How Can Our Multilingual Family Introduce ONE Family Language?

by expert · 3 comments

I need some help. Our family is a multilingual family. I am Hungarian, my husband is Lebanese. We are living in Lebanon. The common language between my husband and me is English but I speak Hungarian with our kids and he speaks Arabic or French with them. At the kindergarten they only speak French.

As the kids are getting older, we realize that we are facing a problem: we don’t have a “family” language. I only speak very basic Arabic and French and my husband does not speak Hungarian.

How can we introduce a family language?  Would we confuse our children if we started talking to them English when we are all together?

Thank you very much in advance,


Madalena’s answer:

Dear Monika,

You say that you don’t have a family language, and you mean “one” family language. You do have several family languages, so let me start by saying that you will go on having several family languages, even if you decide to call one of them “the family language” from now on. This is no problem at all, many families like yours are in the same situation.

I understand that what you mean is one language that all of you can use together, and your choice is English. Using English with your children will not be confusing at all, because they are already used to this language: you also say that you and your husband use it with each other, and I’m sure you do this when the children are around too. So you may be pleasantly surprised to find that your children already understand English, and also understand that English is a family language.

You and your husband can use English with the children when you are together. This doesn’t mean (and I don’t think you meant it either) that you will stop using your other languages with them. Children don’t get confused about language uses or about anything that makes sense to them. To your children, English will simply acquire a new status in the family: it won’t just be the language that mum and dad use together any longer.

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:

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Maria Babin March 12, 2011 at 4:37 am

We are a multilingual family english spanish french m’y husband is french and speaks only french with our three children while i speak two weeks in english and two weeks in spanish with them because i am american with hispanic origins. i grew up bilingual and later also became fluent in french. we now live in Paris France and m’y husband and i speak english with each other. Our children are trilingual. mealtimes and family discussions are sometimes choppy awkward or very lively but we’ve learned to live with it! and it is just fine because our children 10 7 n 4 are truly trilingual, what a great tradeoff!


2 Rivas March 23, 2011 at 7:46 am

Very interesting indeed….
My wife speaks Italian, I speak English, we live in the Basque speaking area of Basque Country, so the nanny speaks Basque too and my father and brother speak Spanish (can’t communicate in Basque) to my son. I will eventually face that “problem” of not having a unify family language… Any comments on this topic are a blessing.
Thanks Maria


3 Ernestine January 23, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Hi! I realize this is kind of off-topic but I had to ask. Does building a well-established blog like yours require a lot of work? I’m completely new to operating a blog however I do write in my diary on a daily basis. I’d like to start a blog so I will be able to share my personal experience and thoughts online. Please let me know if you have any kind of suggestions or tips for brand new aspiring bloggers. Appreciate it!


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