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Anybody Have a Partner Who Doesn't Want to Speak Their Native Language to Your Kids

post #1 of 44
Thread Starter 
DH is Egyptian, yet he barely speaks any Arabic to our kids. It really frustrates me because I see as time goes on, they're losing the potential for ever being fluent. He says he feels weird speaking Arabic to them, when I don't understand it. I've told him, I don't care... but still he doesn't speak it very much. Although they do know when they're in trouble in Arabic.

Any tips on how to overcome this?? The kids are 4-1/2, 2-1/2, and 10 months and I worry especially that the older one is getting too old to pick any Arabic up. The eldest knows a bit, and goes to Arabic class twice per week (I take him)... but it's very basic.
post #2 of 44
My dad is a native Spanish speaker and my mom is monolingual English speaking. My dad didn't teach us Spanish. I ALWAYS wished that I had been given that gift! Instead I got to be the Latina in Spanish 1, Spanish surname not helping me with my struggle to learn Spanish. It makes me feel like an idiot to see white Americans speak Spanish better than me! It feels like my birthright! It was embarassing to have people approach me in Mexico expecting me to be fluent. I took classes all through highschool and college, have a minor in it, moved to Mexico for a while and attended a university, but I STILL struggle with it. Being from a mixed household, I think it would have given me a better connection to my Mexican heritage and family. So, I don't really have advice on how to get your husband to start, but I have friends in your situation, too, where the husband is only speaking to the child in English. I don't know why.
post #3 of 44
I couldn't get DH to do Chinese with DS.
post #4 of 44
I'm actually the spouse who doesn't speak my native language to our son.
It really is harder than I thought it would be.
It's hard to switch from one language to another in the house. If I have to speak in English when talking to my husband and then speak Tagalog when talking to my son, it'll drive me nuts. And I have tried. I end up botching both languages and forgetting words.
Another thing is that most of our friends are American so I speak English ALL THE TIME and my tongue gets used to the softness when speaking American English. Tagalog requires a much harder tongue so the switch isn't as easy. Pretty much like muscle memory.
And yes, it feels awkward talking to our son in a language that his Dad cannot understand. I really feel rude doing it. Even if my DH won't mind, it still feels rude to me so that's something I need to get over.
What we have come up with is for my husband to learn Tagalog via Rosetta Stone so that he can understand the basics while I try harder to impart my language with our son.
post #5 of 44
Do you have the opportunity to study Arabic yourself? Maybe your DH would feel better if you were learning it as well and it wasn't such a "secret" language between him and the children. When I lived in the States, I can remember seeing quite a few books, tapes, videos, etc. for Egyptian Arabic as well as MSA when at bookstores.
post #6 of 44
This is happening with my niece. My BIL has the same experience as grumpybear. He left China when he was 7. he grew up speaking mandarin with his parents, but they are the only people to whom he speaks the language, other than the random relative in China who calls. The rest of his life is in English. So it's very hard for him to switch. Further adding to the problem is that he doesn't read the Chinese characters. His family left right at the age when he'd have started learning them. Then they got caught up in building their new life in America, in having BIL learn English, etc. I think it would help him if he could read to Dear Niece in Mandarin.

Anyway, no advice, but it bugs my sister no end.
post #7 of 44
DH won't speak Farsi to DS. I don't know why... I've reiterated with him time and again that DS will lose the chance to be a native Farsi speaker unless DH speaks to him. He just won't do it.

My dad speaks French to DS, and DS is learning a ton of French, even though he only sees my dad a few hours a week. Every little bit helps... if only I could get DH on board.
post #8 of 44
Flor-my 11yo DD is feeling the same way and 6yo DS is getting annoyed. When she was born we lived in a multilingual community-primarily Spanish and English. You had to know some Spanish to get by. When she was 2 we moved to mainly English suburbs and DH stopped speaking Spanish due to his own issues. We fought about this alot-I gave up. He feels it won't help them but may HARM them!! :

So here are my kids with Spanish surnames clueless in Spanish class-adding to the fact everyone seems to question their ethnicity and race already. They have friends who speak Spanish and Arabic and feel so left out.
post #9 of 44
I tried everything to get DH to speak Hungarian to the kids when they were young, but now that the oldest two are 7 and 5, and the little 1 1/2, I've given up.

I really don't understand why his kids learning his native tongue is not important to him. We have visited his parents in Hungary numerous times, and it breaks my heart that the grandchildren and grandparents can't really talk to each other.

My daughter started grade one at a French immersion school in September, and I can't believe how well she is speaking already. What a shame it isn't her third language.
post #10 of 44

My dh is fluent in 5 languages but only speaks English now. I think it's probably because it's just too hard for him to switch back and forth--he worked so hard on his English and hates making mistakes, and because his language (Amharic) reverses sentence structure and has other gramatical differences, whenever he spends any time speaking Amharic, he has to struggle a bit when he switches to English.

I am going to find an Amharic learning curriculum for the children so they can at least get a taste of it, and hopefully we will move back to Ethiopia before they lose the ease of language learning they have for the next few years.
post #11 of 44
My DH says he feels weird speaking Japanese to the kids. He gets really frustrated when he tries to teach them words and they don't get it right away.
post #12 of 44
Yes! :
post #13 of 44
Yes. My dh speaks greek, but doesn't speak greek to our children. We don't live close to his family, so they are not exposed to the language through their grandparents either. My children are the only cousins who don't know any greek

But, I recently read (on MDC somewhere) that it actually is not true that it is easier for young children to learn second languages than older children/adults. It is easier to learn in immersion, but not necessarily within a specific window. I teach ESL, so I know that adults can become fluent in second languages. Our children can learn the languages of their culture when they are ready, if they choose. The biggest difference is that they won't have a natural accent.
post #14 of 44
Yes. DH always says he wants DS to speak Spanish, but he never seems to remember to speak to him in Spanish. We live far from his family and only see them twice a year, so DS doesn't hear it from anyone else. I sometimes find myself speaking more Spanish phrases than DH! Our four year old niece lives with my MIL (who speaks only Spanish) and she is almost fluent. It makes me sad that DS might not have that same chance.
post #15 of 44
I struggle with this too. It really is hard to switch once you exclusively start thinking in one language.
post #16 of 44
Wow, this thread is interesting, because DH is the same way. It was our original plan that we’d do the “one parent one language” thing, but instead of speaking Japanese to DD he uses English all the time.

grumpybear, I appreciate reading your perspective as a native speaker of Tagalog. DH and I have never discussed this in depth (it’s a very sensitive subject for him) but I’ve come to believe that this is the case with him, too. He speaks English all day long with practically everyone, including me, and it seems too hard for him to switch to Japanese with DD now. Especially since she doesn’t understand him when he does.

I’m not going to push him, as he’s sensitive about it and we’ve had little arguments about the topic before. But I do feel bad about it and I’m not sure what to do.
post #17 of 44
DH speaks lots of languages but really only speaks english with the kids which REALLY gets to me as it was absolutely his choice to come to france, we now how problems with my dd in french school, but he also speaks berber and arabic which he refuses to speak to the kids saying there's no point, but I think it's got more to do with his personal family experience and then after 9/11 things didn't get any better i.e. people's opinions of Algerians which they weren't afraid to tell him about - he was regularly accused of being a terrorist because of his country of origin. We met in Italy so we do introduce a smattering of Italian which the kids enjoy learning but the non-communication of other languages really bugs me.
post #18 of 44
Wow, it was good to come upon this thread. My husband rarely speaks Thai to our girls and I am always harping on him to speak with them more while they are young. DD #1 lived in Thailand until she was 1 1/2 but has forgotten most of it. We were back in Thailand for 2 months over the winter staying with my in-laws there who speak no English and it was really hard as they couldn't really communicate with DD #1. The visit has helped a little with DH using more Thai at home but he still mainly uses English. At this point the girls learn more Thai from me than DH so they'll learn the words but not the accent since I wil never be able to get the tones right! Great thread though, thanks!
post #19 of 44
I guess from reading here and what I've seen this is a common problem.

It sounds like there are a lot of reasons why it is difficult and uncomfortable for the parents to speak the other language. Of course it is frustrating for us if our children are not picking it up like we think they could, but I think it is unrealistic and unfair to expect our partners to just change, too.

My husband actually does usually speak Spanish to our children, so I am thankful. But still, they only use it with him, sometimes with me, and I still worry that they will not be fluent.

I am constantly trying to tell him we should join a Spanish speaking church, a Latin American group, anything. He is not very social so it's just been a round and round never-ending plea for years.

I think I will finally have to take it upon myself to join a group and do the things I feel would be best for them. I'm sure my DH would come along.

What do you all think? Have you already tried to find other speakers of the language without needing your partner's participation? I guess it would be harder if you don't speak the language. What ideas do you have for finding those opportunities?

Children's videos and programming
Books on tape
Library story times
Special schools and classes
Associations (our city has a Peruvian Association that we've never contacted)
etc... ?
post #20 of 44
Also I wanted to add my experience. I spoke to my first in English (my native language) for his first year and then decided we should both speak to him in Spanish (my 2nd language-fluent). It was hard to switch, but once I had made the decision and stuck to it, it became easier and easier.

Now I have decided to switch back to English, and again it was very uncomfortable at first--not only making the switch, and remembering to do it, but taking into account my feelings about them having Spanish as their native language and feeling like they might be losing something.

Anyway, I just thought this perspective might help some of the other parents. They should know, yes it is very hard when you start, the children won't understand you, you'll feel uncomfortable, but it gets easier every day. I also taught immersion Spanish Kindergarten to English-only students so I know what it feels like to have kids looking at you with a blank face. It will be easier to make the switch than you might think. It helps if you think of it as the way you speak to a baby--of course, they don't understand you word for word but they learn through context, repetition, nonverbal clues, etc.

As for the other parent not understanding the language, it could become a special thing for the children and one parent. It might help to introduce a very structured daily ritual--not formal lessons, but just a *special* time with mom/dad where they use the other language in a very natural way. Bedtime stories could be only in the 2nd language, for example. Or, weekend mornings out to a restaurant where the language is spoken. The English-dominant parent can stay home and take a break and not feel left out This kind of structure might help some parents who find it hard to make the switch--they could find it easier to organize their brains into using the language in a limited situation with certain activities, where the vocabulary would come more easily.
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