Q&A: How to define a bilingual child’s mother tongue and choose the right school language?

by | Apr 28, 2016 | Coaches, Language and bilingualism, Rita R, School-aged children | 0 comments



I am from a Gujarati family and till graduation I studied in Gujarati then I did my MBA. My wife’s name is from Rajasthan and till graduation she studied in Hindi, then did her MBA. We have a 3-year-old daughter and we are planning her education.

We have met a number of people and we read of books and an article about primary education and how it should be in her mother tongue. Now it is very difficult to justify which language would be our daughter’s mother tongue for our child as she is used to speaking Hindi with her mother and Gujarati with me and my family. We are planning Gujarati to be her language of education. Could you guide us on this?

Thank you!


Hi Animesh

Thank you for your question about which language should be classified as your daughter’s mother tongue. It is not an easy question to answer – I wrote about my own mother tongue dilemma in an earlier article. Note that a child’s ‘mother tongue’ is not necessarily the language his or her mother speaks!

Many bilinguals, just like me, are unable to choose one of their languages as their mother tongue, and this to me indicates that they feel equally fluent in their languages. From that perspective, you can choose the school which you like more and find to be better suited for your daughter, independent of which language the tuition is given in.
Some recent statistics here in the UK have actually revealed that pupils whose first language is not English do on average better than native English speakers. This is however not a statement that can be applied to all schools across the world, but it is an indication of the fact that the language of tuition may not play as big a role as previously thought.

When it comes to your daughter’s language skills – if she does her education in Gujarati, then this language will become her dominant language. You do not mention where you live, but if your daughter will get Hindi exposure also from other sources than her mother, she should not have any problems in maintaining Hindi at a good level. However, if your daughter does not get the chance to use her Hindi with anyone else than her mother, you could consider putting her into a Hindi-speaking school.

My apologies for not being able to give you a clear-cut answer, but I do not think there is one. I want to emphasise that your daughter will most likely do equally well whatever her education language is, so I would choose the school based on its merits, not based on a definition which one of your daughter’s languages should be defined as her mother tongue.

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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