Q&A: How to maintain the minority language for a child in shared custody?

by | Apr 24, 2016 | Coaches, Rita R | 0 comments



I live in France. I speak with my nearly 2 years old daughter only Russian. I am just in the beginning of learning French. Her father is French. After the divorce, the court decided to share the child’s custody 50/50 (week with me, week – with him). How will it affect the communication with my daughter?

Actually my daughter spends all day in daycare or at school, that means French-speaking environment. I would like to keep the communication going with my daughter and if possible only in Russian. I’m not sure that I will be able to speak French fluently. If our daughter spends more time with me than with her father, will her French be poor?


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Dear Tatiana,

Thank you for your question, I can understand that you are worried about being able to continue speaking Russian with your daughter, but I do think you can be successful in passing on your language to her.

During the week she is with you, it is important that you do your very best to support her Russian by speaking a lot. I recommend that you do a “running commentary” on anything that you are doing. Keep talking while you are together, while you are out and about, on the bus, at home, when you are cooking, playing etc. Name the things in your environment and explain what you are doing.

If possible, engage with other Russian-speakers via Skype or, ideally, in person. If you know other families with Russian-speaking children, try to arrange playdates. It is highly beneficial for children to meet other kids who speak their minority language, as this confirms that the language is actually spoken by others as well, and not only the parent.

At home, keep Russian music playing in the background and sing along with it. Read lots of Russian books and learn rhymes and children’s songs. If you watch cartoons together, choose Russian ones. Basically, try to create a Russian immersion environment for her when she is with you. Even if she spends part of the day in daycare, you will still have plenty of opportunity practise Russian with her.

Since your daughter attends daycare (and later school) in French, she lives in France and will spend every other week with her French-speaking father, French will naturally become her majority language. Learning Russian from you will not make her French “poor” – instead, she will reap the many benefits of being bilingual.

Wishing you the best of luck!

Kind regards

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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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