Bilingual children: (re)introducing a family language

Bilingual children: (re)introducing a family language

As the benefits of bilingualism are getting more widely known and the old myths about it dispelled, more and more parents decide to pass on the family languages to their children, giving them the gift of an additional language, fantastic! But what if everything doesn’t go to plan and your baby grows up to be a toddler, school kid or teenager who can or will not speak your language? How can you (re)introduce it?

First of all, be prepared for some hard work – the amount of determination and patience you need to succeed is in direct relation to:
a. how old your children are (the younger they are, the easier it is),
b. how much they know of your language, are they receptive bilinguals? (the more they know, the easier it is) and
c. how well you can motivate them to learn it (the more motivated they are, the easier it is)

Also, before you start, I recommend that you plan ahead so you can be better prepared. You can do this by answering some questions:

a. Why do you want your children to learn your language?
Make sure that the reasons you list are based on your own feelings and thoughts, not on others’ expectations or wishes.

b. How are you going to do it?
Will it only be you responsible for the language exposure? Do you have anyone else who could support you? Will you introduce new activities? Will you make more trips to increase the exposure?

c. What does your decision mean for your family’s everyday life?
How will it affect the family life and relationships? How will you tackle the situation if your partner were to feel left out? Will you have to invest in books, DVDs, travelling or tuition? Will you have the energy to go through with it?

d. When to start?
“The earlier the better” is the mantra when it comes to raising a bilingual child, so I recommend that you start as soon as you have answered the above three questions!


By answering the “why?” question above, I hope you have found what motivates you to pass on your language to your children. It is extremely important that you do, as your motivation will keep you going if you need to overcome challenges along the way.

We all know that when we want to learn something, the chances are far better than if we are told we have to. So your first task is to make your children want to learn your language. You know your children best, so you are the expert when it comes to motivating them. What spurs your children on? Make the motivating factors something they really want: to have fun, enjoy exciting activities, go on trips, learn something new and interesting. I am not averse to using some rewards to spark the interest of your children, but remember that you cannot bribe your kids to learn your language – they should want to learn it. What I am averse to is using any kind of threat or negative consequence as a motivator. You do not want to associate your language with negative feelings.


No matter how motivated both you and your children are about (re)introducing your language to your communication, it will not happen unless you make time for it in your lives. To achieve this, create (and maintain!) routines for language exposure. Routines are you best support mechanism on your way to success.

Be realistic when you put a routine in place. Will you have the time? What could stop you from doing the planned activities? What can you do to remove these obstacles? What is your back-up plan if circumstances change?

Choose a specific time, place or/and activity when your language will be used. It might be a certain time of the day (breakfast or dinner time, in the evening or before bedtime) or a day of the week or even the whole weekend. You could choose a place in your home which will be your cue to use your language. Maybe there are activities or hobbies you could do in your language?

According to research it takes 21-30 days to break a habit or to create a new one, so use your determination and patience to stick with your routine for at least a month. If you feel like giving up, think of what motivated you in the first place. Also ask for help from others: those who could help you with the language exposure and other parents, who have experienced the challenges and still succeeded in bringing up bilingual children.

Good luck!

Are you planning or trying to (re)introduce your language to your children? What are your experiences?

May the peace and power be with you.


© Rita Rosenback 2014

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Categories: Challenges, Family life, Practical advice

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10 replies

  1. Reblogged this on expatsincebirth and commented:
    It’s never too late, but if you decide to re-introduce a family language, there are some things to consider.

  2. Reblogged this on expatsincebirth.

  3. In Costa Rica I met several couples with one spouse from the US and one from CR. The clearest-thinking ones used English at home, especially with their kids, because they were surrounded by Spanish and were going to learn it anyway. Those who could afford it put their kids in English-language schools. When they lived in the US, they switched to Spanish at home so the kids wouldn’t lose it.

    My first wife and I were both raised in Latin America (MKs), but we never passed Spanish on to our kids because it was too artificial to speak Spanish at home. We lived in Costa Rica for four years. I was disappointed that my kids didn’t learn Spanish as well as I did; Costa Ricans are much more private people than Colombians so my kids didn’t have many neighborhood friends.

    • Thank you for sharing your story! It is really interesting what you say about the difference in how people behaved in Colombia and Costa Rica and how it can affect how well children learn the community language. Although you feel your children didn’t learn Spanish as well as you did, they do have a foundation and are miles ahead of others if they decide to improve their Spanish skills one day.

  4. This entry is very useful for me as it applies very well to my current situation. Thank you for sharing your expertise!


  1. Parents of bilingual children – what if one of you feels left out? « multilingual families raising bilingual children

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