What Language Should We Speak When the Family Is Together?

by expert · 3 comments

What language should we speak when the family is all together?

It is important that you decide as a family what works best for you!  Have you read Why, What, Who, When, Where? Start with that since it is important that as a family you agree on who speaks which langauge(s) when. Being that more and more of us are becoming multilingual, we have the luxury (and confusion) to decide which languages to speak when.

As you children get older, they will become good at switching between languages as they speak to different individuals in the family (e.g. speaking French with dad, Chinese with mom and English with siblings).

After a while you will be so used to switching yourself that you don’t have to actively think about what language to speak to whom when the family gathers at the dinner table. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that families “mix” languages in sentences (yet, that may be what your family decides to do if everyone is multilingual!).

However, if you find switching it too strenuous to be speaking two, three or four different languages at the dinner table, then you can consider adopting a family language for when the family is together. You could decide that whenever the family sits down together at the dinner table, that you all speak French. When interacting on a one-on-one basis, you could revert to your individual languages again. Again here, do what is most natural for you.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Oliver April 25, 2010 at 3:35 am

While I do agree that one should do “what is most natural” for oneself, I once heard that one parent should stay consistent and not switch languages when talking to the child. I was informed by a psychologist, that switching of languages by one parent may result in the child starting to stutter.


2 Nahid May 13, 2010 at 8:05 am

A psychologist said that it is better to speak one language with the child and that language is the language of the country we live in (which in our case is English).
Surely we spoke English with our child. But our English is not perfect. It is broken and is with accent. I think my child stutters when she speaks English and she can’t always says exactly the way she feels and that is because of our accent and broken English. Now that I think, we should have spoken our own language at home which is more natural and we would have not conveyed our struggle to our child. After all, parents are the first teachers of their children and children copy the parents.


3 Corey May 13, 2010 at 11:15 am

Oliver : Thank you for the comment! I updated the answer a bit to make it clearer. The idea was not necessarily to switch between languages when speaking with the same person (even though that could be an option as your kids get older – as adults we often mix languages in our own sentences without realizing it!!).
The main idea of the answer is that when we are together as a family, we switch between languages because different language speakers are together: we speak one language with mom, one with dad, maybe another with siblings. It can make sitting together as a family crazy and so we may opt for choosing one language when we are all together as a family! But on the other hand, it comes naturally the more we do it so if it doesn’t make us crazy, then it will only get easier!


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