Q&A: “Am I a poor parent for not speaking the minority language with our child?”

by | Feb 9, 2017 | Coaches, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family, Rita R | 1 comment

“Am I a poor parent for not speaking the minority language with our child?”




I have question and maybe this may seem silly, but do you think that the fact that parents who don’t teach or raise their kids as native bilinguals are “poor parents”?

My son is 7. He speaks predominantly English at home but can communicate a little bit in Spanish with my parents. It never really bothered me because they have a good relationship and he enjoys his time with them, despite him not being fluent (he understands everything just fine too) in Spanish.

I have been criticized by other people in our community because he cannot speak like the folks back home and have been telling me I am poor mother for not teaching him Spanish and letting him speak English with me. My sister gets it worse because her kids can understand the language and somewhat speak, but they prefer to speak English.

It’s been bothering me lately. My son speaks Spanish with my parents only, and he learns more when they come to visit, but I never realized it’s an expectation that he has to be exceptional in it. Even my parents weren’t bothered by it because regardless of some communication struggle, the love between them is pretty powerful.

He speaks English with my husband and me and I find he does love to engage in Hispanic culture. I don’t know, I know the Hispanic community in general is very judgemental on language and tend to berate those who don’t speak Spanish or speak it fluently.

I thought about just going with the flow and let him learn at his own pace, because I thought kids learn best when discovering the beauty of learning a language on their own rather than me forcing him to speak more, but I guess it’s not ok? Or maybe it’s just that people are absolute jerks and that society is just not so kind? What to do in this situation?



Dear Sarita

Thank you for your question which is definitely not silly! You are asking about something that bothers you and I can see why.

From the outset, I want to make it clear that in no way do I think you are (or anyone else is) a “poor parent” for not passing on a family language. In your case, you must have passed on something of the minority language as your son does understand Spanish and most importantly, loves the Hispanic culture. Also, he has a great relationship with his grandparents!

Like with any parenting decisions, there will always be those who criticize and tell you that you are doing this or that wrong, be it about clothing, food, bedtime, screen time, chores, schooling … and indeed about family languages. I cannot say I am familiar with the Hispanic community in particular, but if I were you I would do my very best to ignore any negative or criticizing comments. My recommendation is to smile, thank the other person for the opinion and move on – either away from the person or to another topic, depending on the situation. Trying to argue your point is rarely helpful and will just make you feel more ill at ease. Others’ expectations are exactly that: “others'” not yours to keep!

Whatever works in your family is the right solution for you – it sounds like your son is willing to use whatever Spanish he knows when speaking with his grandparents and this is really encouraging. Help him maintain this positive attitude to the language by being encouraging without putting pressure on him. He may well want to improve his Spanish-skills at some point and you will be able to help him.

Many children learn a family language without their parents active intervention – like you say, they learn at their own pace. What you do have to keep in mind is that this happens in scenarios where there is enough exposure to the language for the child to pick it up, for example at school or from other relatives or friends. If your son only occasionally gets the chance to interact in Spanish then the likelihood is that he will become a receptive bilingual, i.e. he would understand Spanish but be reluctant or unable to speak it.

Whatever you decide to do, base the decision on what you find is best for your son and your family, not on what others’ think you should do.

Wishing you a successful bilingual family journey!

Kind regards

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.

1 Comment

  1. Jennifer

    I can relate to Sarita’s experience. My sister and I are mostly English speakers because it’s the language we are most comfortable with, but we understand Spanish just fine. My parents speak both Spanish and English with us but like she said, the Spanish community (am sure other communities as well) is very judgemental and arrogant when it comes to it and blames parents for failing their kids if they don’t speak fluent Spanish. Some go on to even harass those who attempt if it’s not perfect. My parents were in this situation so many times to a point where they start to feel bad and wish they forced us to speak when we were young (guilt trip?), but I just get angry because they are great parents as they loved us, took care of us and were always there for us, not the on the fact that we don’t speak our “mother tongue”! And I realized it just doesn’t matter as you can never please people anyway because my sister later wanted to speak Spanish and took the willpower to learn and can speak great, but still she gets harassed because she has an accent and at times makes mistakes. There were a few times where she just got turned off and extremely upset because of the judgmental attitudes she received. She used to like talking alot so now she will hardly speak it. In addition, we were accused of other things like enjoying “American” things and therefore we are not Hispanic and are told we should blame our parents for that. It’s ridiculous. Languages are great, and it’s good to preserve some aspects of culture, but if people are going to be very nationalistic and tear down people for not fitting a certain mold, what’s the point?


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