I don’t know how many times I have heard comments along those lines – someone regretting that one of their parents didn’t pass on their language. I have never heard the opposite though, anyone regretting that they learnt a language when they were small.
This speaks volumes about how important knowing your family’s languages is to you. I have heard a young girl speaking about how excited she was about meeting her grandparents for the first time in her mother’s home country, and how frustrated she was about not being able to bond with them due to the language barrier. I have spoken to a grandmother who feels that she can never get really close to her growing grandchildren, as they do not have a common language.
I have experienced this situation first hand myself, as my younger daughter Daniela learnt Swedish and Punjabi, but not Finnish which is the main language of her maternal grandmother’s family. I remember having to translate between her and her great grandmother during visits. Daniela has also said that she sometimes felt a bit left out as she couldn’t follow all the discussions in the family. If I could, I would go back and do things differently to make sure she also gained the knowledge of Finnish when she was small. I am so happy that she has now taken up Finnish lessons at university and is making good progress.
If you are a bilingual yourself, you don’t always realise what it feels like not to understand what people are saying around you. With the benefit of the languages I know at least a little of, I very rarely end up in a situation where I can’t communicate at all with people around me. When it does, it is always a bit of a shock to the system. Last time it happened was during our honeymoon in Hungary. The Finnish and Hungarian languages are remotely related, but there is nothing remotely common about them anymore!
Being bilingual is a great gift that every multilingual family should give their children – don’t miss the opportunity if you have it!