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Jul 142016
 

How to pass on a minority language when both parents work?

Question

Hi,

I’m currently pregnant but have started questioning so many things about my kids already. Me and my husband both are from India settled in US. My parents do not understand English and can speak only in native language.

I would like my kids to learn and write my native language so they can interact with my parents and my relatives back in India. However, myself and my husband both are working parents and not sure if we will be able to make my kids read and write in our native language since we will leave them in daycare where they are taught only English. So majority of the time, they only speak English and interaction with us will be very less during weekdays.

With that said, how do we teach them our native language? Will they be able to pick up with the amount of time spent at home speaking our native language? I also looked into option for immersion school but could not find anything in the city I live.

Can you please advise how I can train my kids our native language?
Karpagam

Answer

Hi Karpagam,

Congratulation on your upcoming family addition and thank you for your question, which, I am sure, is on the minds of many working parents!

First, let me comment on your last question, how to “train” or “teach” your kids your language. I have put the words train and teach in quotation marks as when you pass on a language to your children, you do not actually teach or train them. Children acquire the languages of their parents and of anyone else caring for them or who they spend enough time with.

You do not mention which language you and your husband now speak with each other (English or your family language), but if it is not your native language, then I would recommend that you switch straight away. “What’s the rush?” you may ask, as the baby is not even born yet and it will take a year or so before he or she starts to speak.

The fact is that switching the language you speak with someone is not an easy thing to do and it might take some getting used to for both of you. When the baby is born, you will have your hands full and a lot of other things on your mind. Establishing your native language as your home language before the baby arrives puts you in a good position to pass it on to your little one.

With both of you speaking your native language at home, you would be following the minority language at home (mL@H) strategy. Even though you both work, you will be speaking your language with your child in the mornings, evenings and on the weekends. In addition, your little one will also be interacting with the grandparents in the language.

It is correct that your child will get a lot of English exposure as soon as she or he attends English-speaking daycare. There will be English in the community and the media, and future friends will most likely also speak English. Because there will be a lot of exposure to the majority language, it is important that you establish the home as a “native language haven” and avoid using English with your child.

With regards to literacy, learning to read and write, you still have plenty of time to find a solution for this. Make sure you have books and other reading material available in your language. When your child is a bit older and has more patience, follow the text with your finger, establishing a connection between the written form and the sounds.

Once your child shows interest in learning, go with the flow and maybe get books which are in use in schools where your language is taught. If there are other families with the same language, you could try to put together a small class during weekends, if you cannot find an existing one.

Wishing you the best of luck in passing on your native language, with commitment and consistent language use at home you can do it!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages.

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  3 Responses to “Q&A: How to pass on a minority language when both parents work?”

  1. So interesting, every family needs to adopt the strategy that works better for them. Gracias!

  2. Dear Karpagam,
    Just to give you peace of mind: both me and my husband are full time working parents with our daughter attending English speaking day care and us speaking exclusively German with her @ home but also anywhere else. She did not delay to speak in any of her two languages and they are roughly equally developed. Now at almost 2 years of age she occasionally still mixes languages. We do understand her also when she speaks the other (English) language. We just ask her if she wants this or that in our language and continue.

    Now the much harder thing is what we are currently doing: we are switching the family language to English, because we recently moved back to Germany. Currently we are often mixing languages, because we are so used to speak German with each other. If my daughter speaks to me in German I need to concentrate to answer her in English. Also I thought I was pretty fluent in English, but now realize that some of the toddler language is a passiv language knowledge for me. Potty training language is very different vocabulary to standard adult conversation and business English ?

  3. I would also look at ways you can deemphasize English…no radio on in car, just cds in the target language, no tv or only in the target language etc. Good luck! Hopefully you can find support in your area, and find ways to modify your working schedule too…I do still think it is possible, but you are right to recognize the challenge.

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