Q&A: Should a parent not fluent in the minority language switch to the majority one?

by | Sep 29, 2016 | Coaches, Language development, Majority language parent, Q&A Choosing the right family language strategy, Rita R | 0 comments

Should a parent not fluent in the minority language switch to the majority one?



Hi Rita!

My husband and I are scouring the Internet in hopes of finding some guidance and we’d love your thoughts! Our son is 13 months old. My husband is Iranian and I’m not. He speaks both Farsi and English fluently and I’m fluent in English and slightly more than conversational in Farsi.

We really wanted our son to learn Farsi so he has been speaking exclusive Farsi to him, and I’ve been speaking Farsi most of the time but when I find myself not knowing the Farsi I use “Fenglish” or English. We speak both Farsi and English to each other at home but try to be as exclusive as possible in Farsi to our son.

I’m freaking out because I’m worried this is going to confuse him. We are debating me switching to just English with him but since he mainly understands Farsi and I’ve mainly spoken that to him I am heartbroken to think he’ll be scared or confused if I switch and on the other hand I’m worried about confusing him and language delays. It’s quite the pickle and we’d love to hear some thoughts and guidance.

Thank you!


Dear Molly

Thank you for your question, which you submitted as a comment to a blog post, but which I am answering here to make sure all Q&As can easily be found in the same place and the questions are answered in the order they arrive.

Let me start with the most important thing: you are not confusing your son, nor does bilingualism cause language delay. Even if you were to switch from speaking Farsi (the minority language) to speaking English (the majority language), it would not delay his overall language development.

I presume you live in an English-speaking country, so there will be plenty of exposure to English for your son and as soon as he starts nursery or school, it will after some time become his dominant language. Because of this, it would be great for him to get as much Farsi exposure as possible at home.

You do no mention how much time your husband spends with your son on a weekly basis, but presuming he speaks Farsi with him at least in the evenings and during the weekends your husband will be your son’s role model for a native Farsi-speaker. Do not worry if your own Farsi is not at the same level – what may well happen is that your son starts helping you with Farsi words once his own skills develop!

If speaking Farsi feels the natural thing to do with your son, then please continue with it – maybe you could improve your own language skills to become more confident in Farsi (it’s never too late to learn!) What you could do, for example, is to keep a Farsi notebook where you jot down any word or phrase you are uncertain about, then ask your husband for the correct expression so you can use it next time there is a need for it. Having both of you speak Farsi with your son would certainly be the most efficient way of ensuring that he grows up to become a fluent speaker of what is a minority language in your community.

However, if you really feel that you are struggling to stick to Farsi all the time, and would rather speak English with him, you can switch. As he has heard the two of you (at least occasionally) talk English with each other and he hears it in the community, it will not be a completely foreign language to him. He might however still not accept a sudden change (this I have experienced myself). You need to see how he reacts and introduce English accordingly, if this is what you choose to do.

If you are thinking of switching, note that you do not have to switch for 100% of the time. What you could do is to stick to Farsi in your everyday conversations and for example read books in English or speak English when you are outside the house. Try to find a natural way of dividing the time between the two languages – this way you will always have the possibility to say something in English if you feel you can’t express yourself in Farsi.

Whichever option you go for, remember that a close relationship and love between a parent and a child goes beyond which language you choose to speak.

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.


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