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Oct 292017
 

“Will my grandson ever learn English, or will he have a strong accent?”

 

Question

Hello

My English son married a Mexican girl and their son was born in the US where they still live. My daughter-in-law speaks English but with a very heavy accent and she has found this to be a great disadvantage life and work wise, as where they live there is overt discrimination against Mexicans.

May daughter-in-law speaks only Spanish to my 4-year-old grandson and translates the little boy’s words to my son and his English family rather than encouraging him to speak his father’s language. This means we can’t communicate very well with our grandson which is upsetting but the issue that bothers me most is that my grandson will either not speak English ever or with a strong accent in a country where this will disadvantage him.

What should his father and family do? My son continues to speak English to his son but will the maternal influence language wise be the dominant one long term?

Thank you,
Susan

Answer

Dear Susan

Thank you for your question about your grandson’s potential accent on his English.

I believe your question comes from a sentiment of love for your grandson and a concern for how his languages will develop and the effects on him. Understandably you also find it upsetting that you cannot yet communicate with him as well as you would wish.

For your son to grow up bilingual in Spanish and English, it is important that your daughter-in-law speaks Spanish with him. Otherwise he would completely miss out on communicating with his mother’s side of the family. At the moment, she is helping him be understood at home by translating into English when necessary. Maybe, if you and your son were to learn a little Spanish, she would not have to translate at all? Your son should not be concerned about getting a response in Spanish – this is normal bilingual child behaviour, until your grandson’s English develops.

As your grandson’s Spanish is more advanced than his English, I presume he has spent more time with his mother than his father. Thus, it is perfectly normal that Spanish is his dominant language – for now. However, your son speaks only English to him, and as your grandson grows, the outside English influence will become more prevalent through friends, school and media.

So I am not quite sure from where your concern that your grandson will not learn English at all comes from. As long as the family continues living in the US and he will go to school in the country, and his father and your side of the family speak English with him, there is no doubt he will learn English. Most likely, he will also speak it accent-free.

You find that your daughter-in-law should encourage your grandson to speak English. I don’t think that this is really her role in the family, do you? Every family member who speaks English with your grandson should be as engaging, fun and positively interactive as possible with him, to entice him to use his English more and more. It will come.

Instead of concentrating on the perceived negatives of learning Spanish, I hope you can find it within you to be happy and proud that your grandson grows up bilingual and focus on helping him with his English. You are an important part of his life and you can offer him a life-time of English language inspiration. Equally, your son should just continue speaking English with his son, read a lot of books to him and generally interact with him at every opportunity.

Wishing you all a successful, harmonious 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

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