I am so used to speaking English with everyone that I would find it hard to switch to my mother tongue when speaking to my children.

This is probably a common problem among people living outside their home country. The longer you live there, the more you get used to speaking the country’s (most common) language. It may have been a foreign language to you in the beginning, but after a while you realise, not without a measure of pride, that you speak it as fluently as your mother tongue. You may have lost or kept your accent, but you are fluent. Congratulations, this is a great achievement. Is it possible that you feel, however subconsciously, that the next step is to teach your child that language, that took you some amount of effort and time to master, so that he or she won’t have that problem? Or do you feel it is unmistakable prove that you have mastered your new language so well, you can now teach it to your child?

Both is quite understandable, if that’s the case. Just don’t forget that there is still another language that would give your child the opportunity to communicate with your family and all the other benefits listed in one of my earlier posts. Plus, you probably don’t want your child to struggle with your mother tongue as if it was a foreign language. So if you are committed, you will have to switch to your mother tongue when speaking with your children, even if you find it difficult now.

To make it easier for yourself, try to put yourself into the right frame of mind. Start by occupying yourself with material in your language. Read a book, newspapers or magazines, listen to a radio station or look at TV programmes in your language. A satellite dish often helps, as your children will also get the benefit of the language through the TV. If you don’t have one, try to find programmes on the internet. YouTube is a great source, but make sure you don’t leave your kids unsupervised with the internet. But to put yourself in the right mode for re-learning to use your language, these media should be helpful. Especially if you look at or listen to children’s programmes and read books or stories together with your children, you will get into the other-language mode together. Then the book, TV or computer can do the language-switching for you and you just have to stay with it after.

I would like to emphasise that I am not a great fan of children spending too much time in front of the TV or computer, but if the media are used in a reasonable and constructive way, they can be incredibly valuable. For the German-speaking moms and dads, try www.vorleser.net. I’m sure there are equivalents in other languages, too. The site offers mp3 downloads of stories, folk tales and even books. Most downloads are free. They can be listened to on the computer, and mp3 player or an ipod, for example. Amazon offers a vast range of books, CDs and DVDs in all kinds of languages that you and your children can enjoy together. If you are consistent, you will soon feel more comfortable using your language. It might take some patience, but if you feel comfortable, your children will follow eventually.