If you randomly stop people in the street and ask them whether they would raise their children with two languages if their partner’s language was different from their own, most of them would probably say yes. And some of them quite vehemently. But when the time comes, it suddenly seems a lot more difficult than anticipated. After all, children pick up their parents’ languages automatically, don’t they? It’s no effort for them, right?

Well, it’s true that under the right conditions, learning two languages is no more difficult than learning one for a child. The bad news is that the effort is required on the parents’ part. In fact, it will always be more difficult for one parent than the other. This is because one parent (or sometimes both parents) are speaking a language that is not commonly spoken in their surroundings.

Children are clever. If mum and dad both speak English, and everyone else speaks English, then why should they bother speaking anything else? In my previous post I tried to explain that the parent that speaks the minority language should be speaking it to the child(ren) all the time to ensure consistency.It’s the guarantee for success. However, I also realise that this is the point most parents find most difficult in their day-to-day reality. There might be various reasons for this. Please find below a list of possible reasons, which I collected by talking to parents in that situation.

  • I am afraid that my child will get confused if I speak a different language than my partner/than the teacher speaks in school/…
  • I am afraid that my child won’t pick up enough English if he/she learns my language as well.
  • I am so used to speaking English now that I would find it hard to switch.
  • I stopped speaking my language to my child when he/she started answering me in English.
  • I am finding it hard to switch between languages in conversations with both my partner and my child.
  • My partner doesn’t understand the language I should be speaking with our children.
  • I do speak my language to my child some of the time, but it doesn’t seem to have had much effect. Anyway, he/she understands the language, he/she just doesn’t speak it.
  • I feel impolite or uncomfortable speaking my language when I’m in English-speaking company.

Does any of this sound familiar? I recognise that these are all valid concerns and as they are quite complex, I would like to deal with each of them individually to give you some encouragement to follow through on your child’s second language. Please read on for some advice on how to deal with the problem of whether a child will get confused by different languages being spoken around him or her.

Also, if you have any other concerns that I have not listed here, please don’t hesitate to let me know.