I will soon become a proud grandmother to my son’s first child and I wonder how I could help in teaching him Finnish. My son knows conversational Finnish but his strongest language is English and his wife speaks English. They would very much like their child to learn Finnish and I would like to support them as much as I can. We live near each other so I can see them fairly frequently.

Thank you for any advice you can give me.



Dear A.H,

First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your decision to support your son and his wife in bringing up their first child to become bilingual. It will surely be a great help for them especially if, like you say, your son knows “more conversational Finnish but his strongest language is English”.

You will probably make sure that together with your son and his wife you agree on a family plan that includes time you’ll spend with your grandchild on a regular basis. In the beginning, you will speak, sing and read to your grandchild and simply talk Finnish when alone with him/her and your son. You don’t mention if your daughter-in-law understands Finnish. You may want to avoid her not understanding what you say to her child, as this could cause some uncomfortable situations and tensions between you all.

Maybe she could envisage the opportunity to learn a bit of Finnish alongside her child? With the help of children’s books – which have simple sentence structures and usually basic vocabulary – and poems and songs, she would learn the language more easily. She may decide how proficient she wants to become in speaking Finnish, but in my experience, it would surely help if she understands what you say and what her child will talk later. It can be distressing for a mother (or a parent in general) if she doesn’t understand her own child.

I don’t know if you would consider making a language plan for the first years? You may mention this option to your son and his wife. You can find a model for this in Rita’s book and we could help you with this, if you want.

Please let us know what you decide to do and if we can be of any further help.

In the meantime I wish you all the best.

With very kind regards,
Ute Limacher-Riebold