Have you shared your mother tongue?

If you had asked me before I had children if I was going to teach my kids how to speak Portuguese (I’m fluent) I would have given you a “Hells Yes!” If you had asked my husband if he was going to teach them to speak Greek (he’s fluent) his response would have been the same. In fact we actually had planned on teaching our children how to speak both languages.

Fast forward six years and we’re lucky if our kids know more than two words in either language. What happened? How did the time go by so quickly? Our good intentions were buried in sleepless nights and busy days. Portuguese is my first language, but I think in English and since that is the language that is shared between my husband and I, it’s been hard for us to teach our kids anything but.

My kids are three and a half and almost six. Is it too late to teach them? Do you have a similar experience? Do you have any suggestions for me? I’d love to hear your story.

  • Chantel – momof8crazymonkeys

    I don’t speak another language (other than baby language) but I do have children who are in french immersion and they didn’t start until age 6 (grade 1) and by grade 6 my daughter was pretty fluent.  I don’t think it is too late at all. Go for it!

  • Janey

    I’m italian my husband is greek – our two (5 and 2) speak all 3 languages sometimes in the same sentence and sometimes to the wrong grandmother..

    We’ve gone both ways on this as we speak English to each  other but make and effort to speech our second languages to the kids when talking to them.  It’s hard cause I sometimes throw some greek in and italian in the same sentences cause i can’t remember the italian word.  I know it’s messing with their minds. However we will be sending them to italian and greek school once they reach 6 years old. Just haven’t figured out how it will work – 6 months on language and 6 months the other…crossing bridges daily over here.   :)

    • Mary

      Not sure where you’re located Janey,but a friend of mine told me that there are some schools in York region that offer a $10 Italian class for the month of July. Classes are a few hours everyday.  Haven’t found the same for Greek classes yet!

      • Janey

        WOW!! Totally interested I am in Markham so that would work out for us.  I know that my SIL goes to the Unionville high for Greek for my niece and nephew and pays next to nothing for it. I’ll ask her for the info follow me on twitter @jkastanis:disqus 

  • Mary

    My husband is Greek and I’m Italian. We both said we wanted to teach our girls – 4 and 22 months both languages. We even told our parents to speak to them in Greek or Italian…hasn’t worked as well as we’d hoped (they know more Spanish because of Dora!)but they do understand some words or phrases we’ve taught them thus far. We hope to get them to Greek and Italian school when they’re older. In the meantime, my husband and I are doing Rosetta Stone so that we can learn each other’s language as well.

  • lee-ann

    my son is a year old and i’ve been teaching him simple phrases in vietnamese since he was born. he’ll respond to the commands or phrases i say such as “kiss” or “stand up” or “drink milk”. his dad isn’t too fond of him only responding to commands in vietnamese, but he will be immersed in english soon enough and i think it’s important to know a secondary language.

  • oceanbeauty

    My son is almost 3 years old and have not said one word yet, I speak russian and want him to speak it too. He understands both languages: Russian and English, but can not say a word yet. The reasons for him not talking yet could be: 2 languages at home, being a boy and myself i was a late talker (i was 3.5). My advice not to give up and try again, as knowing another language is always a big plus for their future life!

  • preschoolmommy


    I’m a preschool teacher and what I’m hearing/reading from my studies of language development and my work with speech-language pathologists in supporting children in my classes, is that it is most important to give your child a good foundation in his/her first language (in this case English, as it’s what they hear at home and in daily life).  If they are learning vocabulary/articulation/conversations well and are speaking confidently in this language, they will be able to pick up the others.  (In a couple of years, probably.) 

    (I would suggest that you keep letting them hear the sounds of your languages from time to time, i.e. songs, lullabies, stories now and then, as it becomes harder for them to pronounce and use those sounds otherwise.)  The way to learn both languages fluently from the start, really, is by full immersion–to have each parent speak to the children in his/her language ONLY, which is pretty difficult (especially if there are three languages involved).  Don’t give up on your goal, just give them a few more years to become confident language learners.

  • margarete

    My advice would be to let children listen
    to each language at the “proper” environment, e.g., Portuguese with the Portuguese
    side of the family and to listen to Greek with the Greek side of the family,
    ask grandparents to speak to them in their own languages

    It’s easier if it happens since birth, still
    it’s okay to start later

    The key is, if you aren’t on the run to go
    live to Portugal or Greece (erm, I
    wouldn’t recommend either at this “financial” moment :( ) so don’t need to
    rush on their learning just let them ***listen*** to it


    Don’t feel like you have to teach them as
    if you’re a teacher, just pass on with your legacy and language as a part of it.
    You may always use Portuguese/Greek as “code-words”, some families have
    code-words that are invented. Each one of you may speak to them in each one’s “second
    language” when not all together, don’t let them be confused, the family’s language
    is English.


    Give me your address and I’ll send you some
    books (& music!) (ask for the same from Greek family), even if they don’t
    follow your reading they will acknowledge the printed words, that will be nice
    for the language programming too. I wouldn’t advice to try teaching them to
    write second language before grade 4 once they won’t be using it.


    Remember, if they listen to more than one
    language, additional than family legacy, it “muscles” their language areas ;)

  • margarete

    I don’t know what happened to my comment, all those spaces… :S

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