How How Can I Encourage My Husband To Speak His Language with Our Bilingual Daughter?

by Corey · 7 comments

Before I ask my question I’d like to thank you for all of your good work.

My question is how to convince my husband to speak to our daughter in “his” language.

My daughter is going to be 3 years old in November. We speak English at home and I speak to my daughter in both English and Czech (my nationality). She is fluent in both and uses both languages in correct circumstances.

My husband is Portuguese, but doesn’t speak to her in his language. I keep trying to convince him to speak Portuguese with her, but I don’t have any good arguments that can help me to help him to start.

I am capable of teaching her well in both English and Czech languages as she is already showing great results and has no problem with any of these two.  I think it would be a great asset for my husband to teach her a third language.

I do understand Portuguese from his family gatherings but can not speak it very well. I can get my message accross if I need to, but don’t feel confident to bring the Portuguese to my daughter as a third language.

How should I convince my husband to start speaking to her in Portuguese?

Thank you,


Madalena’s answer:

Dear Ester,

You may want to ask yourself why you wish to introduce your girl to a third language. Languages are assets where you need them, to be able to fit in adequately in your daily life. Adding more languages for their own sake does not necessarily result in a better life.

Having said this, one goal of introducing Portuguese as a home language would be for your daughter and her father’s relatives to be able to communicate in that language, although I presume that they must be using another language for this purpose. If they are, this would require your husband’s family to also switch to Portuguese from now on. This is no problem at all, provided, of course, that the Portuguese speakers in your girl’s environment are willing to do so, your husband included. He must have had his reasons for choosing not to use Portuguese at home.

I agree with you that speaking to your child in a language in which you feel no confidence is probably not a good idea. You could have your girl visit her Portuguese-speaking relatives on a regular basis and leaving them on their own, if this is feasible (you don’t say where you live). If these relatives include other children, she will learn the language in a fun way, through peer interaction. This is no problem either: it would not surprise me that your girl already understands Portuguese, from the same exposure to family gatherings that you report of yourself.

Otherwise, you can rest assured that your girl will learn Portuguese, or any other language, when she feels the need to do so. She won’t be missing out on anything by not learning a new language at age 3.

Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.


Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, PhD, University of Manchester, UK, is a multilingual parent, educator and scholar, and the author of Multilinguals are...?, a book on myths and misconceptions about multilingualism. Her blog Being Multilingual deals with multilingualism at home, in school and in clinic. Her contact, and details on her work, are at:

Disclaimer: This post and the comments provided below have been provided for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional financial, medical, legal, or other advice. This post has been published with the full consent of the author. The author has agreed to Madalena Cruz-Ferreira answering the Ask Madalena question publicly as well as readers leaving comments in the comment section below. Multilingual Living makes no representations or warranties and expressly disclaims any and all liability concerning any treatment or action by any person following the information offered or provided within or through this and any other information on this website. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional or medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. Please read our Terms of Use for more detail or contact us with any questions.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrew December 10, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Start speaking to her in Portuguese yourself and do what you have to to get your own Portuguese up to speed so that you can do it, dad won’t have any choice but to play along 🙂 Also, any additional language a child can speak is a huge asset, and being able to speak Portuguese is definitely something valuable considering the size and population of Brazil and how important it has become in recent years, economically and politically.



2 Ester April 1, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Dear Madalena,
thank you for your response. It was not what I have expected but has showed me another angle I should consider before pressing the matter. I should have specified why I’d like for my daughter to speak Portuguese. The reason is indeed her grandparents (my husband’s family). Just to clarify we live in Bermuda (English is the official language. There is a lot of Portuguese immigrants, but Portuguese is not an official language and unfortunately not thought at school). Primary language in my husband’s family is Portuguese. He just thinks that third language will be too much for my daugther to learn. And that is why I needed the arguments that it will not be too much as I know that she is capable of speaking it. She can’t learn alone just from being with her grandparents once a week at Sunday lunch table.

thank you for your comment. I have taken the matter in my hands and am speaking simple sentences that I am familiar with in our daily routine when my husband is present. It just gives me the extra work as I already say everything in Czech and English. But I don’t mind. My husband did indeed started to play along. And perhaps soon he’ll just take over. And she starts school in September, so she’ll get English at school and I can just speak Czech. OPOL it is 🙂



3 Antonia April 5, 2011 at 9:13 am

Hi, I understand and share your frustration. My partner is a native speaker of Spanish and speaks several other languages fluently so he knows the value of being multilingual. However he won’t speak Spanish to our daughters despite the fact they were born in Spain and lived there till they were 3 and 6 years old and spoke it well for their ages when we left. We always spoke English at home and he just seems to have been unable to change to Spanish even though we are now living in the UK and they have very little opportunity to hear or speak it here. I have made the decision to find a Spanish-speaking part-time nanny (which I can ill afford) just to make sure my daughters don’t forget their Spanish.It’s ridiculous that I have to pay someone else to speak Spanish to our children when their father is a native speaker but time was running out for their bilingualism.
Maybe you could find someone to help you out with your daughter once or twice a week who will only speak Portuguese to her. By the way, I disagree with Magdalena’s view – I think the more languages the better – our children are going to have an even tougher time finding work than we do now and anything that gives them an edge in the job market is worth loads. They will never find it easier than when they are little to pick up a second or third or fourth language.


4 Elisa November 5, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I’m also going through the same issue. My husband is Croatian, I’m Mexican. we met in the States and had our daughter in the States. We moved to Croatia when our daughter was 13 months old so she could bond with my husband’s family (all live in Croatia). while living in Croatia for 18 months, my husband and his family and the majority language spoken to our daughter was Croatian. I was the only one that spoke Spanish to her. At the age of 28 months, she was speaking fluent Croatian and Spanish. Then we moved back to the States when our daughter turned 3. The majority language spoken now is English. All my husband’s family remained in Croatia, and mine is 12 hours away. Now our daughter only speaks English. at home I continue speaking Spanish, BUT my husband stopped speaking Croatian, arguing that English is more beneficial to our daughter. I’m concerned that our daughter will lose her connection with her Croatian family. she won’t be able to interact with her grandparents nor great-parents (who only speak croatian) when we have the opportunity to visit Croatia again. (maybe in a couple of years). While I began learning the Croatian language I continue to this day, throwing croatian phrases here and there so at least our daughter gets some exposure. BUt I just don’t know how to convince my husband to speak croatian at home.


5 Antonia November 6, 2011 at 4:04 am

I’m afraid your husband is completely wrong in his belief that speaking English to his daughter is more beneficial than speaking his own language. Your daughter lives in an English-speaking country, she has absolutely no need of extra English input at home. When she starts school she will spend even more time in an English-speaking environment. The belief among non-native immigrants to the US that speaking English at home will somehow help their children fit in and get on better at school has been shown to be completely false. In fact children who are brought up this way are more likely to never be fully literate in any language. Children need to hear correctly modelled language, whatever that language is and particularly when they are tiny. Tell him this, show him the studies, convince him. It’s not too late! And keep up the good work of speaking Spanish to your daughter! Good luck.


6 Jennifer November 9, 2011 at 2:25 pm

We have the same situation in my family! We are a Spanish/English family, and our girls, 1 and 3 years old, understand both. But I would love my husband to add HIS native language as well (Wounaan, an indigenous language of Central America). We live close to his family, but we never speak Wounaan at home. I believe that he doesn’t know how to teach his daughters language, he kind of assumed it would happen automatically. I have been encouraging him to play games and read books to the girls in his language, and it has helped a little. There is also a social stigma in our country about indigenous languages, in the past many children are mocked at school for speaking their native language, adn my husband experienced this as a child. I wonder how much that is effecting his decisions now.
I keep trying to visit his family a lot, and learn Wounaan myself. I try not to push my daughters, especially my older daughter, to learn Wounaan. I hope that in time they will want to learn!


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