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My husband is from Portugal and I am an American. We lives in the States and are trying to raise our 3 year old son to be bilingual in Portuguese and English. We speak English with each other. I understand Portuguese very well but it takes a lot of effort for me to speak it.  I grew up in francophone countries and speak French fluently.

I assumed that it would be an easy change to our household for my husband to speak to our son in Portuguese. This has not proven to be. Starting from when our son was a baby, he would always forget to speak to him in Portuguese. I would have to remind him to do it. Now our son is talking but speaks exclusively in English. I’ve read this can be a normal phase with his language development, especially since he is home full time with me, and that he would start speaking in Portuguese at some point.

The problem is that my husband basically doesn’t speak to him in Portuguese hardly at all because he says he constantly forgets. At this point it’s probably 80% English/20% Portuguese and sometimes not even that. My son will speak to him in English and my husband will respond in English and doesn’t even realize he’s doing it. We agreed that when he does this, I would prompt my husband to speak in Portuguese but it’s gotten to the point where the two of them are having a conversation and I’m reminding him at every other sentence to switch over. Often he doesn’t do it because he finds it hard to switch over like that in mid-conversation.

I’ve tried talking to him about it and he’s very prickly about the whole thing. He feels it’s too hard to add this into all the other things we have to accomplish during the day, like clean up messes and deal with tantrums and potty training. I think my husband doesn’t really believe and trust that this bilingual thing will work. He learned English as a teenager and didn’t grow up speaking two languages. I did and absolutely know how well it works and how crucial it is for children to learn the two languages now.

It’s difficult for us to get continental Portuguese language books and DVDs but we have some. There are huge differences between continental Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese and we don’t want our son to be confused by exposure to Brazilian Portuguese. I cannot find another Portuguese person in the Detroit metro area so he can be exposed to Portuguese (and I really looked hard). I tried for some time to speak to my son in Portuguese myself but it takes a lot of effort for me. Sometimes I’ll try and speak in Portuguese when the three of us are together but my husband still forgets to speak Portuguese and will continue to speak in English.

I feel completely lost and not sure what to do. I don’t want to give up because I don’t want to have to explain to my son that we just gave up on teaching him Portuguese because we just couldn’t make it work. But at this point, that would be the truth.

Just to add one last thing, I’ve considered teaching my son French but I feel that his Portuguese identity and culture is what we should be focusing on. I don’t have any family connections to France, I just happen to be an American that speaks French fluently. It’s important to me that my son can communicate with his Portuguese family and have the option of studying or living in Portugal when he’s older. But at this point, that possibility seems more and more remote.

Thank you.


English and Portuguese
3 years old
OPOL (I think)
Annika Bourgogne

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Hi Jill,

I can understand your frustration! Looks like your husband doesn’t really see what a fantastic advantage growing up with two or more languages could be for your child. A few things, like books on the subject, might help (this way the information wouldn’t come from you, but from a neutral source, and he might be more receptive to it). Also, don’t give up looking for other families that are in the same situation as you and whose children are learning and speaking portuguese. Check all possible expat pages for your city (FB, expat sites, there are lots of resouces on the internet), the embassy might also be able to help you. If your husband met others who have made it work, he might be motivated to do the same with your child. If not, at least your son could get exposure to the language through them (playdates, even playgroups in the language?).

Other ideas (just throwing them out there, in case some might work) – how about an au pair from Portugal (or family members who could visit – maybe they could help convince your husband?), or alternatively a babysitter (check for your city, they might have portuguese speaking babysitters). A great site for portuguese is It has lots of resources, also for portuguese from Portugal. Other sites that you might want to check out to look for other portuguese speakers (for ideas or maybe even to locate some close to where you live) are the and Both have also Fb pages that are very active.

all the best (don’t give up!)



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