The Same Boring Complaint

At the conference, I had a very typical – and, frankly, very boring – conversation with colleagues who first express extreme shock that I don’t teach my daughter to speak my language and then detail their intense, excruciating, and completely futile efforts to teach their language to their kids. Everybody’s kids are much older than Klara, and everybody’s experience is that of complete and abject failure. Yet everybody is shocked that I don’t want to repeat the same useless journey.

One colleague shared how her college-age kids started saying things like, “what do you know? You are an immigrant. Ah, just keep silent already, immigrant.” Obviously, there’s much more than language resentment here but maybe let’s stay off my case given that your experience hasn’t been amazing?

6 thoughts on “The Same Boring Complaint”

  1. “shock that I don’t teach my daughter to speak my language ”

    I’m not sure if you can even do that… IIRC there was research in the 1990s that came to the conclusion that children learn the languages that they want to (given exposure). Generally, mom and/or dad’s (or grandparents’) language that none of their friends know…. is just not that appealing. the language of the playground wins about 100% of the time.

    I’ve known a number of non-Polish people who try to teach their children their language and the results are not generally…. inspiring. I remember talking to a British guy who was able to teach his daughter some spoken English but then she figured out ‘Dad speaks Polish… why bother with this other weird language?’ and that was that.

    The way it does sometimes work is if there are frequent trips to the other language environment (and kids there that only speak the parent’s language).


    1. Agreed, it only works well when there are other kids around or grandparents who do lots of care giving and don’t speak the language of the broader community.

      I have some friends who did pretty well getting their kids to learn German in the US, but they found other parents in the area with similar age kids and they invested tons of time into organizing weekly play sessions and activities in German for the kids every Saturday for years. The German grandparents were also retired and they came for long visits every summer and did tons of stuff with the kids. Another friend was successful in getting her daughter to grow up bilingual in English and Swedish because sent her daughter to Sweden to live with her grandmother for the whole summer every summer starting when she was five or six. And the motivation was more for the child to have a chance to have some sort of relationship with her grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins.


    2. The only way to get to speak a language lies through love. You need to love it and what it stands for. But as we say in my culture, where there’s fear, there’s no love.


  2. I was about to say I know tons of parents who raised bi- and trilingual kids, but I guess that would be because I’m talking about bilingual or trilingual in languages that weren’t just used at home


  3. I know plenty of people who’ve successfully raised bilingual kids…but they weren’t actively teaching their kids the language, the kid just picked up and used both, no extra effort involved really. These are also families where some of the extended family doesn’t speak English well, so the kids learn the language because they wanna be able to talk to grandma. If you don’t need a second language to communicate with members of your family and ethnic community, then a second language is just something nice, nothing particularly vital. For the record everyone I’m thinking of is Indian.


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