Bilingual family dilemmas

by | Oct 5, 2016 | Being the parent in a multilingual family, Challenges, Family life | 2 comments

Building family dilemmas

Living in a bilingual family brings with it a lot of joy – but also some particular dilemmas, some of them funny, but quite challenging nonetheless!

How to address everyone in the family at the same time

You would think asking everyone to come and eat would be straight-forward. In a bilingual family you end up repeating yourself in all the family languages so that everyone feels personally invited!

What language to talk

We may have it all figured out within the family, but what to do when someone else joins the discussion. If the person is monolingual, then we switch accordingly – but which language to talk when the person is also bilingual? If the person is someone you don’t know, you may end up choosing the “wrong” or less preferred language – and find it extremely difficult to swap after you have started talking.

Where to spend your holiday

Should you choose the interesting city break, a sunny beach or the language immersion for your kids – it mostly it ends up being the one that will benefit your children’s minority language.

How to write a card

You are on a rare holiday on your own and want to surprise your family with a nice postcard – but which language do you write in, so that everyone feels it is for them? You end up using different languages or several cards! The same applies for holiday greeting cards that go to bilingual families. I usually end up buying a card in one language, then writing it in another.

Bilingual bookshelfIn which language to buy a book

You find an interesting-looking book and you notice that it is a translation. You usually want to read books in the original language, if possible, but other family members who would also like to read it prefer the translation. Which one do you choose?

Translating on the fly

Your little one wants to hear a specific story, but the book you have is not in your language, so you do your best to translate it on the fly. Problem is that you do not remember exactly how you did it last time and your kid complains that you are reading it wrong, as it is not the same!

Picking the traditions to keep alive

In a family with several languages you usually also have several cultures represented, each with their own traditions. You can try to keep them all alive, but it is often a struggle so you have to compromise. We keep the ones we enjoy… and create new ones.

When to teach your kids to read and write in the home language

Should you start at the same time as your children start learning at school, should you wait or what to do? Take a cue from your kids – if they show interest, go ahead! There is no set time which is right or wrong as long as your child is keen to learn.

Choosing the name for your baby

As if selecting a name for a baby wasn’t difficult enough, add to that an array of cultural references, pronunciation issues and vastly different extended family preferences!

What about your family – which special dilemmas have you encountered?


Never miss a post! Sign up to the Multilingual Parenting newsletter and I will send you a recap of the week’s posts every Sunday. Every second week you will receive a more extensive issue with links to research articles and interesting posts from other writers, as well as handy tips and ideas! Want to read more like this? My book Bringing up a Bilingual Child is available on Amazon and in well-stocked bookshops. Do you have a specific question? You can send it to our team of Family Language Coaches and we will reply in a Q&A (questions are answered in order of arrival). If you are interested in tailor-made family language coaching, please, contact me and I will send you a proposal.


  1. Annalisa

    How do you know if a book is in its original language or is a translation?

    • Rita

      Check the title page and the copyright page (which usually comes straight after the title page) at the start of the book. If the book has been translated, you will on one of them find the name of the translator. On the copyright page you should also find the original title of the book. If this information is not there, then the book is in its original language.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.