My child and I will be bilingual, but my husband isn't: how will this impact our family?

Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
By: Christian HaugenCC BY 2.0
Though babies are not yet on the to-do list, my husband and I have been thinking about what having a child would mean. One of the things that came up is language — my mother tongue is Dutch and both my husband and I agree that I should teach our kids(s) how to speak it as well, so they can communicate when visiting my family and other advantages.

The problem is… my husband doesn't understand Dutch at all, save the odd word here and there. He won't be able to understand us and has previously expressed discomfort and annoyance at not being able to join in on conversations. While he agrees on teaching our offspring Dutch, I'm worried about him feeling excluded or not understanding the children, despite our best intentions.

So, my question is for families who are or will be in similar situations: how did having a second language which only your partner doesn't speak have an impact on your relationship and family? — Cobalt&Calcium

Join our community!

  1. If you speak Dutch to your child every day, it is highly likely that your husband will learn a little and may be able to understand. His language skills may improve at the same time as the baby's. I know mine certainly did.

    1 agrees
    • This is what I was going to say also. My husband is Chinese and his family often speaks in Cantonese to our daughter. Over time I've grasped more and more of the language. Teaching a language to child is very simple. It's easier for adults to learn this way also.

      7 agree
    • Yes! It is an opportunity for your husband to learn Dutch. Everyone wins.

      My father was a francophone but we spoke English at home. I wish he'd spoken French more.

      8 agree
      • Thanks everyone πŸ™‚
        While I agree it would be lovely if my husband could learn Dutch, we've given up on it a while ago.
        It's was easy to say "lets learn the language", but unfortunately it just didn't work out that way for us.

        He finds Dutch a very hard language, both to learn and speak (although he's picked up some words) and although he'll probably pick up more once we have a kid, we've accepted it's not gonna happen.

        I was curious as to how other families have worked out the logistics of it all, and what the good and bad sides were.

        I'm glad to hear it's worked out so well for so many people!

        • My brother speaks primarily english, with a little dutch and a little french thrown in. His wife speaks russian, hebrew, english a little farsi and a little dutch. When the kids go to school, they will be learning french (which mom doesn't speak) and english. As far as I know this just means that they usually speak english, grandparents speak russian with the kids and dad doesn't understand, but its no biggie all around. If it was done 100% of the time it could be pretty exclusive, but when they do it usually when dad isn't around.

          1 agrees
  2. I don't see why he couldn't learn, since you've got time. A year or two is plenty of time to pick up at least the basics of the language, and he's already got a native speaker around to practice with!
    That said, if for whatever reason that's not a desireable solution, it might help to make sure the kids have something special with their dad, be it some hobby you're not into, or some other special experience.

    6 agree
    • As explained above, teaching my husband Dutch isn't a likely option πŸ™

      I think having the kids do something special with their dad is a lovely idea though and we'll definitely be doing that.

      1 agrees
  3. My husband is Francophone, speaks french and english fluently, as will our daughter. I, on the other hand, speak predominantly only English, though I am getting better at my french and understanding it as well. I speak better and understand more from reading my 2 year old french bedtime stories and listening and trying to respond to her in french than I ever did hanging out with my husband, his friends and family for 10 years.

    My husband was also raised in a family where his mom was bilingual and his father wasn't. It was honestly never a big deal. My husband and his brother were raised bilingual while their sister wasn't because she was deaf, and as such was learning english, lip reading and some american sign language. They are a pretty neat family, and it is never a big deal as to who can speak what language. If someone says something in a language that can't be understood by someone else there is always a concerted effort to explain everything to the parties who don't understand.

    I would actually say the bigger issue came from the concerns of my mom as she was worried that she would be totally excluded from her granddaughter's education, concerts, etc because she was English speaking only (she perceived much of the french community as being exclusive and snobby). After a year in a french only daycare at our local Francophone school for our daughter my mom no longer is concerned at all, our daughter speaks french and english and if my mom doesn't understand something someone will also explain it, and the daycare workers are fantastic and they work really hard to make sure everyone is comfortable.

    1 agrees
  4. I can only speak for myself but personally, I really wouldn't worry about it.

    I speak in French with our daughter and even though my husband didn't understand anything at the beginning, he learned bits here and there through my conversations with her in the last 4 years. With kids, you often repeat the same things over and over (and over…) and your partner does learn as well at the same time… After a while, my husband could follow very well what we were saying and simply participate in the conversation by using his own language.

    If anything, it really is only a bit confusing for the people outside of our little home when we have conversations the three of us and I reply in French, him in German and the little one switches from one to the other πŸ˜‰

    1 agrees
  5. I think what's more essential than the actual language shut-out here is his feelings about it. It'd be a good idea to talk more with him about what exactly makes him uncomfortable and annoyed about the idea.

    8 agree
    • I totally agree with this. I think the context of his discomfort is probably important too. It is one thing to uncomfortable when in the presence of a fully adult conversation, another to be talking about communication with a new baby who has no language skills.

      2 agree
      • To explain his discomfort a bit more; it is in regards to us being in larger groups, say, at a party, where the conversation goes too quick to constantly explain.
        As you say, it's one thing to be uncomfortable with a whole bunch of adults babbling in what sounds like Funkonese and a whole other when it's your own child.

        There's so many things to learn a child and it's mind boggling when you start thinking about it.
        I speak Dutch and Limburgs (a dialect), do we teach both, do we teach them to read and write them as well, etc.

        I think we got slightly overwhelmed going over everything and I started to worry about things that seem a bit silly in hindsight.

        It's interesting to hear other people's experiences and reassuring as well.

        1 agrees
        • In regards to the Limburgs – if you want your child to understand it, just try to expose them to it as much as possible. I moved to Limburg when I was four years old, and when I moved away at eighteen I couldn't speak it without sounding incredibly silly, but I defnitely understand all of it! (And even my parents seem to manage most of the time.) I know it's going to be more difficult because you live abroad, but Limburgs is a beautiful language so it would be cool if you could preserve it a bit πŸ™‚

          1 agrees
          • I actually didn't learn to 'speak' Limburgs until I was 18.
            My parents never spoke it to me, but I heard it everywhere and as such understood it but I also sounded really silly speaking it πŸ˜›

            I think if I do teach them Limburgs it will be more so they can understand it when over in Limburg.

  6. i'd set up some rules if it make him uncomfortable. i had a friend who's family rule was don't speak spanish around people who don't if there is no reason too. (having someone who only speaks spanish with everyone would be ok)

    so basically unless family was over and talking in dutch would be the only way to talk to them don't use the language in front of people who don't. as in at dinner don't talk to each other in dutch and leave him out. kind of like that.

    there reason for this is it usually makes people uncomfortable because they don't if things are being said about them behind their back, but actually in front of them and they don't know. and i really liked that rule when i spent time with them. because i didn't know spanish.

    • When one parent doesn't speak Language X it sure would be hard to teach the kid that language if you didn't ever use it when they were around. . .

      1 agrees
    • When it comes to starting rules, I think you also need to talk about things like decor, books, television/movies as you progress. If your husband feels like he would like to learn Dutch along with your child (keeping in mind that your baby will be learning 2 languages from the beginning and so would be starting at the level of small phrases and words), then maybe you can find illustrations and art for the nursery or baby's area that include both English and Dutch words. The same with books. Consider story time and songs and ensuring that you are communicating in a blend. If Dutch is your special language with the baby, make sure you do it in a way that feels inclusive. Tell your husband what songs mean, tell him stories so he knows what is being communicated even if he isn't there. That way you can still make choices about messages you want to share together even if only one of you is communicating them.

      1 agrees
      • One of the ideas we had is writing our own kick ass fairy tales, with pictures to explain πŸ˜€
        This way we could both use the books and still teach our own language.

        We don't actually have any family in this country that speaks Dutch so the whole teaching will solely come from me for the most part.

        I do agree that you should be mindful of others when you're potentially excluding them by language, and one of the rules will be to speak English out in public and in company that doesn't speak Dutch.

        It's hard in some cases; my parents have always found it hard to speak English to me and each other when my husband is around.
        It's not because they refuse to or are trying to exclude him, it's because it's weird speaking a different language with someone when you've always spoken X with them.
        You almost do it without knowing, although it has resolved itself over time.

        1 agrees
    • Hi there ^_^. In defense of the husband, Dutch is an incredibly difficult language to learn for most people. We (I myself am from The Netherlands) have A LOT of exceptions to the basic grammar rules and some sounds that are nigh impossible to learn if they weren't taught to you from the get-go (for example the 'sch' from Den Bosch).

      I do agree with you that he should learn the language, but it is hard.

      2 agree
      • Both my husband and I agreed he should try to learn Dutch.
        However, if it was as simple as "just learn the language" I wouldn't have asked how people deal in situations where that scenario doesn't work out πŸ™‚

        The 'sch' and 'g' sounds are killers πŸ˜‰

        2 agree
    • I must contend learning a second language isn't easy. and some people just can't, no matter how hard they try. as someone who took spanish 4 years and still don't speak a lick of it. i can spout grammar rules all day long. but i only know a handful of words.

      i try every chance i can to watch my shows in japanese and sign songs all day in japanese, play them in the car, for years on top of dictionaries and online translations, phrase books the works. almost 12 years. and i can still only cuss, call someone a gay monkey something picked up only as a nickname for a friend, and a few more random words.

      so seriously it's not that easy to learn another language.

      2 agree
  7. Good luck! My two cents here is, be caring and flexible to all. You can't actually assume that your children "WILL BE" completely bilingual, especially if your husband is not.

    I know a few kids who were spoken to in 2 languages by one parent and not the other, and they have a knowledge of the non-English language, but I wouldn't call them completely bilingual. Sometimes kids in these circumstances can rebel, or refuse to speak the language the second parent doesn't speak, even if they understand the language perfectly well when *you* speak it.

    Just something to keep in mind as you plan your approach…

    1 agrees
  8. When I was a child I knew a kid whose dad was English and mum was French. The kids spoke both languages.
    Once the kids were fluent they helped the parents continue to improve their skills by speaking the opposite language to the parents (e.g spoke French to the English Dad and spoke English to the French mum)

  9. I am dutch as well and have an American husband. We speak english to each other but he also learned dutch pretty fluently. We hope to start a family within the next year or so. I think you shouldn't worry too much about your husbands dutch. He will probably learn new words and sentences along with your child…

    I was wondering if you guys live in the States or the NL? I think that will really have a big influence too on how their grasp of the dutch language will evolve…

    groetjes!

    • We actually live in the UK πŸ™‚
      All of my family is back in the Netherlands, so it's just going to be me speaking Dutch for most of the time.
      I am thinking of teaching them to read and write, but that might be biting off more than I can chew πŸ˜›

      Hopefully he'll pick up some more Dutch, it would be nice though we're not banking on it.
      It's very funny trying to get him to pronounce words with a 'g' sound in them πŸ˜‰

      • Hahah, that guttural g is a tough one, but good to start practising from an early age πŸ˜‰

        Good luck!

      • Even if he never feels comfortable speaking Dutch, he may very well become quite comfortable understanding it when spoken by others. Many situations happen where two people communicate well with each speaking a different language. Depending on the circumstances, that might make him feel much more comfortable having two Dutch speakers in the house.

        2 agree
  10. I have been in (almost) this exact situation, except the language I am trying to speak to my son (Spanish) is not my native. But it is important to me that he learn it and is bilingual. A few notes from my personal experiences the past two years:

    a) There will be times that your husband feels left out. You will both have to deal with this. My husband knew that this was important to me and agreed to it, but it didn't mean that he was always happy. If I say something to my son that involves my husband or references my husband in some way, I try to repeat it in English for my husband's benefit (or rather, tell him directly in English what I said, so that he knows what to expect and so that the speech I direct to my son is still only in Spanish). My husband has also gotten pretty good at asking me to clarify what I just said if I forget and he hears the word "papΓ‘" (Spanish for "daddy").

    b) Your husband will pick up bits and pieces of the language you are speaking. He will most likely not be able to produce any of it himself, but he will start to understand it. You can encourage him to ask you what certain words mean, particularly if they are repeated a lot. My husband does not speak a word of Spanish, but at this point understands nearly everything I say to my son. In the beginning, he would ask what X meant, or Y meant. If a new word crops up in our conversation, he asks and I tell him what it is.

    c) Your child will hear more English than Dutch (assuming you live in an English-speaking area), and when they start speaking, this will be reflected in their speech. Do not despair! It does not mean that your child is not acquiring Dutch. (On the other hand, this means that your husband *will* be able to communicate with his child, so no worries there.) Children are very good at figuring out who to speak what language to. Eventually, your kid will speak to you in Dutch and to your husband in English. In the beginning, your child will probably also use a lot of English words with you, too. My son mostly only hears Spanish from me, and on occasion from a babysitter. Everywhere else he hears English. He's only just started speaking, and has a handful of Spanish words mostly learned from the first year I stayed home with him–almost all the new words he is acquiring now are in English. I don't try to insist that he speak to me in Spanish, because I don't want to put that kind of pressure on him. But I only speak Spanish back to him, even when he is using English with me.

    I wish you the best of luck! Raising a bilingual kid is completely do-able. One of my biggest challenges has been to relax and know that even if it's not perfect (like, if my Spanish isn't perfect) I am still giving my child exposure to another language and accomplishing my overall goal.

    2 agree
    • Thank you for your very helpful and insightful comment πŸ™‚

      Reading everything people have posted has reassured me it will all be fine, but it's still nice to hear how it works out for everyone.

      I guess the key is persistence and repeating, especially when it comes to language.

  11. I speak Romanian with our daughter and my husband is American and an English-speaker. He's been extremely encouraging of my speaking Romanian to our daughter so that she would grow up with all the advantages of being bilingual. Before we had our daughter, he's been to Romania a couple of times and knew some basic words and phrases but not very much.

    Since hearing me speak to her in Romanian all the time (she's now a year and a half), he's picked up a lot more words and has a pretty good passive understanding of the language. I never pressure him to learn the langauage and he has no real interest in a formal study of it. But we've both been impressed and surprised by how much he's been learning just by proxy.

    I imagine that your husband will similarly pick up a lot of the language by watching you interract (esp since so much of what we say to young kids is simple and repetitive). And hopefully he'll realize how valuable both culturally and cognitively that second language instruction will be for your future kids.

    In case you're interested, I compiled a series of interviews with parents raising bilingual (or multilingual) children on my blog since this question fascinated me as I started raising our daughter bilingually. I wanted to know what challenges and rewards other families were encountering. Most of the families profiled have only one parent speaking the second language:

    http://simplybikeblog.com/?page_id=6866

    Good luck with it!

    2 agree
  12. I speak exclusively english to my daughter in a francophone community. She understands both languages equally and uses some words from each language. In QuΓ©bec, this is defenitly common and from our experience, things run smoothly πŸ˜‰

  13. I don't have a lot of insight into raising a bilingual child since I'm not in that situation myself but it sounds like a lot of people have offered really good suggestions and ideas based on their own experience.

    What I do have extensive experience with, is being a foreigner trying to learn to speak Dutch. I'm not trying to be offensive in any way but I do want to share some of the things that I have learned about it. Learning Dutch IS hard; the vowel sounds in Dutch simply don't exist in English (I'm sure you know this) and the pronunciation of some consonants (yes G is definitely a problem) and the combinations of some letters (Spui for instance) are not anything like what a native English speaker would expect. That being said, the greatest impediment to anyone learning Dutch that I ever talked to about it, was that Dutch people were often way too dismissive of a non-native speaker's efforts. It almost seemed to be a point of pride that Dutch was far too difficult for a non-native speaker to master and it was just far easier to speak English.

    Please please understand that I am not trying to be nasty or offensive by pointing this out, and I know that I don't know your whole story and your relationship. Most of all, I really don't like to make blanket generalizations either, but this was something that I saw over and over again while I lived in the Netherlands. Your own comments and responses to other comments do sort of sound like you are dismissing your husband's ability to learn Dutch.

    It is quite possible that he understands more than you think (although group conversations are always challenging) and especially can read more than you might expect. Speaking it is another matter though , especially since the pronunciation is often so difficult. And especially since (again in my experience) Dutch when spoken with a non-native accent is often misunderstood and consequently dismissed as ignorance.

    He will very likely learn as your child learns though too. It sounds like he does have some interest in trying to learn which is wonderful – don't give up too easily. If he does want to learn, it is a challenging language but with a patient teacher (think a parent teaching a child level of patience) it can be done!

    • I'm not offended πŸ™‚

      Most of your comment rings true; all the pronouncing and grammar IS really hard and generally people will start speaking English when they realize a person doesn't speak Dutch.
      In most cases (at least with my husband and I), it's more that they wanted to save the non-speaker the trouble and help him out, yet there were some cases (in shops, for example) where they definitely were just impatient.

      However, I'm really not being dismissive about my husband's ability to learn Dutch.
      We've tried extensively to learn (through programs as well) and the few words he does remember he will say when we're in the Netherlands.
      Other words that sounds similar to English he'll pick up too.

      It was by my husband's own admission that it just wasn't going to work for him, at least not in this manner and I in no way want to force him to learn it.
      It's a shame, but for now actively learning is just not an option.

      We do hope that it'll be different when he's around our child and I.
      To be honest, it would be really cool if he could learn with the kidlet and give them something to bond over. πŸ™‚

      1 agrees
  14. When my son was in preschool there was another child in class whose mother spoke to him only in Japanese and the dad only spoke in German. Neither parent could speak the other's language so they spoke English to each other. I asked the mom once if it wasn't confusing for everyone…she said that yes, at times it was frustrating and it took longer to discuss things when they were switching from language to language but giving her son the gift of three languages was worth it. As for the boy, he was fluent and knew that most people needed him to speak in English.
    Kids are wicked smart and soak up everything like sponges…Dutch and English won't be a problem. Understand that speaking and writing will be delayed a little developmentally because the kid will be learning two languages at once but they catch up quick.
    As for your husband, there are a lot of studies that show learning a second language has many benefits. Have him look into that, maybe he will get over some of the feelings of being left out and AND help him realize that you two can give your kiddos a huge gift.

    1 agrees
    • We decided to teach our kids Dutch not only because it's part of their heritage, but also because of the other benefits associated with having a second language.

      Kudos to those parents, sounds like they did a wonderful job!

      1 agrees
  15. I also speak as someone in a relationship with someone who is bilingual and raised that way. My partner's mother is French and he grew up spending every second xmas in France. He speaks fluent French and English. His father never learned a damned word of French (but that was along with a host of other relationship problems – they're now divorced). But, we do want our children to be bilingual also. I recently went with my FH to France for the first time. I took a few weeks worth of lessons of French first, but boy, I was completely left out most of the time. It was horrid and upsetting and very lonely, so I totally understand your husband's reaction.

    I kind of agree with the poster above that it sounds a little dismissive of your husband's ability. What I would say is if YOU'VE attempted to teach him, this could be a very bad idea. I would never have learned French from my FH, I went straight for classes. It can be really frustrating to try and learn something as difficult as another language when the person teaching you is an absolute natural. It kind of gives you the feeling that people are saying "Well, it just IS! You just DO IT!" when it's not that simple for the learner.

    So perhaps encourage your husband to attend professional lessons alongside?

    1 agrees
    • I've explained above that we tried learning through a program/lessons too (along with me and other family members trying to teach him).
      I'm not dismissive of his attempts and I encourage him to try it in any manner that works for him.

      It just doesn't work (at the moment) though and forcing someone to just keep going is more than likely going to have a negative effect, something which we both wish to avoid.

      Like some people have said it may be different when he's passively picking the language up from hearing me speak to our kid and perhaps then try the professional lessons again with more success.
      We certainly hope so πŸ™‚

  16. If your husband is interested in learning – it seems that's an IF, but posting in case – I really recommend the site and forums at fluentin3months.com (all free). The URL sounds gimmicky but the site really isn't, and it's all run by a guy who knows what he's talking about – he didn't learn to speak a second language until he was 21 and he now speaks 8+. Here's a good guest post by a guy who learned Austrian German so he could talk to his father-in-law:
    http://www.fluentin3months.com/papa-chat/

    • That's an awesome story!

      Hopefully one day my husband, our kid and I will be able to have a conversation in Dutch πŸ˜€

      1 agrees
  17. My parents had a similar concern; my mother is Vietnamese-Chinese (born in Vietnam), and my dad is Dutch-Canadian (born in Canada). When they got married and decided to have children, my mother was against us learning Cantonese (her native language), because she was worried it would confuse us when we went to school. My dad was extremely gungho for us learning Cantonese, since he never learned Dutch growing up, for the same reasons. He really hates that he can't speak it. My brothers and I are in our 20's now, and we all speak/understand Cantonese and I am passable in Mandarin and know a bit of Vietnamese as well. We've been able to teach my dad a few things over the years, and he's always interested in learning more. I'm sure he knows more then he lets on though, he can understand when my mom and I talk about him!

    My mom is really happy she decided to teach us Cantonese, its much easier for her to talk to us in Cantonese, as English is her third language (Cantonese and Vietnamese being her first and second respectively), and when she gets mad at us, she tends to yell at us in Cantonese. πŸ˜‰ Its also easier for us to converse with our grandparents on our mother's side, since they don't speak much English. For the three of us, its hard to think of life without being able to speak both languages. When we're at home, we use both languages interchangeably. My mom and I speak a mix of Cantonese/Mandarin/English, and I speak English with my dad, but sometimes I use Cantonese as well. My dad enjoys learning new words, and its good practice for me, since I don't get to practice it enough where I live currently for school (predominantly White/English in Niagara Falls) compared to home (predominantly Asian/Chinese just outside Toronto).

    I wouldn't worry about having one monolingual parent and one bilingual. Language will become a bonding activity! Your husband will most likely learn a bit of Dutch, like how my dad has learned a bit of Cantonese.

    1 agrees
  18. This reminds me of when my mum started babysitting some children who had been raised primarily by their italian grandmother but their dad was english speaking and they lived in an english speaking country. One day my mum asked the girl what she wanted for lunch and she just kept saying an italian word. Eventually she asked 'what does daddy call it?' which made the 4 year old roll her eyes and say 'egg stupid!' From then on mum was armed with 'and what does daddy call it?' questions! Maybe your husband can gently remind you future children to switch to english by asking 'but what does daddy call this?'

    1 agrees
  19. Wow. I never realized there were other Dutch speakers on Offbeat Families! I think setting the right boundaries will make this easier. If your husband feels left out, have him focus on Dutch phonics so that he can read books with your child. My mother learned a lot from 'Jip en Janneke' books. The stories are pleasant enough and don't have the long compound words that can be intimidating. Also, I know a number of famous children's stories have been translated to Dutch, so your husband might feel more comfortable starting with those.

    2 agree
      • We lurk everywhere, muawhahaha.

        You've also just reminded me of the many Annie M. G. Schmidt books I read as a child, they'd be an excellent choice for reading time.

        Ah, the days where I believed things as a land of candy really existed…

      • Yes, fun to realize there are more of us here than I previously thought πŸ™‚

  20. My mother spoke German and English, my step-mom speaks French and English. It was never any issue in any household I spent time in.

    I'm kind of thinking this is your husband's question to ask, "How can I suck it up and deal?", or "how can I make learning Dutch easier?" πŸ™‚

    1 agrees
  21. Well, he could always learn Dutch… it's not that tough, I have heard (my mother is Dutch, too). ^^ I mean, only if it really annoys him. My father knew not a single word Dutch when he met my mother, but he picked it up fairly quickly while playing cards with her father and brothers. (In the end he was so good at it that no one would believe me when I told his colleagues he was German.)

    We are at the beginning of planning a family, and I totally want our children to grow up bilingually – either with Dutch or English as second language (we live in Germany, are both German, but are discussing moving to another country if there is a good job offer).

    • I think it depends on both the person themselves and their mother tongue on how well you pick up another language.

      German uses similar sounds like the 'g' so pronunciation would be less difficult as you already use something similar, whereas in English that kind of sound just doesn't exist.

      While I was in school German was easy for me to learn to speak (don't mind the grammar :P) as it sounded similar to both Dutch and my dialect.

      With say, Japanese, I wouldn't have that connection as it sounds completely different and I wouldn't distinct any words on my own because it's not similar to any thing I've heard here.

      The way my husband explained it, it's like that for him.
      There are some words he'll recognize but most of it sounds like gibberish to him.

      1 agrees
  22. my experience is rather different, because the language in question is asl (sign) and my wife is a student (so we have the same native language) so the logistics of it are definitely different.

    but she taught our little guy signs before he could speak, and it was *great* because it gave him a way to communicate – but, of course, that only helped if i could understand him. in that vein, i would encourage your husband to try and learn more dutch at the level you say he's at – not conversational, just some more words that will be relevant to the kids. that way when they first start speaking, if it happens to be in dutch, he won't be unable to communicate. by the time they're surpassing that rudimentary level, they will likely also be speaking both languages.

    for me, that means i can sign/recognize "please" "milk" "banana" "help" "socks" and some other things along those lines, but i still can't communicate in sign to adults basically at all, and as his language skills have increased, he knows that he needs to speak in a way i understand in order to get anything more complicated than "milk please". i don't have any advice for as they get older, because that's entirely different, but for that "just learning to speak" stage, it's been really important to me to at least understand the kid's language, if not "speak" it (and, hey, "this is the only way to communicate with your kid" is pretty good encouragement – my wife's been trying unsuccessfully to teach me rudimentary signs for 5 years, and that's what it took to get me to retain even what little i do know).

    2 agree
  23. I grew up in a household where my mother and I were trilingual, and my father was bilingual. We handled it mainly by context. English and Spanish (the two languages everyone could understand) were spoken at home, while I spoke Mandarin at school.

    While this worked largely because I had a concrete place to speak Mandarin that was away from my parents, it might be worth trying to carve out a separate time/place for you and your kids to speak Dutch, either by finding some sort of community or activity that they can be part of, or by scheduling some time for you+kids to be alone and speak Dutch. Not speaking English when you+kids are in public is also an option (and it worked for me & my mother when we were living in the U.S.), but that can come with some assumptions and reactions that you may not want to deal with.

    It may also be worth noting that even though I grew up trilingual, I stopped speaking Spanish around age 10, and had been slowly using it less and less starting at about 7. I can still understand quite a bit, and can remember a lot when put in a situation where I need to, but haven't actively spoken much Spanish in a long time, and have a vocabulary limited to "things a ten-year-old might reasonably know". My mother tried to force me to speak Spanish at home, but it didn't work and became a huge point of contention between us.

    Point is, even if you raise your kids speaking [insert number of languages], it may only be a temporary situation. If it's not a language that they get a lot of practical use of outside of home, they may drop it at a fairly young age, or never progress past a vocabulary/conversation level that your husband can understand.

    If you really want your kids to learn Dutch, I would advise doing it outside of your home, and involving other people as much as possible, since it avoids the whole "we know Mom understands English just fine" problem, and gives them an opportunity to make friends they might be willing to speak a different language with in order to keep.

  24. Honestly, this was a concern for me. My husband is Turkish, and completely fluent in English as well. I also was concerned that they wouldn't be bilingual. Mostly likely when we have children, I would be the primary care giver, and due to lack of exposure my children wouldn't become fluent in Turkish. So we decided to move to Turkey, so I could learn the language and culture. I really feel now, that after being an expat for four years that we are truly a bi-cultural and bi-lingual couple. We both understand each others' home culture and language. We will probably move back the the U.S. when we have kids, but we will be prepared culturally and linguistically.

  25. So, you and your husband have agreed your child should be bilingual. Your husband doesn't want to feel left out of the conversations the two of you will have in Dutch. But, he also doesn't want to learn the language…

    So are you supposed to only teach your child Dutch when he's not around? Doing so will create a bond between you and your child, but could also cause issues about how your child views Dutch in regards to your husband, especially if you always switch away from Dutch when he's around.

    Honestly, if he doesn't want to feel left out, he should try learning a little Dutch with your child. He doesn't have to become fluent. Maybe codeswitching would help him feel more comfortable.

    Talk to him about why he'd be annoyed by these Dutch conversations (Is it because you and your child would have a special connection that he doesn't?) and if he'd be willing to learn basic Dutch for your child (and your child will pick up on what's the best way to communicate with your husband quickly).

    Good luck!

    • As I've said in previous comments, it's not that he doesn't WANT to learn.
      We tried for 3-4 years and recently came the point where my husband said it's not gonna work, at least not right now.
      And again, I'm not going to force him. I'm very happy and proud he tried.

      So while we are still hoping it may be different when we actually are parents, we also want to explore what the other options are if he doesn't ever learn Dutch.
      He gets annoyed when we're in larger groups and everything goes too quick to follow or explain adequately.

      With our own child that would be different, but as someone pointed out (and what was one of the thoughts behind this question) it may be difficult when the kidlet is only just learning to speak.

      I just wondered how people deal, especially in those situations where the other parent unfortunately doesn't fully succeed in picking up the new language.

  26. I am in this same situation, but instead of a relatively common language, we are teaching our child Bulgarian. My wife speaks Bulgarian and I speak English. I learn each and every day from watching the interactions with my wife and my son(s). So much to the point I am now comfortable communicating with my wife's family. At times it is frustrating, but I just have to get over that, as it is due to my own ability to reach the next milestone in learning.

    There is the other option, move to the Netherlands for a few years. Immersion is always the best method of learning a language.

  27. Hey,

    I hope I am not too late joining this conversation. I just wanted to add my ideas on this subject.
    First of all, I agree with the previous post that you should check out fluentin3months.com, it is a great site with some amazing ideas on learning a foreign language to high proficiency levels.
    Secondly, I know you have said that your husband has already tried to learn Dutch and deemed it too hard, however I think your husband and you are not quite doing justice to a person's natural language learning abilities.

    -Your husband should try again (if you guys really want to raise a strong bilingual child, since creating a minority language at home is way better than a one-parent one language approach). He should not only view it as a language to be studied, but as language to use in daily life. Maybe, he should try a study approach that mixes classes/formal instruction with enjoyable activities (watching TV, doing something he normally does in English but in Dutch, reading, making friends with others who are learning Dutch, etc.) In addition to this, you can also help him out a little in terms of the language. Like if he learns the phrase for "Pass me the salt or Pass me the pepper" in Dutch then he can begin using this phrase oppose to the English equivalent when talking with you. Before you know it, I believe he can actually gain a good speaking range (at least in terms of everyday vocabulary). This can also help you guys practice for when your child comes along.

    -Many people often have the same problem that your husband has when hearing Dutch. (aka. the words seem indistinguishable). However, it is just a matter of listening to more comprehensible input. He should do more active and passive listening to Dutch. This will definitely help him learn to distinguish the sounds of the language.

    -To me, I think you and your husband's perspective on the sounds of the language are what is really holding him back. Of course his pronunciation of sounds is not going to be perfect in Dutch. However, that should not stop him from continuing to use Dutch and getting as good at those sounds a possible (even though it is possible to learn foreign sounds that don't exist in your language as an adult, it just takes effort). Frankly speaking, (and I mean this with no disrespect) it is better for him not to get hung up on pronunciation when learning a language and it would be better for him to learn Dutch before you guys have kids. That way he can help support their Dutch language along side you (which will be helpful when the kids start to realize that the need to speak Dutch is low. Trust me, kids begin to rebel against the minority language if it is not supported completely by both parents or by outside forces).

    -There are a ton of great blogs where non-native German, Spanish, Chinese and even Dutch speakers have raised children in their non-native language and it turned out great. Here is an example: http://nonnativebilingualparents.blogspot.com/ (great blog by a non-native who raised her kids in German and it turn out amazing).

    Your husband's bad pronunciation will not be a problem as long as your kid has you, and any other source of Dutch input (tv , grandparents, etc). Though as I said before, there is no doubt your husband CAN learn the language. I think all these self-defeating ideas about Dutch being too hard (every language claims this: Japanese, Chinese, Greek, French etc.) and the pronunciation needing to be perfect, is what is destroying his chances of ever obtaining fluency. A lot of people around the world, including yourself have learned English as a second language. And even though some of them speak with accents and don't pronounce all the words correctly, they still go on to teach their kids English. In most countries, non-native English speakers are teaching children ENGLISH in schools. So obviously you guys should not at all be caught up with perfect pronunciation or the idea that Dutch is harder than English, since NO ONE is perfect in their second language.

    Wow, this was a long post. I hope you don't read this as an attack. But I have met sooo many people whose spouses never learn their language due to "it being too difficult", "they feeling like the pronunciation will never be perfect" or other excuses. All it takes is effort and of course motivation (your husband should really want to do this.) I have also known a lot of people who have tried to go down the one parent speaks their native tongue and the other speaks the majority language route, and ultimately it ends with a passive bilingual. A child who does not speak the minority language (after entering school) but understands it (and that is only if the minority language parent have kept up with talking to the kid and has not already switched to using more of the majority language).

    Whatever your husband and you decides to do, I hope it turns out well. πŸ™‚

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.