Language, Culture, and Identity Issues: Challenges and Changes in Mixed Roots and Multicultural Families

Mixed family 


Identity is something that many if not most all of us wrestle with whilst growing up. However, like most minorities, this is perhaps even more so for many mixed roots, multicultural and third culture kids; from dealing with being treated differently by others and searching for groups to identify with, and feel a sense of belonging, to learning multiple languages and cultures. As previously mentioned, language and culture are integral parts of our identity, and kids who have or develop positive attitudes and feelings towards all aspects of their identity tend to be better adjusted and happier. However, as parents, how can we help our kids to deal with the inevitable bumps along the way?


Whether in print, downloaded or read online (e.g. Dino Lingo Books), stories, especially traditional ones, span generations, keep culture alive and help children to connect with their roots, even when living outside that community. In an increasingly globalised world, it’s also wonderful to be able to read stories from cultures that aren’t our own, but may help our children connect and understand friends in an increasingly number of internationalized classrooms (see the Culture and Diversity selection, for example). Many books also help children to address the challenges they may face, from being the odd one out and bullied to being the new kid at school.


Furthermore, for parents these days, there are numerous helpful starting points to deal with issues of language, culture, and identity as they arise, from books and blogs to communities that meet face-to-face and/or on social media. They share a wealth of invaluable information and support at local, regional, and international levels. Here are three, all by people sharing from firsthand experience in order to help others:


Multilingual living  is the home of Multilingual Living Magazine, a popular digital publication dedicated to families raising bilingual and multilingual children. It’s a place to “… find inspiration, tools, advice, wisdom and support!” There is a host of helpful articles, including ones written by guest experts, and questions sent in from readers, on issues ranging from top 10 things parents should never say to their bilingual/multilingual child to top 10 reasons your children aren’t speaking your language and what to do when you’re feeling left out of the conversation and isolated.


Bilingual Monkeys offers “ideas and inspiration for raising bilingual kids (without going bananas)” with a weekly newsletter, resources for parents including ‘fun stuff’, a blog and collection of articles covering topics like 96 Things You Can Do Today to Boost Your Child’s Bilingual Ability and the tongue-in-cheek How to Fail Miserably at Raising a Bilingual Child.


Multilingual parenting has a weekly newsletter, blog, community and coaching. The Q&A archive includes a wide range of topics from what to do if your child’s teacher tells you to stop speaking a family language to several posts addressing how to raise kids with three or more languages. Searching the site for the topic of identity, you can find a number of posts that support the acceptance and development of our multilingual and multicultural selves, and Rita Rosenback, when writing about Many Languages One Identity, asserts:

“All my languages are an intrinsic part of my identity. Every single one of them has helped me understand other people and cultures and thus contributed to the person I am today. They do however not split my identity, they consolidate it.”


As parents, for example, we can support our children’s journey towards this position of self-confidence and self-acceptance, not only with encouragement and acceptance of their developing identities, but also by providing as many positive encounters with their languages and cultures as possible. On this note, here are 3 of the things that me and my sister think our parents got right for us (Anglo-Celtic-Japanese growing up in England): Celebrating our cultures, visits to Japan, and varied groups of friends.


Celebrating our cultures

I feel very lucky to have grown up with Robin Hood and King Arthur & The Knights of The Round Table as well Japanese folk stories and anime. We were somewhat spoilt in having two sets of cultural festivities, but now my kids have three (Malay, English, and Japanese), insomuch as we can keep it up! Building a positive affinity to each culture, in the long run if not the shorter term, serves to develop interest, the desire to learn the language, and positive self-image.

Visits to Japan

Although it would take 3-4 years to save enough funds to go to Japan with assistance from grandparents, every trip was an amazing 4-6 week affair where all our relatives went out of their way to make up for lost time, so much so that we’ve never felt the physical distance in terms of how close our relationships were. When I first travelled to Japan on my own steam, aged 19, and then again a few years later, it was invaluable to be familiar with places as well as have family and friends I was comfortable with since childhood.


Varied groups of friends

In addition to school and neighbourhood friends, we also had our mum’s circle of Japanese mothers whose children we played with regularly. Whilst it was our parents who helped maintained our ties whilst growing up, our friendships continue to this day, not least because we’d always try to get together whenever we visited Japan. Also, when my mum heard of a new Japanese family or mixed family (i.e. English married to a Japanese), she’d also make an effort to reach out and bring us all together. Meeting other kids ‘like us’ was inevitably something we always looked forward to, and benefitted from, as our similar circumstances formed a good basis for shared understanding and empathy, as well as healthy cross-cultural conversations and debate from the mundane to the more complex:

“Shoes on or off?” one friend asked when comparing typically English and J      apanese homes.

“Definitely off!” we replied to nods of agreement.

“So what do you speak at home?”


The language of play and its crucial role in language development and children’s immediate needs and desire to join in and make friends, can never be overstated. Moreover is often key to breathing life into a minority language that a child might otherwise have limited encounters with outside the home.


Whilst everyone’s experiences are different, I hope that by sharing a few of mine, you might find something that connects. And please feel free to share yours, too!


Last but not least, it’s always worth knowing how to find other groups and information relevant to us for any given place or time in our lives. Some of the more common terms I’ve found helpful in Internet searches include mixed race, interracial, mixed roots, mixed heritage and multicultural, but half, double, and hapa can also lead to new discoveries as I found in Japan. And these days, many groups are thriving with the proliferation of social media. But if there isn’t a group in your area, now may be the best time to start one.

by Philip Shigeo Brown

The World Cup Guide for Mixed Families

What if the national team of your country and your spouse’s country are playing against each other???

-Don’t force the kids to take a side 🙂

-Jerseys, face painting and horns are great , flags may not be necessary

-Do not make fun of the other team

-Do not over-celebrate your team’s goal, your spouse may not say anything but it wouldn’t feel great

-Don’t forget to prepare local dishes from your spouse’s country

-Remember it is just a game

-Make sure you are having fun, this is a good opportunity to find out more about your spouse’s country

-No matter what the score is, your family wins!

Croatian Children’s Stories – Croatian Culture for kids

Popular children’s stories in Croatia are those written by the Grimm brothers – Cinderella, Hans and Gretel, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Little Red Riding Hood, and so on.

Hans Christian Andersen stories are told to little children. The Ugly Duckling, The Princes and the Pea, and others are favorites.

Croatian children’s stories by Croatian writers are very popular, too. One of the most famous Croatian children stories’ writers is Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić. She has a book of short stories. The book is called The Stories from Long Ago. The best story from the collection is Stribor’s Forest.

The story is about a magic forest. A man went into the forest to cut wood, and there he found a beautiful snake. He was a good soul, but the snake was an enchanted and evil woman. She saw that the man was good and she turned into a beautiful girl.

A good man liked her, but he was naïve, as well. They got married. The man lived with his old mother. The snake-woman still had a snake tongue in her mouth. The Man’s mother saw that and warned her son. He got scared and started hating his mother. He thought she was a witch because she knew that and nobody told her.

The snake-woman was constantly trying to get rid of the mother. She sent the mother on a high mountain to get her fresh snow, so the snake-woman could wash her face in the morning. She was hoping the mother would die on the mountain, but the mother survived.

Next, the snake-woman sent the mother on the lake with thin ice to catch her fish for lunch. Mother survived that, too.

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When mother wanted to sew her son’s shirt, the snake-woman wouldn’t let her. Mother went in front of the house and cried. While she was crying, a poor young girl with sticks for fire came. She tried to sell the sticks to the mother. Mother sewed her ripped sleeve instead of paying for the sticks.

The son and the snake-woman went to neighbor’s house for a visit, and the snake-woman told the mother to heat up some water while she comes back. Mother started the fire with the sticks she bought from the poor girl. She heard crackling noises. They were the Homenies (Domaći) – little spirits. They were cheerful and started dancing. The mother forgot about her sorrow for a while and danced with them.

But, the Domaći felt her sadness. She told them about her daughter-in-law. The brightest of Domaći, named Malik Tintilinić, had an idea. They promised to bring magpie eggs to the old mother. When the little birds would come out of the egg, snake-woman wouldn’t resist. She would show her tongue to the son. They brought the eggs and put them under the chicken.

The snake-woman wanted to brag to the whole village how she has little chickens for Christmas, when nobody else does. When the little magpies hatched, the snake-woman couldn’t resist and wanted to eat them. The whole village saw her snake tongue.

Instead of kicking the snake-woman out of the house, the son got angry at mother. He told her she was a witch – how else would she get magpie eggs this time of year?

When mother left the house, the darkness fell. The son realized he made a mistake, but was too afraid of his wife. So, he pretended to be evil. He told his wife they should go and see how mother dies in the forest because of the cold.

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Mother was walking through the snow. She got tired and started the fire with those sticks she bought from the poor girl. Once again, Domaći came out of the fire. They decided to help the old woman. Malik called for a deer and 12 squirrels, because there were 12 Domaći spirits.

They all went to Stribor, the magical forest head. The snake-woman and the son followed. The snake-woman saw it was the magical forest, but instead of being scared, she was happy thinking the old woman will die there.

Stribor had a solution for the old woman. He told her he could let her go to her village, where she grew up. If she clapped her hands, she would become young again. She would also forget all about her son. But, the old woman couldn’t do that. She preferred being unhappy and knowing she had a son, then being young and happy and forget all about her son. The magical forest would disappear if there was a person who preferred her sadness than all the happiness in the world. When the old woman decided to refuse Stribor’s offer, the magic disappeared. The snake-woman turned into a snake again.

The son and the mother made peace. The son later married the poor girl who sold the mother those sticks for fire. Malik Tintilinić would visit them every winter night, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Here is a cartoon where you can see the story:

Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić also wrote a novel about Hlapić, the shoemaker Apprentice, and his adventures.

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Croatian Travel Destinations – Croatian Culture for kids

Croatia has many beautiful places that are worth a visit.

Even though Croatia is a small country, it has seven national parks. These are parts of nature that are protected from harm by law.

The oldest national park is Plitvice, or Plitvička jezera (Plitvice lakes). They are made from 16 wonderful lakes.

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The Source: Google search for images “Nacionalni park Plitvička jezera”

Near the Plitvice lakes there is another national park, the mountain Risnjak. It is a beautiful place full of natural wonders.

The Source: Google image search for “NP Risnjak”

National park Risnjak is not the only mountain that is protected. There is also Northern Velebit. It’s a part of the longest mountain in Croatia. There is a kind of a flower that grows only there, and nowhere else in the world.

The Source: Google search for images “Nacionalni park Sjeverni Velebit”, and “Velebitska degenija”

The mountain Velebit faces the sea, and a bit further in the sea there is a national park Kornati. Kornati are islands in the part of the Adriatic Sea that belongs to Croatia. Kornati are rocky islands that are beautiful, but not full of life.

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The Source: Google search for images “Kornati”

There is another island that is a national park, and that is the island of Mljet. Mljet is an island covered with forest and full of life.

The Source: Google search for images “NP Mljet”

National park Waterfalls of Krka is based on the river Krka and its beautiful waterfalls.

The Source: Google image search for “NP Krka”

These national parks are all based in the part of Croatia near the sea. There is only one national park in the continental part of Croatia. It’s a swamp area called Kopački rit. It is full of life. There are many kinds of birds living there, deer and doe, fish and many other animals.

The Source: Google image search “NP Kopački rit”

Beside national parks, there are many other places to visit as well.

Cities on the coast side of Croatia are pretty with their thousands of years old churches and old houses. For example, there is an old Roman Empire Arena in a city of Pula. It is about 2,000 years old. You can go inside and see how where the gladiators fought. Today, concerts take place there.

If you like continent and green nature better than sea, Croatia has many mountains, hills, and plains to offer. There are old castles you can visit.

The plain of Slavonija is known for its golden fields of wheat.

If you love science, you will want to visit the Museum of Nikola Tesla. He is a Croatian who lived in USA for more than a half of his life. He is one of the greatest scientists, but he is not as famous as some others are because he didn’t like to be in the center of attention. He invented radio, radar, X-rays, robots, but others took credit for those things.

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Croatian Cuisine and Traditional Foods – Croatian Culture for kids

Each part of Croatia has a different cuisine. You can taste something new every day.

Croatian people have three main meals in the day. Breakfast is light. People drink coffee, tea, or chocolate milk, and eat bread with jam.

Lunch is the biggest meal of the day. It usually has a soup, meat with vegetables prepared in different ways, and a salad. Salad is made of greens with a pinch of salt, and a sprinkle of oil and vinegar in the spring and summer, or pickled vegetables during the winter.

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Dinner is usually made of leftovers from lunch. If not, people cut dry sausages and cheese.

Croatian people really like eating bread, and they can eat it with almost anything. Old people can even eat bread when they eat fruits like oranges, figs, or grapes. Bread is often home-made, but sometimes people buy it from bakery shops.

Sea parts of Croatia eat a lot of fish and seafood like mussels, octopus, and calamari with olive oil, and vegetables. It’s called Mediterranean cuisine, and it’s very healthy and delicious. A lot of people are fishermen. They use their little boats called “barka” to go out to the sea and throw their fish nets to catch fish.

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People who live next to the sea say that a fish swims three times. The first time, it’s in the sea. The second time, it’s in the oil when it’s grilled. The third time, it is in wine that you drink when eating it.

Fish plate with fish, mussels, calamari, Swiss chard with potatoes shown above.

A way of preparing food under the metal top covered with hot ember is very popular. They often prepare young lamb or veal with potatoes, or octopus with potatoes this way.

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Cheese made from sheep milk and “pršut” (prosciutto) are very popular, and they taste delicious.

In the continental parts of Croatia, more heavy and spicy food is popular. “Kulen” is a spicy kind of a sausage that people like to eat.

Pork is a favorite kind of meat in continental parts of Croatia. There are many foods prepared from it.

Besides meat, pasta dishes are popular here. “Štrukli” is a meal made of pasta filled with cheese. “Štrukli” are prepared in many ways. They can be cooked in a soup or baked like a cake.

A kind of a stew called “paprikaš” with fish or meat is cooked with red pepper. Pepper gives it a spicy taste.

“Sarma” is a meal made from minced meat rolled in sour cabbage leaf. It is cooked in a soup with tomato sauce, and served with mashed potatoes.

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Apple strudel, berries strudel, cheese strudel and other kinds of strudel are a part of Croatian cuisine. “Krempite” (cream pies) are cakes with vanilla and egg cream and they are one of the most popular cakes in Croatia.

Traditional Croatian Music and Musical Instruments – Croatian Culture for kids

Croatians are a proud people who love their history. We said that they like to be in folk clubs and societies. In these clubs, they dress like people used to dress in villages. They sing old songs and dance like people used to.

The folk tradition is different in different parts of Croatia.

The part of Croatia next to the sea is called Dalmatia, Istria, and Kvaerner. If you have watched 101 Dalmatians, you could see cute white dogs with black spots. They come from Dalmatia, so they got their name.


In parts of Croatia next to the sea, traditional music has a few different types. There is a “klapa”. “Klapa” is a group of men who sing songs in groups, and there are no instruments. “Klapa” groups sing about sea, living next to sea, or about love.

They usually wear white shirts, black pants, and a red fabric belt.

In modern times, “klapa” groups started using modern instruments, and there are women “klapa” as well.

A part of Croatia with plains is called Slavonija. Parts of Croatia with mountains and hills are called Zagorje, Međimurje, even Lika. All of these have similar folk clubs and instruments, but they are still different from one place to the other. When they dance, a lot of people stand into the circle called “kolo”. They hold each other’s hand, or hold each other around the waist, and dance in circles while singing.

While they are singing and dancing, other people play instruments like “tamburica” .

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“Gajde”, similar to the instrument played in Scottish traditional music:

Or “diple”, similar to flute:

What should I wear? Croatian Fashion and Traditional Clothing – Croatian Culture for kids

Croatian people used to wear traditional clothes. Women wore dresses, and men wore shirts and pants. If they lived in a village, they usually wore white clothes made from rough fabrics.

They would decorate it with hand-made patterns, lace (Pag lace), or golden buttons (dukati). Women sometimes had complicated hair-dos.

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It is interesting that a tie is a Croatian invention. In the past, Croatian soldiers wore their neck pieces tied in a special way. In some languages, tie is called kravat, kravatta, corbata. All those names come from the name Croatian.

Today, people wear modern clothes like anywhere else. They wear jeans, shirts, dresses, sneakers, boots and so on.

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Croatian Etiquette: Proper Behavior and Manners – Croatian Culture for kids


Croatian people are very friendly. When you meet someone who is Croatian for the first time, you shake hands with him or her and look them in the eye. When you become friends with them, you can kiss girls quickly on each cheek one time, or hug boys and pat them on the back.

The Croatian people like to spend time together. They go to each other houses and have dinners together. They talk a lot while they’re eating. Usually they are making jokes and talking very loudly.

Croatian people like playing cards. Popular games are called “briškula”, “trešet”, or “bela”.

Sometimes, they will even sing traditional songs.

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When you want to talk to someone you don’t know well, you call them “Gospođice” (Miss), or “Gospođo” (Mrs.) and their last name. Mr. is “Gospodine” and his last name, for example, Gospodine Jones.

When you leave, you can say “Zbogom” which means goodbye. See you later is “doviđenja”. Some people even say “Ciao”, like Italians.

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Common Croatian Words and Phrases – Croatian Culture for kids

Croatian seems like a hard language to learn, but it’s not really. It’s easy to read because each letter is always read the same way.

When you are in Croatia, there are some common words and phrases you can use to get around, and they’re not too difficult to learn.

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Greeting people depends on the time of the day. Before noon, you say “Dobro jutro”. Between noon and evening, you say, “Dobar dan”, and when the night falls, you say “Dobra večer”.

When you want to ask someone how he or she is doing, you ask “Kako si?” They can say they’re okay, “Dobro sam”.

When you give someone a book, for example, you can say here you go, or “Izvolite”. They will answer with “Hvala”, and that means thank you. “Nema na čemu” means you’re welcome.

When someone sneezes, you tell them “Nazdravlje!”

When you want to wish someone to enjoy their meal, you say “Dobar tek”.

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If you want to apologize to something, you can say “Oprostite”, but most Croatian people will understand sorry as well. They watch a lot of American movies, so they started saying sorry instead of “Oprostite” even to each other.

Yes is “Da”, and no means “Ne”. When you want to say please in Croatian, you say “Molim”.

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Common Croatian Names (boys and girls) – Croatian Culture for kids

Most popular Croatian name is definitely Ivan, and variations of that name. Ivan is a name for boys. In English, it is the same as John.

Ivan can come in many variations. They could be Ivo, Ivano and Ivica for boys, or Ivana, Iva, Ivona for girls. “I” in those names is read like ee in week, not like i in ivy.

Other popular Croatian names for boys are Luka (Luke), Marko (Mark), Filip (Phillip), Josip (Joseph), Antonio (Anthony), Karlo (Carl), Petar (Peter), and so on. Most of these names are traditional and exist in Croatian language for a long time.

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For girls, besides Iva and Ivana, the most popular names are Ana (Anne) and Marija (Mary). There are cases when in one school class with 20 children, there are three or four girls named Marija, or three or four boys names Ivan.

Other popular names for girls are Lucija (Lucy), Mia, Lana, Nika, Dora, Sara, Katarina, Martina, Marina, and so on.

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