I would like to ask a coach a question. I am Argentinean, my first language is Spanish, English and French. I am now living in Montreal and my husband is French Canadian. He speaks French most of the time at home. He has a daughter who stays with us 50% of the time and we have a baby son together.
Usually, we wanted to each speak to our kids in our language. So French and Spanish. My catch is that I have been away from Argentina for a long time. My husband does not speak Spanish so when I am tired, English is my go-to language. All of my friends here are anglophones and I generally go through life around the English environment here in Montreal. I find it difficult to think that my kids will not speak English when that is the language I choose for my every day life, but at the same time, I know that Spanish is the language of my son’s extended family in Argentina and it probably will be a language he won’t be surrounded with here in Canada.
In a perfect world, I would like to be able to speak Spanish when we are alone (or surrounded by Spanish speakers) and English when we are out or at home so my husband understands. I find that it might be too confusing and I don’t know how to tackle this.
To add a complication, I can only speak French to my step-daughter or my family-in-law so my baby will know that I speak the majority language. It is then difficult to say speak to mommy in x language when your sister is allowed to speak to me in French. We are trying to adjust my husband’s reflex so he speaks English to me instead of French but it’s a difficult habit (and he is not good with languages).
So now it’s a mess. I speak Spanish, English or sometimes French to the baby, French to my stepdaughter, English to my husband. Sometimes we mix it all together and we all have conversations in our languages (and mixing it). My baby is 1 year old, and I feel i need guidance on this.
Thanks for writing! Wow, that does sound like a challenging situation, but not one that we can’t find a solution for!
My first advice to you would be to encourage you to choose a family language. I believe that French would be the most logical choice as your husband and stepdaughter are French Canadian, especially during the weeks when your stepdaughter is staying with you. This will help to create harmonious family relationships. It is okay and even good to speak to your baby in French during this time. This will help introduce clarity and reduce possible tensions as you will speak to both siblings and their father in the same language when you are all together.
When your stepdaughter is not staying with you or when you are with other English speakers, switch your family language to English. Your husband will understand you, and your baby will get sufficient language input in English. In short, you will spend 50% in French and 50% in English. I use a similar system with my own family that you can read about here.
Spanish is the tricky part, but there is a solution for that as well! Choose some special one-on-one moments with your baby such as bath time, story time, etc. Speak to your son only in Spanish during these times no matter what the family language is at the time. Keep in mind that as he will have lesser amounts of input in Spanish, he will most likely not achieve the same level of proficiency as he will in French or English, but that is okay.
The important thing is to have him hear your voice speaking Spanish and to create an emotional bond with him in that language. As he grows older, you can increase his exposure to native Spanish through Skype calls to family in Argentina, playgroups with other native speakers in Montréal, or some after-school classes. If it’s possible, plan a trip to Argentina where he will be immersed in the language and culture while visiting family.
I hope you will find this perspective helpful and that you will soon be more at ease in your multilingual goals!
Best of luck to you!