Bilingual Family: My Husband’s Language Is Making Me Feel Isolated

by Corey · 33 comments

Bilingual Family Husband's Language IsolationEva from Canada sent the following message to Multilingual Living asking for advice. Being that many of us multilingual families can relate to Eva’s situation, we hope that you will take a moment to leave a comment for Eva to help her find a solution to her difficult feelings of isolation.
Please be kind in your responses since it takes a lot of courage to open up to the world and share our personal struggles!

Dear Multilingual Living,

I am as Canadian as Canadian as it gets. I figure I’m 4th generation. I speak English. My husband was born and raised in Canada but his parents migrated from Greece. My husband is very Canadian & speaks fluent English and Greek.

Since the birth of our first child, I’ve experience my husband becoming very Greek! The moment he comes home from work the conversations turn Greek – even my conversations with the children get hijacked where I can no longer participate because of the language barrier. I can no longer jump in nor can I be a passive observer of my children’s relationship with their father. I find our family time is very divided. We rarely interact as a family.

I feel depressed, isolated when he’s home and sometimes anxious that my husband is going to ruin my nice time with the kids. He feels that I’m home with them all day and should get my fill so that once he comes home and all turns Greek I shouldn’t have a problem with it.

I didn’t realize his use of language could do this. Do I need to change my feelings? I’m needing some assistance. Please help.



Have you experienced what Eva is experiencing? Do you have some helpful advice? Share it in the comments below so that she can benefit from your knowledge, wisdom, experience and expertise!

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1 Eli August 5, 2013 at 2:42 am

That’s tough. I’m in a different situation than you because my family lives in Spain but the household language is English. Plus, both my husband and I speak each other’s languages. But, since I’ve always spoken English with my husband sometimes it’s a shock how “Spanish” he can be with our kids (things that don’t come across in his personality when he’s in English mode). It’s almost like discovering a part of your spouse you didn’t know existed.
But anyway, maybe this is a good time for you to learn more about your husband’s Greek culture and maybe even his language? It seems that it is very important to him that your child learns about it, so I’m sure he would be thrilled if you showed an interest, too. And who knows, maybe a vacation in Greece….

2 Elena August 5, 2013 at 2:52 am

Hi Eva,

I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling left out. You should know you are not alone. I have many friends who are in your situation. I know it’s easier said than done but it could be useful to focus on the benefits your children are getting. Your husband is right saying that the kids hear English all day, and as many articles on this blog stated before me the minority language (not the community language) needs to be fostered and children need to be exposed to it as much as possible.

The only advice I have for you would be that you could make an effort to learn Greek. You would feel much better, being able to understand everything and that is the only way to feel included. I hope this won’t sound harsh, but you cannot and should not expect your husband to stop speaking Greek to the kids, because that would not be in their best interest. While this might sound like hard to accomplish, it is easier than it may seem first – I have many friend who only and exclusively speaks their own language to their children and the partners pick up lots of routine words and expressions, especially with smaller children. Book reading is also something you could learn since they are often very basic. Have you asked your husband for help? I’m sure he’d be much happier to help you learn and involve you if you show interest in his language and culture. On the other hand, if this becomes a huge issue, he may feel you devalue his background more than yours, which is not worth fostering. I mean I know very little about your situation, but I guess as a parent you want what’s best for all of you, and it seems, the best for your family is if every member of the family becomes bilingual. Imagine what it would mean, on family visits to Greece you’d be able to speak to the local grocer, to his extended family, you could enjoy family get-togethers, and it would open up a whole new exciting world. You would be proud of yourself and also confident, and would feel involved. Good luck!

3 Shannon August 5, 2013 at 3:16 am

I would agree with the other commenters – go ahead and try to learn Greek. I am in a similar situation, but also living in the foreign country as well. Some times I feel threatened by the influence of my partner’s culture on my kid, and terrified that she won’t share a common identity with me. Learning his language has really helped. I can just relax and know that he is just telling her to eat her macaroni, or not to throw toys. It’s just everyday stuff. Give it a year – commit to a couple of classes a week (skype classes are great too!) and try speaking together when the kids go to bed.

However, I think it’s very important for you both to reach some ground rules. For example, hijacking your conversation (or his) doesn’t feel good. It’s a bit undermining and dismissive, and is teaching that interrupting is ok. Suggest that he lets you complete your thought with your kids, and then he can make his way into the conversation. You both need alone time with the kids to feel like you are teaching your truths. But family time also has to happen – it could be scheduled Mon-Wed-Fri Greek evenings for example. We currently have a mighty stew of 3 languages bubbling happily in our home. We both speak our separate minority languages, plus English. Sometimes it gets chaotic, but I can answer him in my own language even if he speaks to me in his. Mostly it feels awesome and clever. Give it a try?

4 Viv August 5, 2013 at 3:22 am

Hi Eva, maybe this might be helpful to you, My husband actually told me quite directly not to keep interrupting him when he was speaking in German to our boy. To me, I wasn’t “interrupting”, I was “reinforcing” his input with the Chinese equivalent! But I realised that he probably wanted a chance to have a full conversation in German without me piping in, so I’m a lot more mindful now and let him finish before I join in in Chinese. Try telling your husband that you would like to get a word in with the kids, it would help the kids also if Mummy was in on the conversation too. If you feel strongly about bonding together (as a whole family), learning some Greek would definitely help, you don’t need to understand 100% and just getting the gist would be tremendously helpful. I also agree with Elena. After our son came along, my German got a lot better simply from regular twice-yearly exposure to Germany and relatives. We speak exclusively in our own language to the boy and my husband doesn’t understand much Chinese, but he tells me he gets about 70% of what I say.

5 Eric Marchand August 5, 2013 at 3:31 am

The obvious solution is learning Greek. Now I am sure you though it through and might have came up with many reasons not to spent the time and energy to do so: but you will need to revise them one by one being truthfull to you and your familly. Because part of your familly and your husband is happening in Greek. So to be fully all as a familly you know in your heart this is up to you. The alternative: forcing your husband to not sgare his childhood heritage with his children, de facto asking children not to grow and use Greek is it what you really want?
I know it is hard in English Canada and for any native English speaker to learn an other language: you do not need to! With English you can accomplish evrything including sharing with the world as in this blog. Non-native English speakers are not special they learn English because they need to: for obvious business/professional/cultural advantage. Well in your case: you need to recognize the same urge for learning Greek. Yes learning an other language is hard: you need to feel like a two year old, three year old go through all the steps of childhood and teenagehood to master a new growth step by step (yeah I am a 45 yeard old man proud to have the vocabulary of a todler in that new language: look at me so! That is the toughest: understanding and expressing yourself years below what you feel you are in your original language). Although it seems so unfair as your husband and children are learned Greek naturally and you have to do it the hard way. Well take pride in that! Take pride in the fact you are doing this for your family and at the end they will love you for it. Imagine that your children will be proud of you as adult that you showed them that one can learn/change at any age? (actually they might never tell it to your face)… The alternative: you increasing feeling alianated and children and husband resenting you for not having let them fully explore the world and relationships they are accessing with an other language. Welcome in a few world of change for you and your family

6 Annika / Be Bilingual August 5, 2013 at 5:02 am

Dear Eva,

I sincerely sympathize with your situation and understand how you feel. Yet, as someone who didn’t learn my mother’s native language because my father and his family were feeling as you are, I very much agree with the other comments. Learning Greek would help with your feelings of being an outsider in your family (trust me, it’s a feeling I know very well, and you can read about it here, if you’d like: Perhaps you could find a language partner on the Mixxer ( or get help from some expat moms?

7 Tammy August 5, 2013 at 5:51 am

We are a trilinguanfamily and I have to agree with everyone else: learn Greek. We live in an English speaking environment, my husband speaks Spanish to our baby boy and I speak German to him. I am fluent in Spanish and have always told my husband that I will be speaking in German to our kids. He has taken one German class and is also trying Rosetta Stone. Maybe learning Greek would not just be good for yourself, but also good for your husband and both of you as a couple. I personally feel that if someone is truly interested in me as my life-long partner, then should he not make the effort to learn about my language and heritage? I have been always very open about it to my husband, but maybe your husband either does not think that he actually needs to tell you this and feels the same way, or he might not have been aware himself how important his heritage is to himself. Obviously he has the strong urge to pass on his heritage to his children. Possibly he feels isolated in this effort as well? It can be hard to create language opportunity for a language that is foreign within its environment.

To pass on his language it is very important that he only Speak Greek to the kids. Good examples of how communications can still be possible are given in the book “Growing up with three languages”. The parents do not speak each others languages very well, but sample dialogues are given (throughout the book) of trilingual every day conversations where nobody is left out.

8 Vilma August 5, 2013 at 6:58 am

I disagree with many of the comments above 🙂

First, some background: I grew up in a bilingual family where both parents new both Finnish and Swedish, as do pretty much all of my relatives. And at school I started to learn 3 other languages as well, and when in Europe, distances to other languages are short and it I spent a few years here and there and became pretty fluent in 3 more languages. To me it has been easy. But my kiwi husband only speaks English, the language everyone knows there. He did not grow up learning even how to learn languages. But then he came to Finland with me, and even though he can communicate with everyone here in English, it is not easy e.g. to fall into a conversation in a party when it is in Finnish. So he wanted to learn Finnish.

But Finnish, just as Greek, are not the easiest languages to learn! They differ a great deal from a many other languages, and especially if you have never before even had the urge or need to learn, well, then it may not be “just learn the language”. It takes a lot of time and effort, and it may vary a great deal from person to person when it comes to how easily one can pick up a new language.

And then there is the time issue: how much of the free time has to be spent to learn a language? If parents are working, then that time is also away from the family. We found that there was time before we had the kids but now with two toddlers it is hard to find a balance. He really would like to have some downtime between work, exercise and family life as well. I understand this well.

We are lucky, as my husband has picked up enough Finnish (which I use with our children) to understand 90% I say to our children before the kids came, and obviously hearing Finnish at home on an easy level has also helped him. He has also picked up enough Swedish to know that the theme is when that is spoken. But he hardly speaks either one of them. I feel it is my responsibility to include him, and I feel it is my responsibility to show my kids a good role model in including everyone at all times regardless of the mother tongue. It is not ok to exclude people by using a language they don’t know. But that does not mean that you need to stop using a language that everyone does not know.

What I do, is a lot of repeating (and I don’t mind if it keeps everyone happy. You get into the mode and you continue doing it even among friends… 😉 ). If I tell the kids something I assume my husband may not have understood, I just say “I just told them to…” If we are in a party and everyone is speaking Finnish/Swedish, I can drop in the conversation and continue it in English or just shortly translate what is being said. As our kids grow up speaking all the tree languages, we have also often made a game about “what does mum/dad/grandmother (and friends) call this”. I think it may be good for the kids to initially learn that same things are called different in different languages ( surprisingly enough our kids don’t mix the languages), and a way of including everyone. And, obviously, my partner does learn my languages at the same time.

Are you able to talk to your partner about your feelings of being left outside? Would he be able to consider you more? Help you a bit? Obviously it is helpful if you are willing to learn some Greek too, but that will not happen over night anyway, so you need something already now. But I think it might also be beneficial for your kids learning Greek, if they see Mum has an interest in the language too.

PS The biggest obstacle we’ve found so far is when kids friends come over and my husband is not able to communicate efficiently with them! But hey, at least then is forced to use his Finnish and has made it so far. He has a wonderful attitude!

9 -chai- August 5, 2013 at 7:54 am

I don’t have any experience with your situation so I can’t speak from experience, although I have started learning other languages from an older age so I do know that trying to learn Greek would be a difficult task, and is not a quick-fix solution. However, anything worthwhile takes effort, so I do agree with the other comments saying that you should try to start learning Greek! Perhaps you can turn that into some family time and involve your husband and children in helping you.
While I feel it is a good thing that your husband is giving your children the opportunity of being bilingual, I don’t think it should be so dividing to where you are left out of the family when he comes home. I think showing an interest and willingness to foster your children’s Greek learning (and to maybe start learning some yourself) is a good step on your part, and hopefully you can work things out with your husband to where he doesn’t dis-include you from “family time”.

10 Christina August 5, 2013 at 8:58 am

Dear Eva,

I can very much understand your feeling of being isolated. It can be a very tough one being alone in a language, specifically if you feel you have to compete with your husband.

Similarly to most comments above I’d also suggest you learn some Greek. It actually doesn’t have to be conversation level, it would already be enough to understand what your husband says.

We are a trilingual family, with my partner speaking French to our daughter, me speaking German and us living in an English speaking environment. My partner doesn’t speak German and I don’t speak French, but we understand enough of the other language to follow a conversation with a toddler in the other language.

After some time for establishing a language for home, we now have settled for the routine of having conversations in French/German. He speaks French, I speak German and our daughter answers in either of the two. This way, we both can give input to her in our own language without excluding the other person (and his/her language) from the conversation.

As it seems very important for your husband to get Greek to the kids, did he consider finding other Greek people with kids to sometimes meet up with? My partner takes our daughter to a French play group every week and it’s their time for spending time without interruption. I do the same with a German group. We realised that this is giving us both the opportunity to get our daughter in a ‘mono-lingual’ setting that we cannot give her at home and it also reduced our feeling of having to compete with the other language all the time. Maybe that would take some pressure off from your home situation?

I hope you can sort things with time. There won’t be a quick-fix whatever solution you will go for. Give it some time and talk to your husband about your feelings. I wish you all the best for finding the right way.

11 Catherine Lord August 5, 2013 at 9:33 am

Although learning Greek seems like the obvious answer, there might be other solutions that could work for you. Because if trying to learn the minority language makes you resentful in the end (I’ve met so many people saying they “tried” learning x language and quickly gave up to prove their point that it was indeed impossible), it’s not worth it. You will only learn Greek if you really want to and when you are ready for it. Also, learning your husband’s language might make you feel like you’re in a weaker position and trigger marital issues, just like when a spouse tries to give driving lessons to the other.

I also live in Canada and I have met many unilingual people. So they are many of you out here. Fortunately, my international husband has learned my minority language, but I’ve met many international couples in which one spouse didn’t even want the other spouse to speak her/his language to their children, on the grounds that they couldn’t know what was being said. At least, you seem supportive, and this is very good for your family. But feeling left out is not okay, and changing your feelings, as you suggested, is impossible in my opinion. As the unilingual of your family, you are no less smart or important than your spouse.

Here is my idea. Maybe you could come up with some division of time or fields. Just like some parent is better at sport while the other thrives on creative stuff and crafts, languages can also be seen as “fields of knowledge” that one parent has. I am sure you don’t feel left out when your spouse knows something (apart from another language), you just view it as something you don’t know. My husband plays sports with the kids while I have no interest in team sports. I supervise their piano practise while my husband doesn’t know how to read music. We kind of know what falls under the supervision of which parent because of our different strenghts. I am sure this also happens in your family. The same way you do it with different fields of knowledge, you could decide which family activities will be held in Greek and which ones will happen in English. For example, going to the library might be in English with you, but bedtime stories might be in Greek with him. How about a Greek movie night (with English subtitles) every other week? I am sure they are many activities that you could decide on. And if you like the activities you are involved in, then, it is all positive.

Above all, I recommend and true discussion with your spouse. Reiterate you support for his culture, because you don’t want to be seen and the public enemy… The fear of not passing on the native language is a real one and it might trigger other unwanted arguments. If your husband hijacks the conversations, it might be because he has his own insecurities about not teaching enough Greek. So, just explain how you feel, and how you might want to learn Greek one day, but that you might not be ready yet. And say you are thrilled your children are bilingual, but state firmly that you need some activities in your language only, so you can also feel like an important member of the family.

If you both agree on dividing the language time, you know what to expect and when to expect it. I hope it works, and if one day you decide on learning Greek, you can do it! Good luck to you!

12 Eric August 5, 2013 at 10:34 am

Fully aggree to Danau.

As an non-English speaking immigrant I fully aggree with Danau. Not being to show one side of oneself, not being able to transmit this side is so painful. Especially as an immigrant what allowed many to survive the ordeal of moving place to a new environment was familly. For many immigrants coming from close famillies who supported each other through adaptation to a new place: not being able to transmit the family language can be seen as a betrayal: it is a very emotional issue. I am not sure that being asked to limit to curb exposure of the children to Greek will not stire up deep emotional feeling. Because Greek is not only a side of himself but how he might link his children to the family he grew up with.

Vilma argument that any Greek learning will not be overnight is well taken. But I am tired to hear unilingual English speaker telling how it is tough, too difficult, too time consuming, too late to learn a new language. Boohoo… Guess what millions of immigrants came to a new place and had to survive in a new place at a very advanced age… Many Americans/Canadian/Australians ancestors had to deal with this pain. Yep you will not read the Illiad in the text tomorow but with 5 words a day: in two three years you have enough vocabulary to answer what is thrown at you. Greek is not Finnish: you might learn a lot about technical/medical English in the process. if most comments exhorts you to learn Greek as the most useful solution there might be something to it! But it will definitely take you away from your comfort zone!

13 Eva September 29, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Hi Eric,

I see you had a valid point to add to my issue: “Because Greek is not only a side of himself but how he might link his children to the family he grew up with.”
– This is a very important point made! Thank you for sharing your insight!

However…”I am tired to hear unilingual English speaker telling how it is tough, too difficult, too time consuming, too late to learn a new language. Boohoo… Guess what millions of immigrants came to a new place and had to survive in a new place at a very advanced age… Many Americans/Canadian/Australians ancestors had to deal with this pain”
-Luckily for me Eric, I don’t have to go through this pain you speak of. My ancestors did this for me:) I don’t have to survive the way they did…I thrive!

I feel sorry for you as I hear you struggle/criticize. I wouldn’t say “boohoo” to you.

14 Ana Paula G. Mumy August 5, 2013 at 10:43 am

My experience is similar to Vilma’s in that I have a monolingual husband, and I’ve felt it’s my responsibility to make him feel included since I only speak to our children in Portuguese. Because he’s been so supportive of me in passing down my language and culture to my children, I’ve tried to make our bilingual home less overwhelming for him, by translating constantly so that he is in the loop. What I have found after 4.5 years of hearing Portuguese, my husband’s comprehension has improved significantly and I’m having to translate less and less. There has been mutual respect and sensitivity, him being respectful and supportive of my desire (and need) to pass down my language/culture, and me being respectful of his need to remain an integral part of our family interactions.

Here are some excerpts from my new guide “Practical Bilingualism: A Concise and Simple Guide for Parents Raising Bilingual Children” ( which you may find helpful:

“When your culture and the culture of your spouse clash, whether in significant or insignificant ways, it’s important for both parties to respect differences and find compromises.” When my husband and I have clashed over big and small matters, we have “found balances that foster peace and lessen confusion for our children. When languages collide, so do cultures, therefore, sensitivity and respect for differences are extremely important in multicultural families.”

“Cultural differences are not always obvious, and sensitivity to cultural differences does not always come naturally, so it may be wise to identify cultural traits prevalent in both cultures by reading relevant books or family accounts that help you achieve fair expectations. For example, the worldview of individuals will vary greatly based on where they grew up (views about power, gender roles, time management, worldly possessions, views associated with third-world versus first-world mentalities, etc.). Since our worldviews inform our beliefs, our attitudes, our family relationships, our work ethic, and so on, it is important to understand all the influences in our respective cultures that emerge within a family. Cultural understanding fosters patience, acceptance, and respect in multicultural families.”

The bottom line is: open communication, respect and sensitivity, and a willingness to adapt are necessary components in any marriage/family, and even more so in bilingual/multilingual families. Adaptation may include learning another language if possible, but in the meantime, the burden of responsibility of making the bilingual home environment a pleasant and less stressful one (where everyone remains valued and included) should fall on the parent who is bilingual.

15 Galina / Trlingualchildren August 5, 2013 at 11:48 am

I totally understand what you feel, but please do not be upset with your husband and try to support him as much as you can.

My Italian husband sometimes shares your frustration, when I speak Russian with our children and he is not able to understand the conversation fully.
He speaks some Russian and this helps him A LOT. Sometimes he even speaks Russian to the children. He builds words with Russian letter blocks with kids. It is a good practice for him and fun for the children. I really appreciate his support.

You would see how family dynamics would change, if you learned Greek.

Being able to speak more then one language would be your most precious gift to your child.

16 Audrey August 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm

What great replies!

Well, I thought I should chime in, although it’s really my husband who’s in your boat. I am speaking my non-native French to our children. My husband, Kevin, is monolingual. We made this decision together after the birth of our first child. Kevin didn’t understand a word of French 6 years ago…and would often be left out of our conversations, however, over time he has learned some French and can now understand some of what we’re saying. He sometimes even comes out speaking a word or phrase! If I’m saying something that he must know, then I tell him in English, but continue my conversation with the children in French.

When we are together as a family, we typically choose English, however, so that we can all be a part of the conversation. In time, we’re all hoping that Daddy learns more French so that we can shift our family conversations to French (Daddy included). Living in a largely monolingual town, with virtually no one but myself to provide language input to our children in French, we are working against all odds. We plan to travel abroad and live abroad a bit to help our efforts.

Not sure if anything I’ve said helps at all, but please don’t despair! Surely with open communication between you and your husband, you can come up with a solution that meets your family’s needs. We are all coming to this bilingual adventure from different places and no one way works for everyone. Wishing you the very best of luck on this difficult, but well-worth-it endeavor towards bilingualism for your children!

17 Eva August 5, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Thank you everyone for all of your time taken to reply. In reading the first handful of replies the message came in clear that I should just learn Greek. It’s quite a bit more complicated that that. My 3 children are 1, 3 & 5. My 5 year old is high needs. My husband works long hours to the point where I feel like a single parent most weeks. I have no time. When we dated I had time. I took 3 levels of Greek language and that was all that was offered. So now I have no time and maybe most importantly I have zero desire and here is why: Once engaged my inlaws were not accepting of me, they insisted their son marry a Greek woman. They said that I was never going to be good enough etc. however, if I converted to Greek Orthodox they would reconsider. I was offended even repulsed by their attitudes. My husband sat back and let all this garbage from his parents continue yet never asked anything of me other than to get married in his Orthodox Church (I am an atheist) and that the children be baptized. I agreed to all of this for him. He did ask that our children learn his language too. This I wasn’t so supportive of initially because I did not see its worth. Nothing about my husband back then was very greek. his parents on the other hand were very pushy and had expectations of their son. Canada is English & French. Learning French I fully understand & support. I came to understand that it was more for him & his family. This was really hard for me since I had very little respect for his family. I moved on to support this as well. Now I am living to regret it. What I need is some flexibility! I need to feel that as his wife and mother of our children that my feelings are relevant. I’ve supported everything and continue to support his language however he can’t even speak English at the dinner table for a tiny bit of family time!!! I would much prefer talking English when mommy is around. I can’t help but think this is all at my expense so that he can impress his parents. We’ve been to couples therapy off and on. First was to have my husband learn boundaries with his family. second time was for the naming of my first born. I was told that I was going to name my son Nikolaos by Nick, my father in law. My son’s name is Evan. Third time for this language issue. The councelors could not work with my husband any longer and after a lengthly time! They fired him. Yes. This is what I’m dealing with. But what is it? I do not feel the issue is for me to learn Greek. It feels like there are things bigger, more important than me and our marriage. I also wish my husband had more support from others with similar language issues. Vilma & Audrey I appreciated your more realistic views without even knowing my full situation. All of you were so honest and kind. The advice was very fair as well, had my situation been different.

18 Corinne August 6, 2013 at 3:19 am

Hi Eva,

I can identify – when I moved to Finland I felt like I was existing in a bubble, the world was going on around me but I was like an onlooker just floating. It was obvious that I would have to learn Finnish – FAST! It’s not an easy language and the first three months were hell, but I was determined and picked everyone’s brains, I did not have time to go to lessons as I was doing a placement at the time, but within 6 months it was coming together and by the end of the year I had dreadful Finnish but I could make myself understood if people were able to wrap their head around the terrible grammar and I could understand most things if people remembered to talk slowly enough.

My German father never even made the effort to speak to me in his own language and so for me German is and always will be a foreign language, so be grateful, even if it is only for your kids sake that he is genuinely interested and hands on about doing his bit to teach them his language and culture.

The culture comments are sooooooo true too. Open your mind, open your heart and think about your children as well as your own needs. My first graduate job was with Reuters using my Finnish language, only 5 Million people spoke the language at the time so do not be mistaken into thinking that any language won’t have any commercial worth and culturally it will make your children richer, more confident and even wow factor at school.

Myngle is a good skype based coaching programme that I have used in the past too, give it a go, it is more flexible than evening school and you can have 121 or group lessons.

Why not start a new initiative at home where the children teach you three new words each a day and one new phrase a day, make a note of them in a book and practice them until you have them fixed in your head and try to use those words and phrases as much as you can, kids are great teachers. When I was learning German I learned 25 words a day and 3 phrases a day, it soon adds up.

Good luck and as my Mum always used to say, if you can’t beat em, join em!

19 Viv August 6, 2013 at 3:29 am

Eva, it seems that your problems are more complex and deep-seated than a mere question of language choice and bilingualism. As you said, you have differences of opinion with your husband, and issues within the marriage and relationship with your in-laws. While all our comments have been well-meaning, I agree with you that it is not advisable to simply “learn Greek” as this isn’t a language issue at all. I wish you all the best going forward, and hope you will find some respite or solution to your worry, be it from a professional or a trusted friend or two. Cheers.

20 Elena August 6, 2013 at 6:03 am

After reading all the comments and Eva’s reply, it is clear that learning Greek won’t solve all your problems – they are not just issues of bilingualism but much more deep seated. If resentment has built up from the beginning then I’m not sure this blog is the most helpful..especially if you’ve been doing counselling for a long time.

I totally empathise with your issues on the in-law front. I was very lucky because my Italian in-laws fully accepted me, and I had very clear and strong boundaries from the start but it is still an issue in my marriage that his family comes first. Yes, it is cultural. It is something that goes beyond language. I can’t imagine what it is like for you, not being accepted. I think it is your husband’s responsibility to deal with his family and you should come first. I can only agree with Viv – this needs professional help or a serious family discussion – help that goes beyond the ‘expertise’ of this forum 🙁

21 Dolinda August 6, 2013 at 4:01 pm

I honestly think your issues have very little to do with the Greek language. As you pointed out you have a lot more serious underlying issues. I totally understand that your husband would want his kids to learn Greek even if it isn’t widely used, especially since he is first generation Canadian (and his parents live in Canada as well). There are plenty of people that have husbands that speak the other language that can teach their kids successfully without alienating their wife. It sounds like you are very turned off by the language because of his parents behavior and not necessarily because you dislike the language. I think it is very sad that you have lost interest in the language because of all the issues with his family, because it is after all part of your children’s heritage.
It sounds like you have tried working on the underlying issues without much succes. You have had some good input here from everyone but unless the underlying issues get resolved I think the language is the least of your problems. Initially I was actually surprised you made it to the altar but from the sounds of it his behavior changed a lot once you started having kids. I am sorry that you are in this situation. Resentment is not a good thing to have in a relationship. I hope your family is able to work through this.

22 Allison August 6, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Dear Eva,

I’m sorry that your situation seems to hinge more on the quality of your relationship and the respect that you feel is lacking from your inlaws and husband, than on the issue of your children’s language learning itself. It’s hard enough to be mother of 3, including a special needs child, then to not feel you’re receiving the love and support you need from your spouse or his family.

Speaking of just the language issue, I have read many times that children do better with language acquisition, if each parent speaks only their native or target language to that child, almost to the extent that the child doesn’t realize the parent knows the other language. So in this case your kids are immersed in English daytime with you and through the larger culture, so it is better for their learning of Greek to almost belive their father only knows Greek, thus as they get older they are less likely to revert to English with him and will be more likely to learn & retain their Greek. In my area is is common when Spanish at home kids get to school they tend to lose their Spanish because they are in an English speaking country and the families often struggle with the kids losing track of their Spanish identity and heritage. So from a purely language case, your husband is doing the right thing to immerse the kids in Greek whenever he is around them. The problem is that he may be intentionally excluding you and/or not showing you the love and respect that you need by letting you be a voluntary partner in this enterprise.

If you can think of learning Greek as a form of learning about your childrens’ heritage and culture, and allowing yourself to become a long-term member of their language community, it may be easier to keep a positive feeling about it. Simple songs, children’s rhymes, labeling furniture and household items with the Greek and English names for things so that you can model learning both languages together with your children may show them a positive example about life long learning, and may also show your husband that you are trying to continue to learn and respect his culture, and this in turn may lead him to lighten up on you. If you can hang onto the thread of the conversation because you recognize some key words you may feel less left out. On the other hand, maybe you need to get a pair of headphones and take to listening to music, greek lessons, books on tape or podcasts when he comes home to distract yourself and give him the idea of how far out you have been left, such that you may as well just take time off from communicating at all if he isn’t going to facilitate including you in some way 😉 Just know that the wiring that is taking place in your kids’ brains from learning a second language will have huge benefits to them in future years and will actually make them smarter, plus give them added opportunities for jobs and life. If you can focus on this understanding of the benefits your kids are gaining, you may be able to feel more positive about them learning Greek, even though your husband has been ham-fisted in his methodology.

It sounds like he has ego, empathy, or machismo issues that have become a signficant roadblock in your marriage. For me, the book Love Languages was a big help to recognize how my husband and I simply have very different styles of communicating, and helped me recognize that his seeming lack of caring was more a case of him communicating in a different “language” that I didn’t understand. Once I got that, I could explain to him more matter of factly that “when you do this, I hear X even though you may have meant Y” etc. Being a parent of small children is a very difficult time and it can be very easy to let anger and resentment build up walls that are hard to tear back down. I hope you will be able to find ways of showing your husband that you are trying to respect his culture and background so that he in turn can respect you and yours.

Ask your husband for his ideas on how he can include you in the conversation in ways that support the language. Can he have the children interpret for you so that you’re all learning? Can he pass you notes to tell you what he’s saying to them? Can you have some alone time together or go into the bathroom to secretly speak English to each other? Remind him that being a strong family is important to the mental health and well being of his children and ask for his help.

I wish you the best. It does get easier as kids get older, but it is important for them to see models of parents who treat each other respectfully and affectionately and I hope you will both be able to show them that.

23 Eva August 6, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Thank you Viv, Elena, Dolinda & Allison

I hate seeing what’s been happening to my marriage and was fluffing off hoping for an easy solution. It seems I am lacking the support I need at this stage in my life and was looking for it here. You’ve given me the final push I needed for myself. I’m just scared of what the professional may say. Divorce is an absolute last and sad decision. I’m still hopeful.

Thank you for your time. Your maturity, sensitivity and knowledge was insightful and helpful. You are all very nice ladies, I can tell:)


24 Eva August 7, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Hi Danau,

As you know, I am very Canadian and this makes me comfortable. This has saved/protected? me from a lot or all of what a migrant would go through while trying to adapt, fit in or live their lives in a dominent country. Thankfully, my great great grandparents did the bulk of this work. Or with the passage of time, the things that mattered most stuck and the rest had been let go of. So I have total freedom to choose whatever, whomever and only the expectation to live well. This is my comfort zone and it is all around me. It is mine and anyone is welcome to join in or make one for themselves. I never lied about who I was. I never acted
differently to anyone. I never pretended to want something different as I loved what I had. Maybe most importantly, I knew and loved who I was when I chose to marry. I never changed after marriage and not after having children (maybe I drive less aggressively).

My husband on the other hand grew up in a bubble. His parents had family here in Canada and the children (my husband included) had cousins to play with. This bubble did not include Canadians. My inlaws felt it difficult to adapt as they met with some examples of unkindness, intolerance even discrimination. They wanted to protect their children and tried to preserve their culture. As it now stands, the Greeks in Greece are much more western than the Greeks in Canada. Change is enevitable. My husband grew up wanting to be accepted. He adapted most in highschool then moved on to feel/act very canadian by university. When he met me he was 32 years old acting very Canadian. I saw him very differently than his parents. Children changed everything as I mentioned. As well, I learned through my sister in law that she and my husband can never repay their parents for giving them life and they owe this debt that can never be repayed. Nuts! Selfish! Or some cultures should never mix until all is out on the table. Thankfully my husband and I are on the same page here. My husband is a gentle and kind soul. Can be self absorbed at times and this is the worst I could think to say. He does not do anything intentionally that causes me to hurt. I don’t beleive so anyway. I tend to think its his programming and does not see outside of this. The counsellors we had were very culturally sensitive! I sought them out hoping for best results. They were hearing we very well and tried to help us find compromise. Something my husbands never been very good at.

Just to clarify, I don’t feel anyone judged my husband. I wouldn’t want that.

I was not initially on board with our children learning the language because of the horrendous anti Canadian girl comments coming from my inlaws. At that time I wondered why they even came to Canada and thought they should be shipped back to their own country! They were discriminating comments. I understand why but that doesn’t change anything. When it became clear to me that it was for my husbands needs, all if which he pointed out, I had agreed. It was very hard but I just focused on him and how much I loved him. He did not whine and take it personally when I initially did not argree as he was feeling victim to his parents as well. He understood why this was hard for me.

As for people who rattle off in English, that would be just like me:) me trying to communicate my needs with all I have in the hopes that I can connect even in the smallest way. It’s happened when I’ve visited many countries. I’ve listened very attentively to Lebanese, Italian, Greek… people who stand before me needing to connect in the hopes I can understand something to help out. I wouldn’t quite put it as rattling on. I usually initiate the game of charades which always works better:).

I’m sorry for your upset and frustrations with past experiences and with your friends Danau. My husband was picked on as a child here in Canada and I want to beat those children up. Parents too. Comfort should not equate to intolerance or a feeling that one is better than the other. Cut your friends some slack. It’s not personal. Help them understand.

So, the cultural issues are cramping my marriage. I will be bringing in a third party as mentioned. Thank you everyone.


25 Beth Ortuno August 8, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Dear Eva,
I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about larger issues. Languages bring up so many deep emotions in us. It sounds like your husband’s experience as a Greek in Canada has some things in common with being a Mexican-American. My advice is not about these larger issues but rather about some practical tips to make your daily life easier.

I do feel “just learn Greek” is too simplistic.

Even though my husband does speak my native language, when I am speaking quickly and casually like a Mom does, he doesn’t get most of what I say to our son, or to his children from his first marriage who are my stepchildren. Then our nieces and nephews start with the teenager slang and he’s lost. He does well to catch sort-of what things are generally about. That requires some compassion and patience from me because I must keep him informed of what I was saying and what the child’s response was. He doesn’t need a word-for-word translation but he does need and deserve to know the highlights. I do the same thing for the grandparents when we see them, as neither set of grandparents can understand the “other” language. I promise, for most situations with small children a ten-minute conversation really and truly can be boiled down to a simple “he’s mad because I won’t let him have a lollipop before dinner”.

As someone who learned a second language well into adulthood I can tell you it does take a serious effort. If you have other commitments (as I did) it can take a very long time even to get to a minimal functionality. I never had time or money for classes or travel or even a computer course. Today, I am truly fluent, so I am proof it’s completely possible. But it’s not a piece of cake. You should get going on doing it without any further delay. In the meantime, if your husband expects you to take a Rosetta Stone course and understand everything, that’s not realistic. He should respond to you when you feel excluded and help you understand the gist of what’s going on. He doesn’t need to take it as a criticism. And you will have to accept that for most situations a blow-by-blow word-for-word is too time consuming, and isn’t necessary. By the time your child gets to anything truly complicated, you will know enough Greek to survive.

My second suggestion may not work for you now, depending on how old your child is, but may be really important for you in the future. Children spend so much time being students and being told what to do (and the world is a confusing place, indeed). They get absolutely thrilled if it turns out they know more about something than a grown-up. As soon as your child can speak at all, even one word, I would suggest having your child “teach you Greek”. The point is not whether you become fluent in Greek. The point is that your child knows you want to be part of everything they are, whatever that is. The reality of parenting is that you could very easily be in a similar situation one day if your child decides water polo is their passion and you know nothing about water polo. Even if you’ll never try playing water polo yourself, you’ll try to share it with your child and understand what’s happening however you can, right?

My last suggestion is about family time. Something that happened by accident in our family is a bilingual bedtime story. Our youngest snuggles up between Mommy and Papi, Mommy reads him a story in English and Papi reads him a story in Spanish (maybe the same story or maybe a different one). We can’t do it that often as my husband works most evenings, but when we can do it I feel this sends a powerful message to our son. Neither parent succumbs to the temptation to get up and check the laundry while the other parent is reading. All three of us sit there together for both stories. It might not be bedtime stories for you. It could be something like you and your husband both taking your child to a cultural event where he is the only Greek or you are the only non-Greek. (That happens a lot for our family at birthday parties!)

I hope this helps. Keep the faith! You’re doing great. Just keep trying. That’s all any of us can do.

26 Eva August 8, 2013 at 11:37 pm

Thank you, you put a lot of thought into what you’ve suggested. I’ll try & switch up the bedtime routine. Wish me luck!

27 Corinne August 8, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Love the idea of doing a double whammy bedtime story all together. My son is too old to go down that track now really but a lovely idea, especially for those Dads that tend not to read to their kids (there are a lot of men that are guilty of this at the book fairs I work at). Thanks for sharing that one.

28 Beth Ortuno August 8, 2013 at 4:09 pm

It is maybe important to note now that I am remembering back on it, when I first suggested it my husband was mildly offended as he thought I was implying he couldn’t read in English…! When you’ve been mistreated as an immigrant it’s easy to take offense like that.
Maybe the crux of my advice to Eva is to take one day at a time. Larger issues of sexism and xenophobia in society won’t be solved by the two of us and maybe we can’t resolve some of our deep feelings about them either. Honestly to survive day-by-day is enough of an accomplishment. Today happens to be our seventh wedding anniversary. Our son is 5. What we’ve done together hasn’t usually been pretty, or smooth. It doesn’t have to be.

29 Beth Ortuno August 8, 2013 at 3:56 pm

p.s. I really hear what you’re saying about in-laws. My husband takes one word from his mother or sister as gospel over anything I say no matter what doctor or expert backs me up. I got used to explaining to random strangers at the mall who asked me about the bracelet my infant son was wearing that looked like a deer’s eyeball (it was a deer’s eyeball — it’s an amulet against “evil eye”). For all I appreciate the beauty of an ancient culture it’s not easy to hold my tongue when my sister-in-law hears what I tell her the doctor said at our apointment today that my son has a virus, then insists on passing an egg over him in the sign of a cross and then crack it into a glass of water so she can read by the bubbles whether it is really a virus or really some kind of spell cast by someone. I can tell you there is a flip side. How my husband views his mother — that’s how he expects our son to view me. I’m up on the Madre pedestal, too. But I had to take a page from my sisters-in-laws’ playbook and observe how they get things done…

30 Corey August 8, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Beth, this comment is truly priceless! I totally cracked up when I read the part about you telling your sister-in-law about the doctor’s visit! I love it!

I can totally relate to living within/between two different cultures, each holding its own in context (but looking completely skewed to the rest of the world). Every time I talk with someone about something odd/backward/different about some country I lived in and they respond with “You have to be kidding me! I would NEVER, EVER accept/do/live with that!! That is crazy!” I smile because I realize that in their world things must feel so very straightforward and clear (something that can never be the case for me, my husband and our children since we have had to learn to live with a mix of cultures).

As much as I love the beauty of my family’s complexities, I also feel the pain of it from time to time since it can be tough when I’m not at my best.

31 Beth Ortuno August 8, 2013 at 5:03 pm

LOL real conversation at my job early one morning:
Coworker: you look tired.
Me: when i got home from work yesterday there were 14 extra people in my house. surprise!
Coworker: what?
Me: yeah, some of my in-laws.
Coworker: “some” of them?
Me: right.
Coworker: oh i couldn’t live like that.
Me: it’s cool. they had washed the stack of dishes that were in the sink, and mopped, and dinner was on the stove. life’s a party.
Coworker: {just shakes head and walks away….}

32 Corey August 8, 2013 at 5:21 pm

I love it! What can we do? We are outnumbered! LOL! I figure I can either learn to love it as much as possible (which doesn’t mean I love it all the time!!) and roll with the punches or be miserable pretty much all of the time. I have learned a lot about my mind and how to make myself see the good in things as much as possible. But boy, it sure takes a lot of work and self control when I’m feeling tired out or frustrated! 🙂

33 Eva August 8, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Thank you Beth!

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