Raising bilingual (or multilingual) children requires us to expose our children to many hours of a target language. We can do this through classes, games, apps, stories, but most importantly, through simply having conversations with them. However, do you ever feel like you’re being rude when you’re speaking a different language in front of people (especially friends or guests) who don’t understand it? Maybe your guest doesn’t mind, maybe they silently do, or maybe they just want to know what’s going on! Well, I imagine that the feeling might be even double when that person happens to be your spouse or partner.
I often come across people who find themselves in this situation and the discomfort increases exponentially when you have children and want to pass off your native language! So, how can we successfully pass on a second language to our children when our partner is monolingual? It really is all about increasing buy-in and making sure our partners become part of our language-learning project. Here are a few tips!
Discuss your desire and goals with your partner
As with every important area of your life, it’s important to discuss your hopes with your partner. Let them know why you want them to learn a particular language. Is it about passing down your cultural heritage? Is it about making sure they connect with certain members of your family? Do you feel like you can deeply connect with them only in your native language?
It’s important that you let your partner know what the goal is. Do you want your children to be fully bilingual? Do you want them to be able to speak, understand, and write in the target language? Do you simply wish for them to be exposed to the second language? Do you think you will need to invest economically in the goal?
Once your partner knows the importance of your language learning goals for your children, he or she will be more willing to get on board.
Share the benefits about being bilingual
There are many other benefits of teaching children another language. As discussed above, sharing a cultural or heritage language has a great impact on the relationships between you, your children, and the rest of your family. However, even if the language is not your native language. Discuss the positive cognitive impact that learning a second language has on children’s brain development. You should also discuss the benefits that it will afford in the future in terms of job prospects and opportunities to connect with culturally diverse communities.
Discuss any discomfort your partner might feel
Once you have shared your thoughts and feelings with your partner, be sure to ask and give them time to explain the objections or discomforts they might have with your plan. Will they feel left out? Will it feel awkward if you are speaking in the target language at the dinner table and they don’t know what’s going on? Will your partner’s family feel left out?
It’s important to hash out all of these issues so that you can come up with a plan together! If your partner feels like he or she is part of the project, like their opinions and concerns matter, and that they will have a role to play in this bi-lingual journey, their buy-in will increase greatly.
Encourage your partner to spend quality time with the children
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again and again! Raising bilingual and multilingual children takes time and effort. Those of us doing this will tend to spend a lot of time with our children talking to them, reading, playing games, etc. It’s important! However, let’s make sure that we are not completely monopolizing their time. Encourage your partner to have someone one on one time with the kids where they are free to speak their native language and connect with the kids on a deep level.
Translate for your partner
In our home, English is the majority language. It is also the only language my husband speaks (Aside from some basic understanding of Spanish and what he is currently learning). Our target language is Spanish, and it is the native language of most of my family members.
During family gatherings I often serve as translator, making sure everyone understands each other. It is a lot of work, but it helps everyone be comfortable and happy! And once you begin translating and breaking the ice, people will try to communicate with each other even when you are not there!
At the dinner table, or anytime I am speaking with my daughters in Spanish, I translate or ask them to translate for their Dad (if he doesn’t understand) or other family members. Doing this will ensure that your partner will not feel left out of family time conversations or activities.
Teach your partner the language
If your partner is open to it, why not spend some time teaching them the target language? Simply teaching a few every day phrases and writing out notecards with common household words and pasting them around the house can go a long way! There are also many apps, audiobooks, and programs that your partner can use to help increase their knowledge of the target language. Investing a few hours a week can go a long way in making them an essential part of this project!
Support is crucial for this language-learning journey we are on! Increasing buy-in from our monolingual partners will make our job so much easier.
How about you? Do you have any tips for increasing a monolingual partner’s buy-in? We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment here or on any of our social media pages.
About the Author
Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari, a Spanish Learning game for children 4-10 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.