A few words of encouragement to parents, from a born and bred trilingual

Polyglo team member Leo Sakaguchi’s experience growing up successfully with three mother tongues

Leo Sakaguchi
Updated on
January 28, 2021
5 min read

Let me answer a few questions I am often asked about being raised trilingual (Polish, Esperanto and German). The fact is, to be raised trilingual and having Esperanto as a mother tongue has truly brought me perspectives to life. It took a few years to understand and discover these benefits, but ultimately I am very grateful for this aspect of my identity and how it has shaped my personality as well as my linguistic and cognitive skill set.

Which language do you think in?

To answer shortly: It depends on the language I’m surrounded by. I can think in one or more of the three languages given the situation.

For example, when visiting Poland during the summer holiday for two weeks, after a few days I will start to automatically adapt to the local language. Sure enough, my entire brain will shift into thinking in the Polish language. When I return to Germany, the same thing happens. I will switch the little voice in my brain to the German language to match my surrounding environment. Even when attending a one week Esperanto youth conference and being exposed 24/7 to Esperanto, I will start adapting to the language and ultimately live in it.

4-year old Leo in his home village in Bavaria

Was it confusing growing up with all of the languages?

As a child, you learn and absorb languages like a sponge. This means that the brain can collect a lot of information, no matter what language it is in. It can also develop a clear pattern on how to distinguish multiple languages. You can learn when and where to use a language.

My family always kept the OPOL (One Parent One Language) rule in place, and these were our rules:

3 different language scenarios at home

These rules enabled me to be fluent in all the languages (speaking and listening), and were supplemented by other family members (such as my grandmother who spoke only in Polish to me) and friends (parents friends who spoke in Esperanto to me or local people who spoke in German). With these rules and supportive groups as a child, I had the necessity to use and practice all those languages in order to communicate with people.

Does trilingualism also help in getting to know other cultures better?

As a child, I had the opportunity to regularly visit both Poland and Japan, the home countries of my family and hence be exposed to those languages and cultures. By doing so and being able to (more or less) on a regular basis refresh my cultural mindset, I was able to connect with those identities and now consider them as a part of “me”. Knowing the language definitely helped bridge those cultures into my identity. From those experiences, I can understand Polish and Japanese mindsets and feel a deep personal connection to both countries and cultures.

In what ways has trilingualism or multiple mother tongues benefited your career?

Switching careers from a start-up to a corporate company in 2017 enabled me to be involved on a professional basis (in the renewable Energy sector) with Businesses across many countries. It was always a dream of mine to connect Germany, Japan and Poland on a professional basis and ultimately, I found a way to do so. Whether it is personal or for business, understanding the different cultures and their languages is essential for building strong relationships.

I was able to not only use my mother tongues at work, but also use my identity and cultural background as a basis for building bridges between those countries and their cultures. This opportunity makes me extremely proud and shows me the importance for cultural bridge building.

Would you raise your own children multilingually?

I’d say that my parents did an excellent job with the language decisions they took. My parents not only stuck to One Parent One Language (OPOL), but also taught me the languages without ever pushing me to do so. Ultimately, it was a wonderful experience for me and it has had a profound impact on my career and my career choices. Looking back, I see the clear value of multilingualism added to my childhood. Keeping this natural approach and letting the children develop their own way of inheriting multilingual abilities is something I would be happy to pass on to my own children, when the time comes…

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Leo Sakaguchi

Founder of Polyglo, trilingually raised and enthusiastic about multilingual families

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