To the grand-parents who have bilingual grandchildren

First published in French onthe blog of Multilingual Café - here


Summer holidays are approaching fast. It will be the time for reunions. As grand-parents you certainly await your grand-children living on the other site of the globe or simply in another country because they have a dad or a mum having a different origin than yours.  

You are so happy that the younger generations in your family can speak other languages than your mother tongue, however, you are pondering. Will they be able to understand us? Can they speak my language? What will we be able to do together? Should we be learning the other language that they speak? All those questions are quite normal. Let me reassure you and give you some advice so that you, but also your children and grand-children, will spend great times together. 


First of all, I think, there is no need to worry, everything will go well. As the adult, it is up-to-you to show that you are proud to have bilingual grand-children. However, do not forget: they are not trained seals or monkeys. Do not bring them to your friends to show that they can speak more than one language. Do not keep asking them how you say such and such a thing in the other language. Your grand-children are human beings, not toys. For them being able to speak several languages is normal. So, when they come and visit you, they do not want to be the center of attention. They do not feel different than any other children. You may quickly plunder the trust they had in you, but also the confidence they had in the languages they speak. They also understand more than you may think. So, for example, never say in front of them that you find their accent lovely. Say nothing. You might also stop them fully and they will not speak or very little. They are not with you to be shown as example, they are there to discover their grand-parents, to create bonds with you, to discover where they come from. You are their heritage. 


If your grand-children do not speak your mother tongue as well as you hoped, communication could be a little difficult, a few tricks will help you here and make them at ease. The relationship you are going to create with them is what matter the most. 


So, how can you do if your grand-children speak a language you do not know? Try to overcome it, to overcome this language barrier. The relationship is far more important. It will not necessarily be easy and this might be frustrating, but be patient. Yes, you will need a lot of patience and love. You have to try and create bonds which will make your grand-children willing to learn your mother tongue. You have to find opportunities to make them use that language. Even if your grand-children do not speak your mother tongue, or speak it a little, or speak it with a lot of mistakes, they have heard it. They may not be able to use it properly, it does not matter. Spend time with them. Tell them stories, the stories of their parents when they were children. Another example: you like cooking, so why don’t you ask them to cook with you and then you can have a chat. You can also show an interest in the other language, in trying to learn some words or phrases. Communication goes both ways. 


Grand-parents have to be role model for their grand-children. If you interact with them, they will have pleasure to communicate in your mother tongue, a language they know well, depending on whether their parents tried to pass it on. It is up to you to reach out to them so that they will come to you. Be confident!!! Have confidence in them> 


PS: you can also try and discuss over Skype during the year, to read them stories over Skype… You have to think communication in another manner. It can be a challenge, but it will be very rewarding. 


Please feel free to come back to me if you had any questions, any doubts, I would be delighted to help you and guide you. 


Isabelle Barth

Jeux 2 Langues

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