Q&A: How to pass on a family language which the parent is not literate in?

by | Mar 30, 2017 | Challenges, Coaches, Literacy, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family, Rita R | 1 comment

How to pass on a family language which the parent is not literate in?




I have a 5-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twins. I was born in Iran and speak Farsi. I moved to the United States at the age of four, so English is my stronger language. My husband only speaks English and we have a nanny who speaks Spanish. We currently live in the United States.

I tried teaching my 5-year-old daughter Farsi, but failed. She spoke Farsi fairly well until the age of two when I started her in nursery school. I was not very strict in speaking only Farsi with her. I would sing nursery rhymes and songs in English (because I did not know it in Farsi) and I would read her books in English (I cannot read Farsi.) My 5-year-old still understands some Farsi.

I would like to succeed with my twins, but I feel limited because I do not know any Persian nursery rhymes to sing to them. I yearn to sing to them with the English nursery rhymes and games that I know, but I think it’s important to teach them Farsi as well. How important is it to sing and play nursery rhyme games to babies? Also, Is three languages too much?

I speak Farsi to them (English to my older daughter and husband), my nanny speaks Spanish to them and my husband and 5-year-old daughter speaks English.

Any advice would be helpful.
Thank you,


Dear Linda

Thank you for your message about passing on your family language, Farsi, to your children.

First, let me congratulate you on your decision to give it another go with your twins to pass on you early mother tongue to your children. With your new resolve, I am sure you can succeed and since your older daughter still understands some Farsi, she may well pick up the language again.

You ask whether being able to read books, sing songs and recite children’s rhymes is necessary for passing on a language. Of course it is not necessary – the most important thing is that you expose the twins to as much Farsi as possible. That said, you can still use “read” books in Farsi by using any children’s books and either translating on the fly or making up the story as you read.

With regards to songs, a quick search on YouTube with the search term ‘Farsi children’s songs’ did come up with some results, so why not learn from there and then you can sing songs in Farsi as well, if this is what you would like to do. Perhaps you could even do this together with your elder daughter and engage her in helping you with the language exposure? I was also able to find some Farsi audio books with children’s songs and stories that would be helpful for you.

Another alternative is if you could get someone to record some rhymes and/or books for you – this is fairly easy to do on a phone. You could use the Children’s Library  to find free online books to read from (you may have to create a free account access the books).

Three languages are not too much for your twins, many children have grown up in such a multilingual environment. However, for your twins to maintain the Spanish they learn from their nanny, there would need to be a continuation in the exposure once they start nursery or school.

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. Taylor

    Dear Linda,

    If you don’t mind my asking, approximately how many words do you know in Persian? Are you at all familiar with the Persian alphabet? If not, I would be glad to recommend some resources for learning the alphabet, it’s actually quite intuitive and can probably be learned with an hour, if not less. I would also be glad to recommend some nice children’s books in Persian for you, just let me know.

    Best of luck with teaching your children Persian! It’s such a gorgeous language 🙂


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