My husband and I are expecting a baby. We live in the US, and he is from a small African country. He speaks his native language fluently and very good English and French.
I want our child to speak his language (which I have only basic knowledge of), so she can feel connected to the culture and eventually speak to the extended family back home, none of whom speak English. But my husband’s language is spoken by relatively few people and has no practical use at all outside of those family visits, which are unlikely to happen often.
We have a few picture books in that language, but there are very few books published in it for any level, and no TV, movies, etc. We don’t know anyone else in the community who speaks the language. We wonder if it’s really worth the time and effort to do OPOL for a language our child will have very little need for or opportunity to use, other than with the dad.
Thank you for your question about choosing the languages to speak with your child.
Let me start with saying that I will not give a direct answer to your question, because ultimately only you and your husband will know the answer to it. Instead, I will suggest a few things to take into consideration when making that decision.
You mention that your husband speaks his native tongue fluently and very good English and French. How does he feel about potentially not speaking the language he is most familiar with to your baby? Does he feel comfortable with the thought of not using his native tongue to express his feelings to your child?
I know that you mention that learning your husband’s language will be of “no practical use” to your child, but there is still a big value to it for your son/daughter later on in life. Like you say, knowing the language will give your child and instant connection to his or her roots and relatives in Africa. This connection would still be strongly there through to the next generation. That said, knowing the language is of course not a requirement, but it certainly makes it easier to understand a culture. Try to put yourself in your child’s adult shoes – what difference would knowing / not knowing the African family language mean to him/her?
Resources are always a challenge, especially with small minority languages. Nowadays it is however easier than ever to stay in touch over long distances using online video calls and other apps. Many minority language parents also translate books on the fly when they do not have any books available in a their language.
Being bilingual has many other benefits in addition to the ability to communicate with more people, so I always recommend that parents pass on an additional language to their children if they can do so. If you are committed to raising your child to be bilingual, then the other option is that your husband would speak French with your baby. How emotionally close is French for him? Has he been using the language in close relationships or only in a school or work environment? You would certainly have a lot more resources available to you, should you choose French.
Like I mentioned at the start, I will refrain from making a recommendation, but I hope that I have given you food for thought when you are deciding on your family language choices!
Wishing you a successful bilingual family journey!