Q&A: How to pass on not only the heritage language, but also the culture to the next generation?

by | Nov 29, 2018 | Coaches, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family, Rita R | 1 comment

How to pass on not only the heritage language, but also the culture to the next generation?




My question doesn’t really pertain to language specifically, but the idea of culture. My kids are fine in terms of their mother tongue since my husband cannot speak English and only Hindi, and that my English is not too fluent. So they are fluent and have no problems.

I am looking for advice to keep them in our culture. I have been trying to find websites addressing this and could not find any. I feel this is the closest I can find to address this. My kids are growing up in a big Indian community and are exposed and involved in their culture, but as they get older, they are getting more Americanized and are adopting American values, dating and making friends with other cultures, despite having a heavy cultural influence on them.

A few parents in my community tend to feel the same. We are seeing that language is not the only one thing that makes kids stay attached to their native culture, but their manners, how they think, act, and how religious they are also are important. People say, even my own kids say, that it is a different time and different culture and point out that our native country, India has changed too, which is true and that I do not like.

I personally was upset by this because I and many others want to pass down not only language, but our beliefs, mindset, traditions and so forth. Some of my friends suggested to limit your children to foreign exposure and make only friends within the community, to do this to make sure they keep their strong Indian identity, but I do not know if that can be a good or bad thing.

I am observing that many second generation, speak more English even if they know how to speak our language and use it with peers and their children. Some are into American customs and traditions. This I think would be detrimental since we will not be able to pass our culture as purely as possible and later things will be lost.

Advice? Probably a hard question but I will appreciate if you can answer to the best you can.



Dear Amrita

Thank you for your question about passing on not only the family’s heritage language but also the culture to the next generation. You are right in your last comment to say that this is a hard question, because it is! It is also one that many other families that have moved to a different country and culture grapple with.

To give you not only my view, but also that of the next generation, I have asked my daughter to give her thoughts on your question. For 20 years, since she was six years old, she has lived outside either of her parents’ cultures – her father grew up in India and I am from Finland. We all now live in the UK. This is her response:

Dear Amrita,

However much you try to shield your children from the American culture, there will always be an inherently American part of them. Teenagers and young adults naturally push the boundaries and explore the different opportunities in the social environments they live.

Later in life, once they have gone through this phase, you may find that they adopt more Indian values than you expected. But this will come from them, they will choose the Indian values that make sense to them. 

You as a parent obviously want to do the best for your children and bring them up in the best possible way. While your children are living with you under your roof, they will likely go along with your wishes, but this does not necessarily reflect what they truly believe. When they move away however, and have their own families, that is the time when you will truly see their values. 

Indian and American values don’t have to be at odds with each other. There are ways of being comfortable with both sides of one’s identity. And naturally, this involves behaving differently according to who you are with at the time. For example, you probably behave very differently with your children compared to your parents! 

In terms of language choice, you will not be able to control what language they speak with their peers, however be proud that your children can speak Hindi fluently! When it comes to language, we instinctively choose the easiest/most appropriate form of communication for each situation. This means that your children will most likely use English with their friends.

Wishing you and your family all the best,

Just like my daughter, your children are growing up as Third Culture Kids (TCKs). By definition, a TCK is a child who has spent a significant part of their early development years in a culture other than their parents’ (or the culture of their passport country). Inevitably, our children will grow up differently to you and me. I recommend that you read the original (and in my opinion still the best) book on the topic: Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds  by D C Pollock, R E Van Reken and M V Pollock.

I understand your strong feelings about the Indian culture. Having lived away from Finland for 20 years, I am also continuously surprised by the changes in my country of birth. However, whether I like the changes or not – I will not be able to alter the fact that my home country has moved on.

People who move away from their native countries are often the ones to uphold old traditions – and the language – much more strictly than what is the case “back home”. This is a completely natural reaction. When we emigrate, we keep a snapshot of our native culture as it is at that point. From then onwards we are however no longer part of the continuous change in our home country. This is something that happens in every single country and culture across the world, also in the US, and you and your children are part of that change.

The best you can do is to be a great role model and representative of the Indian culture for your children (and future grandchildren). I would however not try to push the culture on them, let alone criticize them for not behaving as you did when you were young (no children do this). The more you try to force them to adapt to certain attitudes, values or religious norms, the more pushback you will get.

I am sure you already do this, but focus on creating strong, positive, fun memories around your culture. They may not appreciate them now, but they will do when they grow up. The happier the memories, the more likely they are to want their own children to experience the same special occasions and to feel the kind of bond you have in your family.

You have been successful in raising your kids to speak fluent Hindi, which is a fantastic achievement! This will give your children the opportunity to continue maintaining their close relationship to the culture and pass it on their children. They will also create their own version of the culture – just like every generation does across the world.

Sometimes we all want to stop the clock – keep our kids at a certain age, not see kittens grow up. We however also know that this is not possible, so we must let go and allow them to gain their independence. Letting go is hard, but we can make it easier by being open and not judging. We should not let our cultural heritage become a battleground which can split families and keep generations apart. Instead we should cherish it, so it can stay as a strong backbone in our family lives over generations to come.

Wishing you a successful multicultural family journey!

Kind regards,

P.S. Dear Amrita, I hope you get to read my answer as the email address you gave me bounced back, so you will not know that your question was scheduled as a Q&A article. I would love to hear your comments below!

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. Jimena

    Hi Rita,

    It is funny because I have been thinking about this the other day. It is evident that culture, traditions and yes, language changes across generations. I too don’t like it especially since it is very common in my native country too. However, I’d like to add that it is actually possible to raise kids the same exact way you did grow up because I have a friend who successfully did this with her kids and if you know about the Orthodox Jews, they also successfully their children the same way which explains the reason why their culture is so strong and pure. My friend’s children are basically an exact replica of her, husband and her parents. They are very religious (pray all the time!), speak native Spanish and can get by in English when in school (they don’t care for English as a priority), speak Spanish among them (something I struggled to get my kids to do even though they are fluent in Spanish, and of course reading through your blog, I realize I cannot expect my grandkids to be the same), and their peers. Their value system is pretty much the same as the older generations, thought wise, everything. They are live in the U.S and do not engage in the mainstream American culture at all. Most of us would be surprised.

    However the tactic my friend used may – to be honest, sound very offensive and I am sure many will not agree with it. According to my friend, foreign exposure, interacting and forming positive relationships/friendships with people from different cultures/backgrounds may be the culprit. She explains this is why interracial relationships are happening, cultures are changing because people tend to adopt new ideas, values, traditions from interacting with the mainstream or from others causing the change. If you allow your kids to mix with others, you will face cultural clashes because they will want to be part of mainstream and create identity for themselves, which to her is unacceptable. It appears to her that in order to successfully pass down culture purely, you need to impose a lot of restrictions on your kids and be very strict with it. Her children have NO friends or influences other than other Spanish speaking kids whose families are the same exact way and carry the same mindset and beliefs where they restrict a lot. At school, she instructed them to work with them if they have to, but outside of that, do not go further to create a relationship than necessary because she doesn’t want them to adopt “foreign” ideas from others which may dilute the culture. She ( and very weirdly) wants to advocate to stop the changes of our native country by stopping modernization and interracial marriages that are pretty high there (she claims interracial marriages are destroying cultures and traditions since it’s diluting it, and mixed kids will never be fully seen as part of that culture). This is the same with the Orthodox Jews who forbid the children from any interaction with the outside world and anyone who is not of their “tribe”, but they are able to retain the culture in its purest form because of it. It sounds very wrong in so many ways, but it works. Even though Amrita says her children are part of a big Indian community, the idea of keeping the kids in the culture purely and 100% is not working because they are interacting with non-Indians and may have formed friendships with them at school, take part in mainstream culture, hence getting Americanized, even if they know their ancestral background well. Things, even language, will change and get lost because they have that global influence. Same with my kids. They are more American than Hispanic and though they are fluent in Spanish, they see themselves as Americans first. They are raising my grandkids, who are very American with some Spanish influence, differently than I raised my kids and have their own thoughts.

    That’s pretty much I have to say on this and had to respond because I have heard people discuss about this before. Thank you Amrita for posting this because this is something really worth discussing. Also, Rita, maybe you can make a separate post about the concept of “culture”. It’s worth a big discussion.


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