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Sep 112016
 

What to do when the other parent is against speaking the minority language?
Question

Hi,

I am Chinese and my husband is English. I speak English but my husband doesn’t speak any Chinese. I am excited about my daughter learning to speak both languages and I’ve set myself goal since I was pregnant that I will teach my daughter Chinese, talk to her in Chinese only to give her all the exposure I can since we live in the UK.

My daughter now is 20 months old and has started picking up a words, I’m very thrilled. But I can also see she would prefer English in some words even though she knows both. I think maybe English is easier to pronounce than Chinese? I don’t know. I’m not yet disappointed though a bit worried. And I’m not giving up. My barrier is not how my daughter responds.

But my husband keeps giving me hard time when I speak in Chinese to my daughter. To the point our family is in danger. I find it very unreasonable and I’m not giving in. I would like to know how other multilingual family do it. Does one parent get jealous when they don’t understand what the other parent is talking about?

Thank you very much and I look forward to hearing from you.
Chloe

Answer

Dear Chloe,

Thank you for your heartfelt message – I feel for you in your quest to make sure your daughter learns your language, Chinese, which is the minority language in your family situation. I completely agree that the support from your husband, the majority language parent, is vital.

Learning Chinese would be such a tremendous asset for you daughter, not only because she would learn the language of this half of her relatives, but also in terms of all the advantages bilingualism brings with it. Among the benefits, the financial ones could be significant as Chinese will undoubtedly be one of the languages that there will be even more need for in the UK.

You do not mention if your husband has ever talked about why he is unwilling to support your daughter’s Chinese – have you discussed this with him in a neutral situation? I get the impression from your message that there are times when the use of Chinese might have lead to an argument between you and your husband. This is not when you should bring this topic up to discussion, but choose a calmer moment.

I know you feel very passionate about passing on Chinese your daughter, but to find a way to do it, it is important that you are composed when you speak to your husband about this. Be prepared to listen to his opinion without interrupting him with a counter argument. Start by stating that you are aware that he is not enthusiastic about Chinese and that you would like to understand his point of view. Ask him to explain in his own words why he is against it.

If your husband does not want to expand on his reasons or refuses to talk about it, explain to him why it is so important both for you and your daughter that she learns Chinese. This is something very close to your heart, and you have the right to hear his reasoning behind trying to deny this. If he is still unwilling to talk, ask him some specific questions about a recent situation where it was clear that he didn’t like you talking Chinese. What exactly worried or upset him?

Once you get some idea about what is the most crucial part of the situation, work on that aspect to find a way around it. You mention jealousness in your question, but don’t presume that this is the only or complete explanation to how your husband feels. If he does confirm that he worries about being left out and not understanding what you speak to and with your daughter, offer to explain and translate whenever needed. I know this might sound like a lot of work, but it will show your commitment to the process and your willingness to compromise.

The most important thing is to keep communicating with your husband, trying to avoid a confrontation, but still persisting on speaking Chinese with your daughter. It will be a balancing act, and I wish you all the best! Please let us know how it goes!

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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  2 Responses to “Q&A: What to do when the other parent is against speaking the minority language?”

  1. Hi Rita,

    Thank you for your advice. Since I wrote to you, situation regarding speaking Chinese to my daughter has improved a lot. It did take a bit of confrontation, but now he’s more relaxed and happy to learn some words as well as my daughter start to express herself in Chinese, I’m so pleased.

    And I will just stick in some english words as I speak Chinese with my daughter as well, so my husband can understand what we are talking about without feeling left out.

    Thank you and I’ll keep reading your newsletter as we grow with my daughter.

    Best regards
    Chloe

    • Hi Chloe,

      Fantastic – I am so glad to hear you have found a compromise which works for everyone in the family!

      Kind regards
      Rita

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