“I wish my Mum had taught me her language”

by | Jun 19, 2013 | Being the parent in a multilingual family, Bilingual benefits, Family life, Language | 3 comments

“I wish my Mum had taught me her language”

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!

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3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Found your site through Google. Thank you for the helpful articles! My husband’s mother is Finnish and all her family is living in Finland or other parts or Europe. Fortunately, they all speak English well so we all can communicate well. However, my parents are Korean American and although they have lived in the US for almost 40 years, they prefer to speak in Korean. My kids are now 11 & 13 years old and I really wish I had taught them Korean so they can better communicate with my Korean speaking family. I’m thinking of enrolling them in Korean language classes. My 13 year will be taking a foreign language in High School in the fall but Korean is not an option. Any tips?

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Hello and sorry for the very late reply, there was a general issue with the comments whichs I only recently detected.
      With your kids being 11 and 13, the most important thing is to involve them in the decision-making and together come up with a strategy that works. They will learn the best when they want to learn and the learning is fun. Think about what motivates your kids, then incorporate this into the learning process. Maybe they can get some awards when they start learning – it all depends on your parenting style, of course.
      Good luck!
      Rita

      Reply
    • Avatar

      Hello again
      – as I think a more in-depth answer to your question is something that could benefit other readers as well, I have decided to pick it up as a separate question. We will pick up your question in a Q&A on the site on the 11th of April. Put a note in your calendar to check the home page on that day, as it will have a link to the response.
      Kind regards
      Rita

      Reply

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