Q&A: Should a couple switch from English to the majority language as their common language?

by | Dec 8, 2016 | Coaches, Language development, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family, Rita R | 1 comment

Should a couple switch from English to the majority language as their common language?




I just ran into your website and I loved it. I have a son who is 1.5 years old. I am Albanian, my husband is Spanish. We want to raise our son bilingual, so our plan is that I speak with him in Albanian only (minority language), and my husband speaks with him in Spanish only (majority language). I do speak Spanish but my husband speaks very little Albanian. When we met I didn’t speak any Spanish so we always communicated in English.

For the time being we live in Santiago, Chile, and my son goes to kindergarten where they speak only Spanish. Due to the nature of the job of my husband, we will not be living in Chile forever, we will move to another country for sure, but for now I don’t know where or when.

My only question mark here is whether we should continue speaking in English with each other in front of our son? I am afraid that if I speak with my husband in Spanish, my son will not feel the need to speak Albanian with me and he will only answer to me in Spanish.



Dear Ujvara

Thank you for your question and your feedback!

Your family language setup is very typical for a couple who initially do not speak each other’s languages – English often becomes the common language. I have been through this same experience myself and although our decision was to drop English at the time, this is not necessarily the best option for every couple.

You are currently using the one parent, one language (OPOL) strategy to pass on Albanian and Spanish, your respective mother tongues to your son, while using English to communicate with each other. Your other choice is Spanish which you have learnt during your stay in Chile.

You do not mention why you are considering switching from English to Spanish as your common language, but if you are afraid it will confuse your son’s language development, please, put those worries aside. Your son will pick up some of the English, but he is unlikely to start speaking it unless he gets some additional exposure from other sources and interacts in it. He will however have a head start if he wants or needs to learn English later on, or indeed, if you move to a country where the language is spoken.

Your son will learn Albanian from you and Spanish from your husband and in the kindergarten. If you stay in Chile, his most dominant language will probably soon be Spanish, so my initial thought would be to keep your language arrangements as they are. If you switch to Spanish as the common language between you and your husband, there will be a lot more Spanish spoken in the house and the inclination for all of you to generally speak Spanish together may well make it a bit more difficult to maintain the Albanian with your son.

This said, if you have some other reason why you are considering switching to Spanish, please let me know through the comments!

Wishing you a successful trilingual 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. Ujvara

    Thank you so much Rita for your opinion! Highly appreciated!

    The only reason we considered switching to Spanish was to speak at least one of our mother tongues – but yes, as long as we keep living in a place were Spanish is the community language, it will be a lot of more hard work to maintain Albanian with my son (my initial worry). This was mainly my partner’s idea, obviously it’s easier for him. And I was considering it, because we both speak English with our respective accents (but we are both really fluent and we work in English) and I prefer my son to be exposed to native English, because he is very young. But the more I thought about it, the more I got convinced that this wouldn’t be good for my son’s Albanian.


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