Is it Too Late to Switch to My Mother Tongue?

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I come from Serbia and my mother tongue is obviously Serbian. I married a German and we live in Dubai where English is widely used. I do have an intermediate knowledge of German as well and my husband mostly speaks German with me.

We have a 2 and a half year old son with whom I speak English and my husband German. I wanted to speak Serbian with him but my husband disagreed from the beginning. Now I find it hard (as well as pity) not to talk with him in my native language. Plus, as our daughter was born 4 months ago, I think more and more about starting to speak Serbian with her and in that way being able to introduce my son to the language as well.

Could that work? He would still have English in nursery and with most of his friends, German with dad.

Is it too late to start speaking my mother tongue at this age, being that he is almost 3? don’t want to make the same mistake with our daughter and thought it’s a chance to introduce it. I also don’t want him to feel different from his sister. Please advise.

Thank you,


Madalena’s answer:

Dear Emina,

It is never too late (or too early!) to start using a language that is a core part of a family. As long as there are people using languages naturally around a child, the children will learn them as naturally, because they will understand the need to use them.

Your boy has just experienced a big change in his surroundings, the birth of a sibling. He will take it in his stride that other changes come with it: new routines at home, a new status for him as sibling, a brand-new playmate for him, and a new language. Children are very, very adaptable, and they enjoy change very, very much. We, adults, are the hopeless conservatives.

You may come to find, in time, that your son will take pleasure in exercising his “older brother” rights, and take upon himself the task of teaching Serbian to the “baby sister”. You can even start playing this game, as it were, with him straight away, to help him along his own learning of his new language.

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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