Is the statement “First generation speaks, second understands and third loses the language” really true? Are third generation immigrants bound to lose the language of their family’s home country? Is it even possible to keep passing on the language from one generation to the next? Should you even try?
In many cases it is sadly true that by the third generation the original home language might have become a passive language which is only understood but not actively spoken. Of course each generation makes its own decision about which language they want to use, but I do think that parents play a major role in the outcome of their children’s language skills.
If as a parent you want to maintain your heritage language as an active language of the family there is one important rule you should follow: speak it consistently and do not switch to the majority language too easily. Stick with it and your children will thank you later.
Here in England the government has just announced that it wants to encourage language learning since there are far too few language students and it is more and more difficult to find good candidates to work within the diplomatic service. To remedy this, the foreign office language school will be reopened … Hmm, I’m all for improved language teaching, but it will take a lot more than that to increase the amount of bilingual people in this country!
Language skills are a tremendous gift, and if you already have more than one language in your family – which ever language it is – it makes sense in so many ways to make sure the language skills are passed on to the next generation.
To answer the questions at the start: Yes, the statement is unfortunately true in many cases. The heritage language does often get lost by the third generation. However, it IS possible to pass it on and you should definitely give it your best try!
… and I think the government should support every parent in the quest to teach their children their languages – it is by far the best and cheapest way to learn a language!
May the peace and power be with you!
© Rita Rosenback 2013