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Oct 232014
 

Question

I have a dilemma – we are a bilingual couple, my native language is English and my husband is German. I have studied German so I am more or less fluent in it having spent a few years in Germany. We live in the US and none of my husband’s relatives live here, nor are there any other German families where we live. We are expecting our first baby and have decided to make German our home language, mainly because my husband works long hours which means that he will effectively be able to see the baby only at the weekends. This is an arrangement which we hope will make sure that our child learns German well – however, my parents are upset that their first grandchild will learn German and not English and want us to give up on German altogether. I haven’t really talked to them about this yet – what do you suggest, how should I go about it?

Thank you in advance for your help!
Diane

Answer

Dear Diane,

thank you for your question and congratulations on soon becoming a family! I am happy that you have decided to raise your child to become bilingual, but understand that you worry about your parents’ opinion about it. First of all, it is your and your husband’s decision to make which language you want to speak to our baby and you are absolutely right that if you make German the language you all speak together, your child will learn German. Effectively what you are doing is adopting the so called Minority language at home approach. Especially since your husband’s time with your child will be limited to weekends only, this is indeed the best strategy for you.

You say that you are “more or less fluent” in German and I presume that you have thought about the different (and new!) situations which will arise with the arrival of the baby. If you feel comfortable in speaking German with your baby in these situations, even when you are on your own with him or her, then I can see no issue with it.

Then to the sticking point: your parents opinion. Your baby is their first grandchild and I can imagine that they are very much looking forward to spending time with the little one. My guess (and hope) is that their main worry is that they will not be able to communicate with him or her. Looking at it from their point of view, this is an understandable concern to have. I suggest that you talk to them about why you have chosen German as your home language: tell them about all the benefits there are with bilingualism. Explain to them that your child will learn English no matter what and that it is perfectly fine that they speak English to him on her all the time. Tell them how quickly children pick up languages when they are small and that as grandparents they will play a vital role in this. Emphasize that you would love it if they read English books to their grandchild and later played games and watched children’s programs together in English. Also point out that if your child did not learn German, he or she would have no common language with the other side of the family!

Good luck! Do tell us how it went – and do not hesitate to ask further questions.
All the best,
Rita

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  2 Responses to “Q&A: Grandparents disagree about our language choice”

  1. My parents are also concerned about our language choices at home. They are often frustrated by not being able to understand my daughter. However, I’m usually there to translate and, in my case, as soon as my daughter enters preschool, she’ll pick up the community language. I explain that they just need to be patient. She’ll have more than enough community language soon enough. Obviously, your parents want to connect with your child. But I think you can explain that that will come naturally as long as you have a plan for the baby to learn English at some point.

  2. Just wanted to add that this is bound to be only one of many issues where the grandparents disagree. They should soon (within a couple of years tops if they stay involved with your child and speak English to her/him) see that your decision was sound, and that should help with future disagreements as well :-)

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