Q&A: How to be consistent speaking the minority language AND include the other parent?

by | Nov 26, 2015 | Coaches, Family life, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family, Rita R | 0 comments



I am sure this question has come up a lot in the past, but I figured I would ask again. I live in New York. My husband is American and only speaks English, I am Colombian though was raised multilingual (French, English and Spanish). We have a 10-month-old son, who we are trying to raise bilingual (English-Spanish). He goes to English day care two days and has a Spanish-speaking nanny three days a week. The rest of the time he is with us.

However, because my husband does not speak Spanish I often end up switching into English in order to include him. When it’s just my son and me, it’s always Spanish. My question is how can I go around having to switch into English with my husband and have a fun, inviting family life that includes both languages?

Thanks so much!


Thank you for getting in touch, Maria. Yes, this is a question that comes up once in while but I am happy to answer it again.

You do not mention whether you have discussed the topic with your husband, but as you have hired a Spanish-speaking nanny, I presume you agree about raising your son to become bilingual in English and Spanish, which is great. With your son being surrounded by English-speakers two days a week and spends time with his Spanish-speaking nanny three days, you have created an ideal environment for him to learn both languages.

Spanish will be his minority language, so it would be beneficial for his language skills if you could speak as much Spanish as possible to him. I can understand your wish to keep to speaking your language to support him.

Have you asked your husband how he feels about you speaking Spanish with your son when you are all together? The discussions we have with a baby or small child are normally fairly simple and much can be understood from the context, even if you were not understand the actual words. Also, children do not learn to speak overnight, so if he is willing, your husband has plenty of time to learn at least basic Spanish alongside your son.

If your husband would be fine with the above approach, it is important that you emphasize that you want him to ask straight away, when there is a discussion he does not understand enough of. Always translate when he asks, and do your best to include him in anything you do together. For this approach to be successful, it is vital that your husband does not feel left out when you are together as a family.

Initially it will probably take a lot of translating from you, but experience from other families has shown that the need of translation decreases, and – with a positive attitude to this approach – the majority language parent will soon pick up at least enough of the language to follow everyday discussions.

I wrote a post about this topic in an article not too long ago which you might want to show to your husband: Bilingual families: the role of the majority language parent

Good luck with your family’s multilingual journey and please ask any follow-up questions below!

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.


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.