Q&A: Should a minority language parent also help a toddler with the majority language?

by | Aug 11, 2016 | Coaches, Q&A Being the parent in a multilingual family, Rita R, Toddlers | 0 comments

Should a minority language parent also help a toddler with the majority language?



Me, my husband and our 11-month-old son (and another baby coming very soon) are living in Australia. My husband is Australian and talks English to our son and I am Norwegian and talk Norwegian to our son. I have some questions that I would like to get some help assessing now in the early stages so I can be prepared for the years to come!

When I and my son go to swimming classes for example I mostly talk English to him during the lesson, just because all the songs are English etc. and also because I haven’t had him in swimming classes in Norway so I don’t feel comfortable with what phrases or words they would use for things like submersion, is this ok?

Our son just has a few words/sounds but apart from ‘daddy’ (which I also say because his father would like to be called that and not the Norwegian equivalent) they are all Norwegian. We have just spent two months in Norway but I have a feeling that he is going to have a lot more Norwegian words than English for a long time, because I am a stay-at-home mom and he will not be going to daycare until closer to three years old and even then probably just for a day or two a week since we live way out of town. But we do go to playgroup and swimming two times a week where he meets other kids that speak English. I am just worried that his English will not develop as well as his Norwegian, and it will hinder him at school and in social encounters.

Also, when we are all together and my son says a word in English or Norwegian should I and/or my husband say the word again in our own language? Or should we repeat the word he said for confirmation that what he said was right?

Thank you so much for reading all my questions. I am loving your webpage and have already spent hours reading lots of posts,


Dear Carina,

Thank you very much for your questions and for your kind feedback about the website – much appreciated!

Your first query is about whether it is fine for you to speak the majority language (English) with your son when you are out and about and attending swimming classes and other group. The answer is “Definitely, yes!” – it will not be confusing for your son, nor will it affect his Norwegian that you occasionally speak English with him, when the situation so requires. I would still keep the home as a Norwegian-only place for communication between the two of you.

I understand that you might feel a bit concerned about your son using more Norwegian than English, but you really do not have to be worried. Since he has been spending more time with you, and especially after a stay in Norway, it is only natural that most of his first words are in Norwegian.

Your son will definitely pick up English, and with you being the only exposure to Norwegian, English will by time become his dominant language. Not only does he hear it from your husband, but everywhere in the community, on the TV, with other children and later daycare.

It is actually great that you can establish a solid foundation in Norwegian for him before he becomes immersed in the majority language, as this is a good situation to be in to maintain his Norwegian skills when he grows older. As an example from my own family, my younger daughter was six when she started attending school in English, a language she did at that point not know at all. She went on to get several spelling awards and the highest marks in her English exams as a teenager. Children are incredibly apt at picking up a language when immersed in it.

With regards to repeating a word your son says, I would recommend that you confirm it in your own languages, i.e. you say it in Norwegian and your husband in English. It is however not necessary to do this every time, you can just show that you understand in some other way. Whatever you feel comfortable with. If you want to express that he has said something right in the other language, you can introduce the terms ‘mummy’s language’ and ‘daddy’s language’. So if he for example uses a Norwegian word with your husband, he can say “Yes, that is how mummy says it, and daddy says: …”

With the amount of dedication I can read from your question, I am convinced that you and your husband will be successful in raising your children to speak both Norwegian and English.

Wishing you a wonderful multilingual parenting 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.


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