My husband speaks a language I don’t understand with our children and it’s OK.

[ 4 ] 13/03/2019 |
Sandra Roger’s Photography

Anzelika, a mum who read our journey with raising multilingual children, sent me the following email. I thought of replying via a blog post, with her permission, instead of a personal email as this might be of interest to more moms out there who find themselves in a similar situation.

Hi Liza! There are not many inspiring stories out there about multilingual families, however, yours belongs to the inspiring ones!

In my family we have a similar situation, each parent comes from different country and the common family language is English. However, my concern is, how comfortable did/do you guys feel speaking 2 different languages at home with your kids when knowing that your partner doesn’t understand what you’re saying to your child?* I thankfully know my husband’s language, but he doesn’t speak mine….and for me it feels like we are raising 2 separate kids in a way… It’s difficult to explain, but I rather stick to English as soon as we are together, because that feels just respectful and right.

Would be great to hear your feedback on that, maybe I can grow some courage and try to get used to both of us speaking different languages at home to our child.’

I’ll start by going back in time. The first time I moved abroad I was in my early twenties. I went to Paris with an Erasmus scholarship to further my studies in French. The common language there was obviously French, and I remember I found it rude and disrespectful when people would switch back to their own languages instead of sticking to French. It didn’t feel right that people were left out. Mind you, it wasn’t intentional in order to marginalize others, but still it felt wrong. I was of the same mindset when I moved to Malta about 1 year later. In Malta the common language is English, and I noticed that people would often start speaking in their own languages when they met others from their home countries, both at work and at social settings, even though the rest of us didn’t understand a word of it.

It took me many years, and a foreign boyfriend, my now husband Roy, to realize that when it is not intentional in order to exclude others from a conversation, it is not disrespectful. It happens to all of us, and it happens naturally. When my family and friends were visiting Roy and me, I often caught myself changing language and speaking in Greek even when Roy was present. The same happened when we had his own family and friends over and they were all speaking Norwegian. The same thing would often happen when we were out and some of our friends would meet others from their home countries.

The end result was that by being surrounded daily by people who spoke different languages both at home and outside and which I didn’t understand, I sort of grew immune to it. Roy and me got used to this being our new normal, our everyday world reality. This is how we live, this is how our social networks function, and we’ve learned not to be affected by it. People around us speak different languages and when they do so, we just drift inwards to our own thoughts. If we are interested in the conversation and the subject matter, then we kindly request them to switch back to English. If we’re not, then we have an awesome excuse not to have to keep up with conversations that we might not be interested in.

As it usually happens with many things in life, changing my mindset was the key here. I learned to embrace it. Believe it or not, I actually grew to love it. Now I have the opposite issue. Being surrounded by my own language 24/7 when I go to Greece can be overwhelming as I cannot switch off and I need to listen to everything.

If and when I feel I am missing out when my husband speaks in Norwegian with our children, I simply ask him to switch back to English. If I don’t feel like it’s something I need to hear (ie a story I have heard before, he’s setting a limit etc), I let them continue in their own language and I allow myself to drift freely to my own thoughts. I don’t need to hear and be involved with everything. Roy does the same.

Through the years and with the kids repeating the same stuff, both Roy and me understand a bit of what the conversation might be about. If we want to be involved, we tell each other. If not, we let the conversation move on in between the different members of our little family in the language they see it fit. This is going to change soon though, as I enrolled for an intensive course in Norwegian, starting in August and I am curious to see what the future will bring. I will be decoding their secret world and maintain my own ‘secret’ one with the kids 🙂 .

I hope this helps.

Love, Liza.

*I speak Greek with the kids, a language my husband doesn’t speak, and he speaks Norwegian, a language I don’t speak. Our common, home language, is English.

Category: Erik and me, Multicultural Kid, Your Questions

Comments (4)

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  1. Anzelika says:

    Hi Liza! Thank you for getting back to me and posting an answer here on your blog. It was insightful and interesting! You are so right about the right mindset, changing my mindset is something I clearly need to work on. Wishing you all the best in your family’s journey 🙂

  2. liza says:

    I am happy to hear you found it interesting. I wish you and your family all the best as well; looking forward to hear how it works for you in the future.

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