Q&A: Bilingual teenager refuses to study minority language as a subject – what to do?

by | Jan 21, 2016 | Coaches, Q&A How to motivate a bilingual / multilingual child to speak a family language, Rita R, Teenagers | 0 comments



What do you recommend doing when your bilingual child is refusing to choose the minority language as a subject in High School? My daughter says she can speak it and doesn’t want to start with the basics and would hate the other pupils asking her for answers all the time. She also refuses private lessons where other pupils wouldn’t be an issue.

I would say my daughter’s language skills are not too bad, though grammar, writing etc need improvement. I have tried to explain to her that it would enhance her grammar, reading, writing, understanding and could be helpful with her career, also that is part of her family/upbringing and important to me but she is having none of it. I feel it is important as it is part of our family and apart from myself nobody really speaks it.

My husband has never made an effort to learn my language and I am gradually using it less and less because it feels like a huge struggle to be honest.

Thank you,


Dear Amy,

Thank you for your question, which you posted in a blog comment some time ago. I am answering it here so that more readers can benefit from it.

I appreciate that your family language is important to you and that you would very much like your bilingual teenager to improve her language skills. Your daughter however does not want to study the language as a subject at High School, nor have a tutor.

This is the important part – for a child to learn a language, or in your daughter’s case, to improve her language skills, the child must want to do it. If your daughter were to reluctantly agree to choose the language as a subject, depending on the teacher, there is always a chance that she could end up liking the classes. However, with her negative attitude towards the language as a school subject, this would probably not happen. Unfortunately, even promises of future benefits often do not seem relevant to teenagers.

So instead of trying to convince your daughter with logical or emotional arguments to study the language, look for ways to make her want to improve it herself. Think of her general interests – can you find a way where she would need to get better at her minority language to be able to do something she is really keen on? Is there an activity she could participate in? Could she spend some time in a country where the language is spoken? You know your daughter best, so you will be the person to determine what this activity could be.

You say that your daughter’s language skills are “not bad” – maybe you could even say “quite good”? This sounds more positive and something to build on. If you agree to her not choosing the language as a subject at High School, maybe she could instead be okay with using it more with you at home? Try to find a way to get more fun into talking the family language together. This way your own motivation to speak it would also increase.

Please do not give up on your language, continue speaking it at home. I know it feels lonely right now, but I can assure you that you will not regret doing it. I have yet to come across an adult person who regrets learning a language when they were young – I have however heard from many adults who remember feeling put off by their parents being too forceful in their expectations on them. Even if your daughter does not appreciate it right now, when she grows older she will be thankful to you for giving her the gift of an additional language, and she may well end up brushing up on her grammar and writing skills later on.

All the best to you both!

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.


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