Dangers of raising children in your 2nd language

Continuing the discussion from An article about speaking your second language to your children:

I had a college friend raised in Hull by parents who fled Hungary just pre-war due to being Jewish & seeing German advances. His parents spoke excellent, very correct English with incredibly thick Hungarian accents!! My friend spoke Hull English with a strong Hull accent. There was only one problem. His parents had not known which words to discourage their son from using!! I never dared let my mother meet him as he used f*** so often without even realising it that he was absolutely certain to say it in front of her!! In the early 1960s that would have probably given her a heart attack!!!

Even the nicest of children can be contrary sometimes and maybe your daughter feels that you’re trying too hard to make her speak Welsh. Perhaps if you were a bit more relaxed about it and used some English as well she’d be more inclined to cooperate.
My own children, all adult, say that I’m wasting my time learning a ‘dead language’ but they love to wind me up and I’m pretty sure they don’t really mean it. Over the years I’ve taught them many things of which they couldn’t see the point at the time: the important thing was to make sure that we had some fun in the process so that they learned without really noticing.

It’s interesting how different children react to bilingual upbringings. I know someone who is one of a fairly small and unique group of people worldwide raised with Esperanto as the language of the family. They were living in the UK but the parents were ‘enthusiastic’ (some might say fanatical) supporters of Esperanto and decided to raise both their children with Esperanto as their first language. They supported that by going to Esperanto family events all over Europe so they were immersed in the language socially as well. The older child soon discovered that Esperanto-speaking adults made a big fuss of her if she used the language and enjoyed the attention so she stuck with it at home after she had started using English at school and in the local community. The younger child, at the tender age of 3, decided he didn’t want to be different to the other neighbourhood children and despite all efforts of his parents refused to speak anything other than English. They are both adults now, with the older sibling continuing to use Esperanto on a regular basis. The younger one still refuses to speak Esperanto but obviously became a ‘passive bilingual’ as he sometimes goes to Esperanto conferences and understands everything going on.
The point really is not to try and force a child to speak if there isn’t a lot supporting them in the local community, but to keep using the language yourself in a fun and warm, non-threatening atmosphere and know that the language will be going in. Make a game of it as much as you can so they associate the language with having a good time and a close relationship with you. The knowledge will be there if and when they choose to use it, and if nothing else, they are getting a great head start on picking up another language if they want to.


The big thing with raising a child with the knowledge of two languages is that they will always have the choice. Allowing a child to “choose” not to hear a language at any tender age below about 50 is being reckless with their future. Just as we should all try to pass on whatever social skills, academic skills, artictic skills etc to our children, I would see it as a duty to pass on linguistic skills. In a way that is especially true for those of us who have experienced the difficulty of learning, or even re-learning those skills as an adult.

So, Gruntius - keep up with the Welsh because you love your daughter. One day, she may thank you for it, or maybe it will just get forgotten. Whatever happens, it will have done her no harm as long as it is always respectful (A quick “woe is me” lament now - don’t I just know how easy it is to pass from “I’m doing this because I love you” to “Do this! Its the right way!” A sore point at the moment…!)

But equally, as the old saying goes, you can teach a child a language, but you can’t force them to use it, as Dee’s fascinating story shows. It’s got to be said - how wierd is that, and yet I see the same “opposite reactions” in my boys, especiall, every day!


I did not post to put people off raising their children in Cymraeg!! My friend spoke no Hungarian because his folks: a) wanted to fit & wanted him to fit, so tried hard only to speak their ‘ever so correct’ English; b)were very grateful to be allowed to settle in England when their fellow Jews were in death camps in central Europe. I could understand that, but thought it a shame that he knew no Hungarian. Oh and his folks were Christians and had been for at least 2 generations, which did not help you when dealing with the Nazis!
Folk raising their children in Wales can send them to schools which are Welsh and they can mix bilingually. Did any Welsh families in England pass on their Welsh? I know of none of my generation!! They may have tried, but we moved house a lot of times and I changed my language and accent to fit in where I was. I suspect all kids do that!! The moral seems to be that children will learn what they want to learn. Find an incentive and your kid will chatter away in Welsh with the best of them!! Fail and they’ll still be trying to learn at 73!

Replying just to say that although it’s frustrating for me I don’t show any frustration to her and we have quite good conversations with me speaking Welsh and her speaking english. I will not speak anything other than Welsh to her because I have been told by a lot of language enthusiasts that she will associate me with Welsh. Even though she doesn’t speak Welsh I know she understands and so don’t see it as a waste of time at all. I also dont think her Welsh will ever get forgotten because thats all she’ll ever hear off me. :wink:


One other point. I don’t know if it helps or not! When I was about 3, my dad got back from fighting in Burma and was assigned to help run a POW Camp. The inmates were Germans, ordinary soldiers, not Nazis. They, of course, spoke German. My dad’s batman spoke a bit of English, but most of the others could only say very, very simple things. If I wanted to talk to them, basically I had to pick up German. As much as a child speaks any language, I spoke German by the time we left there!! (Oh, my mam & I lodged nearby, we didn’t live in the camp!!). I spent a lot of time there, though and some prisoners made toys, one was a great artist who got the job of covering the Officers’ Mess with murals, with me watching and asking for the pictures I wanted in among the artistic ladies the soldiers wanted!!!) I liked it there and was spoiled rotten by young men missing their own kids, sisters etc… My parents didn’t speak German and I forgot it when we left there, but your daughter can speak Cymraeg, she just needs to meet someone she really wants to speak it to!!!
You don’t fit the bill because she knows you understand English!!!