Switch to minority language at home?

Since a few days, my Italian family is staying with us. Suddenly, not Dutch but Italian has become the majority language.

It doesn’t seem to make any difference to our son. He understands both Italian and Dutch, but still mixes the two languages. At his nursery they told me he goes around saying ‘no’ (in Italian) to children when they’re naughty. Moreover, he’s currently in a phase of learning loads of new words, so I see him broadening his vocabulary each day!

Our daughter had to get used to the fact that Italian is the main language now. When my in-laws had just arrived, she was slightly shy and didn’t chat as much as she normally does. After a day alone with her grandparents, she had already become much more confident and just asked me how to say certain words in Italian. Finally she loosened up completely and I even hear her talk to her little brother in Italian. She’s also learning a lot in just a few days!

Should we reconsider our method?

All this got me thinking about our method. Even though we do all kinds of things to offer both Dutch and Italian to our children, now we get to see in practice how fast they develop their Italian once totally ‘immersed’ in that language.

Today, Antonio and I talked about how we find it easier to consistently speak a certain language to a child when there aren’t any real conversations yet. As soon as they start talking back or asking questions, it feels more natural to answer in the language they chose to address you in. I think that does increase the chance of the majority language becoming too dominant.

It’s very important to us to keep things spontaneous. We’d never want to force our children to speak Italian. What we cán do, is speak more Italian at home, so they hear it more often and might speak it more as well. As we see happen now that their Italian family is here.


Exciting! Nonno and nonna will stay for another week. After they leave, we’ll see if a light version of ‘minority language at home’ works for us!

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