“What’s the point of speaking your language, Mum?”

by | Oct 23, 2013 | Challenges, How to motivate a bilingual / multilingual child to speak a family language, Language, Practical advice, Teenagers | 4 comments

“What’s the point of speaking your language, Mum?”

What to do when your young son questions why he should keep speaking your language? How to respond when he says he is never going to need it? These are questions that are not only hard to answer, but difficult to hear.

Take a deep breath and don’t get upset. Your language is naturally important to you and having your own child question its importance may feel hurtful. You should however try to put yourself in your son’s shoes. The way he is looking at his future, he may just not see a need to speak your family’s heritage language – don’t get upset by this, he is just being pragmatic. Also, he doesn’t yet have the wider view of the world that you have.

How should you react? First, make sure that you stay calm when you respond. Getting into an argument about the language use will only make things worse. If you feel too upset, postpone the discussion until you have gathered your thoughts.

Bring up the topic at a point when you both have time to sit and talk – it is not a discussion that can be had between two TV programmes or in the morning when you are both off to your daily activities. Start by saying that you do understand his point of view but you would like to know more about why he questions the importance of your language. If you are lucky you will get some more details about his reluctance so you can address his specific reasons.

The likelihood is however that you are going to get a general comment along the lines of: “I’m never going to need it!” and it is up to you to make the case for his future as a bilingual. Tell him about the advantages an additional language will give him: it will improve his employment prospects and give him a wider choice of where he wants to study, work and live. Others pay large sums to learn a language, while he can get one for free. He will be able to communicate with relatives in your home country and it will make visits and travelling easier as well. Describe to him all the other benefits that knowing more than one language brings with it.

Convincing him will probably take more than one discussion, so don’t put pressure on him. Let him come around to your way of thinking and also find out what would positively motivate him to take an interest in your language. Good luck and please do get in touch if you have questions!

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  1. Paul Wandason

    You’ve got me both thinking and worried now! I’m raising my young daughters to be bilingual (English and Dutch) which has its difficulties, but I’d never even thought about the possibility that maybe they don’t want it! Reading your post reminded me of my own childhood and questioning why I should bother learning French. I guess that as with many things, the wisdom comes in hindsight!
    Many thanks – I think I’m a bit better prepared for the future if my girls ask me why they should speak English!

    • Rita Rosenback

      My aim was not to alarm you, sorry! But as you say, being aware of this possibility will help you to avoid it happening by providing motivation and support to your daughters. I wrote the post as I have heard so many adults give this as the reason why they gave up on learning the language of their parent(s). Without exception, all of them have regretted not being able to speak their family’s heritage language.

  2. Tanja

    My family doesn’t speak English. I’m teaching Our daughter Finnish to be able to communicate with her family and maybe in the future to go to school in Finland if she wants to



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