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Sep 222016
 

When should parents in a mL@H family switch to the majority language?

Question

Dear Rita,

I’m raising two children in the United States where they will learn English naturally from their surroundings but I speak to them in Greek about 90-95% of the time and my husband also speaks to them in Greek but more of a mix of the two languages.

My first question is about play dates and public. Should I continue to speak to them in Greek even when we’re around non-Greek speakers in public? I sometimes feel it’s rude or strange.

My second question is around discipline and “heavy” conversations as they get older. Do you recommend sticking to Greek even when disciplining them? What about when they are older and I have to address some social issue or a self esteem type issue?

I would appreciate your guidance on this. I really enjoy your blog and I appreciate the help while I take on this challenge!

Kindly,
Angelika

Answer

Dear Angelika

Thank you for your questions about the choice of language with your children in different situations. Since both of you use the family language with your children for most of the time, you are largerly following the minority language at home (mL@H) family language strategy.

You do not mention the age of your children, but I presume that they are still at home with you. The amount of exposure to Greek – if it stays at the level you mention – is enough for them to become confident Greek-speakers. Once they start daycare or school, English will become more dominant in their lives and it is good to establish a solid foundation in Greek for them before this.

Because of the above, I would recommend that you stick to Greek as much as possible, even in public and on play dates. In this way your children will get used to always speak Greek with you – this is especially important if your husband is more used to switching between languages when he speaks with your kids.

When you are among the general public and not in specific people’s company I would stick to this rule all the time. You don’t want your language to become something that can only be spoken at home. Your children should feel that it is natural to speak Greek, wherever they are – if you always switch to English when you are out and about, this would in my opinion give the wrong signals about the importance of your home language.

To work around situations where others are in your company, you can always translate when necessary, i.e. say something in Greek when you speak directly with your children and repeat the same in English to the rest of the company, be it children or adults. If an adult ever questions your habit of speaking Greek with your children, I would simply explain the reasons why you do it – they need consistent Greek exposure from you to maintain their family language.

Your second question is about disciplining and deeper discussions when your kids grow older. My advice is the same – stick to Greek in both situations. There is no need to introduce English as neither the language you take to when you are upset, nor when you need to have a meaningful discussion with your children. You do not mention how fluent you are in English, but since you speak Greek to your children almost all of the time, I would think Greek should be the natural choice of language not only for every day talks but also in all other situations.

Wishing you a successful bilingual family journey!

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. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

  One Response to “Q&A: When should parents in a mL@H family switch to the majority language?”

  1. I have a follow-up question to this. In the United States (which I am a native of but now live elsewhere), they press the importance of not making up cutesy names for genitalia and calling it what it is because in sexual assault cases, the defense can ask that information be rendered useless if it’s not “real.” In the US, since there is no official language and because Greek is a real language, the children could testify in whatever language and have a legal right to a translator. But what about when a person (such as myself) lives in a country where the home language is not an officially recognized language of the country? (I’ll essentially be doing mL@H.) Should I be teaching my children important Spanish words as well?

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