practice is key. I’ve told some other people, my bf learned basic German and Italian with a company called LinkWords, and he really liked the program, but I think it’s really only for very beginners.

    • Bonnie Rose

      I bet if you were forced to used Spanish you would be able to pick it up again. I am right there with you. When we went to Italy I could not remember much but what surprised me was how easily I could then relearn or pick up phrases, compared to being in a country where the language was all foreign to me. My husband has been losing a little of his vocab in Mandarin so I’m hoping by having the boys and I learn it too we can all help each other. I also have this idea of how cool it would be to be able to speak Mandarin together…like a secret language when we visit family. x

  • Kristin Creekmore

    When people look at me they already assume I can speak at least two
    languages (must be the racial ambiguity of being Halfrican!), and when
    they learn I’ve traveled all my life that expectation goes even higher.
    So it’s a bit humorous to see the disappointment on their faces when I
    tell them I’m only fluent in one. I almost feel the need to apologize
    for not being the fictional character they’ve made me up as in their
    heads. What people don’t understand is that the most mobile of us TCKs
    don’t have time to absorb a full language before we’re off living
    somewhere else. It’s always been a goal of mine to be fluent in another
    language, like it is yours. I haven’t found one that sticks yet, one I
    can commit to. I don’t know what it’ll take to find the language that
    I’ll be motivated enough to truly learn, but eventually I’ll figure it
    out. Good luck to you with Mandarin!

    • Bonnie Rose

      Kristin I cannot tell you how much I loved your comment about this post. Thank you for sharing as a fellow Third Culture Kid. It always makes me feel so part of a tribe when listening to you share your experiences a TCK. So glad to know there is someone out there with similiar experiences. x

  • Louisa @ My Family & Abruzzo

    My eldest so has got a good ear for Italian (funnily enough) and his pronunciation is already spot on. Mandarin is a popular choice for a second language because of China’s economic boom. I think it will become standard and replacing traditional european languages in schools.

    • Van Berry

      Yes Chinese or Mandarin definitely is quite popular at the moment….in Germany most Universities offer Chinese language courses although I don’t think they will ever be offered at schools just because it’s so difficult…..and most Germans don’t even speak English properly 😉

      • Bonnie Rose

        oh yes, more and more I am hearing about Mandarin being taught. A friend’s daughter is learning it at high school in the US, and back when I was in school the languages taught were just Spanish or French usually.

    • Bonnie Rose

      I love how easy kids can pick up languages. My sons seem to be doing really well. I would love to find a program we can do together so they get the most out of our language lessons.

  • Van Berry

    I’m from Germany and fluent in English and German of course. I learned French for 7 years at school but haven’t used the language for more than 3 years now so most of it is gone….. Currently I’m learning Swedish and therefore I can also understand little Norwegian….but those two are easy to learn because they are closely related to the German language….I also attempted to learn Russian but gave up quite soon. I just couldn’t cope with the alphabet and then there is the difference between hand-written and typed letters….it felt like being 6 and learning to write all over again, horrible!

    • Bonnie Rose

      Thats the worst about learning a language is not using it and forgetting it. When we went back to Italy all my Italian friends could not believe how little Italian I remembered. I can understand about Russian as thats how I’m feeling about Chinese. Your analogy of being six is spot on! x

  • Elizabeth Georgian

    Great post! I speak Mandarin and learned it through working with a tutor and living in China for a while. I found it really helpful to listen to Mandarin language tapes by Pimsleur. The conversations are very helpful. A program like rosetta stone might be fun for kids to learn with. Good luck with your language learning!

    • Bonnie Rose

      Thank you Elizabeth! Oh that sounds wonderful. I would love to be able to live in country to pick up a language, it has always been the easiest and more natural way for me. I need to second best make friends with someone here who speaks Mandarin fluent who can meet up with me every week. I think my library might have language tapes, so I am going to check those out next time I’m there. x

  • Letty

    Very interesting post! I have always been a third culture kid and never knew it! I’m just starting up my own blog detailing my expat adventures at please feel free to check it out some time!

    • Bonnie Rose

      Thank you Letty. Oh see this is why I blog! To find new TCKs, especially those who just learning about what it is! I hope you will stick around at ACR, I try to blog about it more and more. x

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