We recently moved back to Japan--DH's country--and have been practicing the minority-language approach, speaking only English at home. DD is 23 months old and sees her grandparents (who only speak Japanese to her) at least once a week, but to be honest, I'm not sure if she understands any of what they say. My parents recently came to visit and I couldn't help noticing how much closer DD instantly seemed to them, despite the fact that in the past seven months, she's seen way more of my in-laws. And I wonder, does language have something to do with that? Is she perhaps not bonding as closely to them because she doesn't understand them?
I know the problem will eventually sort itself out, but I wonder if I need to be doing more to help DD's Japanese comprehension.
At 23 months, if she hasn't already she'll quickly start picking up her grandparent's language, or at least the gist of what they're saying.
IMO, that she seems "closer" to your parents is more likely to be related to cultural things--how people conduct relationships and how they show affection. Also, her Japanese grandparents are still fairly new people to her, so she's still getting to know them.
If the only place she gets English is at home, she'll pick up Japanese (at least spoken/comprehension) pretty quickly.
I never learned my grandmother's language (to my everlasting regret) and she never learned English beyond a few phrases. She loved her grandchildren fiercely though and we all knew it. She was a favourite in the family: a tiny women with a huge spirit who had survived all sorts of incredible hardships. She was absolutely adored by all her grandchildren (almost all of English-only speakers).
Language can be a barrier, but it doesn't have to be. I wish I could have heard some of her stories straight from her. I'm sure she would have had a lot of wisdom to pass along too. We found other ways to communicate though. The core essence of a strong grandparent-grandchild bond was always there.
In your case, the language barrier is temporary since your dd will probably learn to speak Japanese soon, especially if she meets some local children for playdates or attends some play groups.
Funny you should post this now. My in-laws just arrived for a 10 day visit. They don't speak English. My kids don't speak their language(anymore, my older DS used to).
They definitely have a better relationship with my parents, and part of that is the shared language. But it's also that my parents are just better with them. My in-laws' idea of spending time with the kids is putting a movie on for them to watch. That's not gonna help much.
I think your child will pick up the language if he's exposed to it. My older son learned to speak the in-laws' language because he was around them frequently, and even that was his only exposure to the language.