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Hi Everyone,

My wife is bi-lingual Russian / English (born in Russia)
I’m Australian, and speak very basic Russian (and I mean really basic!)

We agreed before our children were born that we were going to try to teach them to be bi-lingual – since the day both of our children were born (the oldest is nearly 4) my wife has only spoken to them in Russian and I’ve spoken to them in English.

My wife is extremely “pure” in the way she is teaching the kids to be bi-lingual – she believes (and I have some sympathy) that if she speaks to the kids in English at all that it will dilute their desire to speak Russian (particularly since we live in Australia – everything that the kids speak when they are at places like child care is in English)

However, I’m feeling for myself that I’m suffering – a very large portion of the conversation that I continually hear at home is in a language that I only partially understand.  Although the kids do speak English (and they speak English to me), I have recently started having the experience of having my wife translating conversations that she is having with the kids in to English for me… an experience which I’m quite happy to have with other Russian family and friends, but which makes me feel stressed when it is with my own children.

I think part of what is going on is that I feel a sense of divide – there is no way for our children to have a single conversation with both my wife and I simultaneously – they can speak to us both in English, but they only get a response from me in English – my wife will respond in Russian.

I’d love to be able to (occasionally) do some activities with my family “as a family” in a single language, but my wife finds this suggestion to be unacceptable.

I have learnt some Russian, and I hope that it will continue to grow slowly over time, but I do not see that it will ever get to native speaker (or even well advanced) any time soon if at all, particularly with my work load at work.

Please don’t get me wrong… I’m all for teaching the kids to be bi-lingual, but I’m looking for some sort of way to occasionally have a single language activity with the whole family.

Does anyone else have experience with this???


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Hi, James,

I’m not yet in a comparable position but we’re trying to have children right now so this is something that I worry about often, too. I’m American, live in France and am married to a Frenchman. The one-parent-one-language system sounds great and I absolutely want my kids to be bilingual. However, language is a very emotional thing for me and I’m afraid of feeling hurt and alienated from my family once in while if French becomes the dominant language of our home life–even though I’m practically bilingual in French and can follow and participate in conversations without a problem.

I hope other people here will be able to give you good advice. I’m interested in hearing it, too. For the moment, maybe you and your wife could arrange a slight variation of your current method: one day a week (or during certain hours of certain days or something), everyone speaks only English to give you a break. Another day everyone speaks only Russian, including you; even if this would seriously limit your conversation at first, your kids might enjoy teaching you new words and you could all learn together. This way, your wife wouldn’t have to worry as much about diluting their desire to speak Russian and you might feel less of a linguistic barrier, which I agree is an awful feeling to have with your own kids! Good luck to you.


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Dear James, I am the mother to a four-year old daughter. Her father speaks only English to her while I speak Latvian.  Before this year, I would have to say that English was her stronger language; however, having spent a full year in preschool in America has certainly effected her language (although she was introduced to Mandarin, a lot of English took place). My point being that due to the fact that you are in Australia and therefore surrounded day and night by language other than Russian, the constant Russian from your wife is more than necessary.  Information your children are taking in through their ears and eyes, whether background conversation, television, radio or conversations with store clerks and bank tellers, this is all in Australian English and the Russian by comparison is so minute, so small in comparison.  How is your Russian understanding coming? Perhaps having your children teach you Russian would be a great way for the family to spend time together, united and not having to have your wife abandon her native language and that which can and will only bring more opportunity and richness to your children’s lives.  Watching videos in Russian and again having the children translate for you, teach you, tell you. Please be patient and understand that raising multilingual children will, of course, require some sacrifice and lot’s of determination from you all. You are, though you may not be feeling so, united in this adventure.   

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Hi James,

For additional ideas, you could read the book “Growing up with three languages.”

The author and her husband practice an extremely strict form of OPAL even though they don’t speak each other’s languages. She deals with some of the emotional, social and family issues that this situation involves.

Since fathers often are the ones who work longer hours and moms, even if they work, often are the ones that get to spend most of the time with the kids, it is even harder for you to feel left out. In many homes, bedtime rituals involve reading books with the whole family. In our family, we all sit together and have a cuddle, even the parent who is not reading that night. You could read books in English while your wife is there, so that this is a special time for you with your kids in English, but you are still together as a family. Another idea would be to teach your kids a skill that only you know, such as a hobby or something like that (for my dad, it was tying flies for fly fishing). That would be a special bond between you in your language.

It’s great that you are learning Russian. Even a passive knowledge of Russian will help you understand the flow of the conversation. You will probably not need to speak it fluently anyway, since your kids will probably not accept for you to speak Russian to them.

Best wishes!


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I am in the same postition with my husband.  We live in America in an area with a lot of Russians, so we sent him to day care a couple days a week in a Russian Day Care.  That way he hears more Russian.  His father speaks only Russian to him.  Mostly I know what is going on still because my son is only 2 and the things I hear are the same over and over – it has helped my Russian.  I choose NOT to get frustrated.  I choose to see that he is getting an incredible gift of being bilingual. It also helps children learn that there are different people and cultures which I think is important as well.  Honestly we haven’t had the problem with the translating yet, but my friend has (who is Check).  She translates for her husband if she needs to, as her whole side of the family only speaks in Check to the kids.  He finds it frustrating, but knows it’s the right thing for the kids.
I guess my advice is to 1. get the Russian Rosetta stone – I love it and am learning a lot – this will expand YOUR Russian and you won’t feel so left out.  2.  try to remember that you are enhancing your children’s future when you get frustrated.  3.  try having the KIDS translate for you – they will learn more that way as well and it might make you feel better.
Good luck!

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Hi James
I am on the other side of the story – my husband is a native English speaker, my native tongue is Serbian and we live in The Netherlands. We are raising our daughter trilingually, I speak to her Serbian only, my husband English and she learns Dutch in daycare. My husband doesn’t speak Serbian (well he knows maybe 100 words max) and even though he constantly says he wants to learn he gets easily frustrated because he is not really gifted for languages and finds it extremely difficult. I understand that he might feel left out if I talk to our 2 year old and he doesn’t understand but on the other side I feel sad when for example we sing in English all three of us while when we sing in Serbian my husband can only hum, at best. Also, when he speaks to me or our daughter we both understand while I have to continuosly translate. He’d always been saying that he will learn Serbian with our children but at the age of two her vocabulary is far better than his. 

I don’t really have a point or useful suggestion, just wanted to share that it is difficult for both sides.
Good luck!
Irina Reese

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Hi James,

I think as your kids grow and topics of conversations become more elaborate, you will discover that kids will try to speak more English at home.  Great news for you, but unfortunately that also means that their Russian skills will start to suffer, if your wife does not keep up the one parent-one language situation. So, I’d say, the more kids are exposed to Russian early on, the better.


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