The Emotional Challenge of Speaking the Minority Language in a Majority Language Environment

August 25, 2015

The Emotional Challenge of Speaking the Minority Language in a Majority Language Environment

One of the most-visited posts at this site is What Language Should I Speak in Public with My Bilingual Child?, which has also generated a rich conversation of more than 80 comments to date. The interest in this question surely stems from the fact that this is an issue which in some way, to some degree, affects the great majority of parents seeking to raise a bilingual child.

In fact, scratch the surface of this broad question and you discover the more specific concerns tied to the individual parent and his or her circumstances. These concerns are reflected not only in the comments made beneath the post at this site, but also at a lively thread at The Bilingual Zoo, the forum for further interaction among this audience.

I want to highlight this thread in a blog post because I believe the parents there have done a real service to us all in sharing, very candidly, their thoughts and feelings surrounding what many experience as the emotional challenge of freely speaking the minority language in the midst of a majority language environment.

Like me, I think you’ll find wise and encouraging food for thought in the many perspectives offered in this thread:

Embarrassment over speaking a “foreign language” in public

At the same time, I see this discussion as a glowing example of the value of this forum—the value of community—in considering widespread concerns from a wide range of views. While I hope my blog and forum are a source of support to other parents on their bilingual journey, the truth is, the experiences and perspectives shared by this audience are a continual source of support to my own journey as well. For this, I feel blessed and grateful.

Again, I warmly invite you to join us at The Bilingual Zoo and become an active member of our community. You’re welcome, of course, to simply visit as a guest, anytime, but there are a good number of benefits to becoming a registered member. And though a small annual contribution is requested of members (and regular visitors), to help maintain and enhance the site, this donation isn’t required to take advantage of membership. My goal is to make The Bilingual Zoo community both sustainable and yet accessible to all.

Learn more about becoming a member of The Bilingual Zoo community

How about you? Do you sometimes find it challenging to use the minority language in your majority language environment? Share your thoughts below or add to the discussion at The Bilingual Zoo.

1 Christopher September 15, 2015 at 1:29 pm

I know this is a common concern and searched for a previous post but have decided just to comment so sorry if is addressed already! My wife and I had our first child six weeks ago and since I’ve spoken with her in Spanish only since birth. Given it is also a minority language for myself, but I’m fully fluent (written, reading, speaking) and have performed my job duties in Spanish. We’ve adopted OPOL as our language strategy but my wife isn’t Spanish speaking…how will this affect our plan? My wife and I essentially have to communicate in English and this includes in front of our daughter…any tips as time goes along? We have hired a Spanish speaking nanny and live in Los Angeles, so exposure hopefully shouldn’t be a problem—but I’m thinking about around the house with her.


2 Adam September 15, 2015 at 8:16 pm

Christopher, first, a big CONGRATULATIONS to you and your wife on the birth of your first child! It sounds like you’re off to a strong start, and actively putting the odds of success in your favor. Good for you.

With regard to your question, we can’t really know, of course, how your use of English around your daughter will ultimately impact her bilingual development. This is why it would be best to “de-emphasize” your use of English in her presence, as much as you realistically can. Basically, the more you’re able to emphasize Spanish and “de-emphasize” English during the first few formative years, the better your odds will be of “conditioning” her to communicate with you in Spanish when she begins to speak. For much more on making this work, in practice, please see What Language Should I Speak in Public with My Bilingual Child? (the post at this blog, along with the many comments below it) and Embarrassment over speaking a “foreign language” in public (the thread at The Bilingual Zoo).


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