Episode 34: Q&A – How should I address my family’s concerns about our bilingual parenting choices?

Episode 34

On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I give a listener strategies on how to address her families hesitations about bringing up her son in a bilingual household.  I chat about the importance of declaring your intentions, addressing any misconceptions her family members may have about bilingualism and suggest sharing the benefits of bilingualism to persuade the skepticism.

Episode #34 – Transcript

Welcome to another Question & Answer edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast!

Today’s episode will focus on a question I received via email from a listener.  This was a very heart felt note and something that I know other families have struggled with. I am going to keep the name of the listener anonymous since it is a bit of a sensitive family issue.  Let me read you the email:


Thank you for the podcast, I am learning so much!  I am writing to you to get some guidance on a family issue I am struggling with at the moment.  We have a 6 month old little boy and as a family, we were planning to raise him using the One Parent, One Language approach.  My husband would English to him while I would speak my mother tongue, Danish.  I was so overwhelmed the first few months of his life that I resorted back to speaking English to him. Now that life is a little more balanced, I have made the commitment to speak to him exclusively in Danish.  I am worried that my in-laws will not be on board with our decision.  They have made comments in the past that are leading me to that conclusion.  What can I do to get them to support us on our decision?

Thanks for your help and I look forward to listening to your thoughts on this matter!

To our listener, thank again for writing about your concern and your willingness to share this situation with others so we can all learn from it as a multilingual community! Your issue is not all that uncommon.  Some countries and societies around the world tend to be multilingual in nature and so adding another language to a family mix is the norm and not given a second thought.  But that is not the case everywhere.

So here are some things to tips to keep in mind while approaching this topic with your in-laws.

You want to make your intentions of raising a bilingual child well known to everyone around you.  The Multilingual Children’s Association has an article on 10 Steps to Raising a Multilingual Child and I think they really said it best.  They make a great analogy to baby names.  Before your child is born, everyone feels entitled to give you their two cents and their opinion on the names you are thinking for your child.  “Oh no, that name is terrible because I know someone with the same name who is just awful!” Or “Oh no, don’t even think about that, I think that’s the ugliest name on earth.”  However, once your child is born and you have named them, most people keep their opinions to themselves.

It is the same thing when you are raising a multilingual child.  Everyone feels entitled to provide their thoughts on the matter but honestly you and your husband know what is best for your family and ultimately for your son.  Simply let your family members and friends know that you have made the decision to raise your son in a bilingual environment!  Find a balance between sounding assertive while not sounding arrogant when communicating your intentions.  Do it in a way that conveys that decision has been made and it’s not really up for deliberation.  Again, you don’t want to sound arrogant but you do want to sound assertive.

You’ll find that most people will be supportive and even if they don’t love the idea, they’ll likely bite their tongue because really it’s your parenting choice.

Now I say that, but I know well that not everyone is as understanding on this matter as we may expect.  I have had a few people voice their concerns over our language decisions with our daughter.  No one has particularly expressed disagreement with our decision to raise her with English and Spanish but I did have a lot of push back from folks when they heard that we would be introducing a third language due to our move to Germany.

When this is the case, my best advice is to get to the root of the issue.  What I have found and what I imagine is the issue with your in-laws as well, is that the myths about bilingualism or multilingualism are creeping up to the front of their mind.

So let’s go back to my family situation for a second.  When I pressed the folks who had hesitations about introducing a third language, they all said to me that they thought it may be confusing for her to have learn a third language.  One person said to me, English and German are very similar, don’t you think that she may confuse the two and then not know what to speak when you all return back to the United States?  I confidently thanked them for their concern and chatted about how amazing children’s brains and their ability to differentiate between languages and that seemed to put those folks at ease.

Given that these are your in-laws and they are going to play a big role in your son’s life, it’s certainly important to understand where they are coming from and address any misconceptions they may have about multilingualism.  If you are able to share this information with them, they will feel more comfortable and you will too if you know that they are more supportive about your decisions.

Now to be honest, you are not going to be able to educate everyone nor should you have to!  You may get plenty of comments about your decisions along the way and if it’s someone who you are going to see very much, you may decide to just ignore the comment and move on. You’ll know best!

One more tool to give you as food for thought, on episode 4 of the podcast, Dr. Brenda Gorman chats about the most common myths around multilingualism and debunks every one of them.  It may good to have those in your back pocket before you chat with your in-laws.

And to then to take one step further, I would encourage you to share all the positive aspects of multilingualism.  There are just many wonderful benefits that arise from speaking more than one language! I have found that laying out these benefits can turn even the most skeptical resistance.  If you want some resources, again Dr. Brenda Gorman discusses benefits on episode 4, Dr. Piller chats about executive control on episode 6 and then Susanne Dopke shares her thoughts as well on episode 17.

One last thing that I would leave you with is that most of the resistance from your in-laws is actually probably coming from a good place, a place of love.

They care about your son very much and like you, they want what they think is best for him.  If you keep that in the back of your mind and use it to frame the discussion, I truly think that you will have a positive outcome.

Best of luck and thanks again for sharing your question with the audience.

To everyone else, remember that you can always ask a question too.  You can send it over email or you can leave me an audio message at bilingualavenue.com/contact

One more thing I wanted to share with you today! If you would like immediate on one help on your multilingual journey, I am here to help!  You can check out my consultation sessions at bilingualavenue.com/consultations.  We’ll work together via Skype to explore the obstacles that are coming up for you again and again.   I’ll provide you with an individualized language plan to help you achieve your family language goals. Again, you can get more information at bilingualavenue.com/consultations.


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