Essential / Emotional

Even though there may be no explicit or immediately obvious requirement for you to maintain the heritage language, you still feel it as an essential need. Your strong emotional connection to your language and/or heritage can make it hard to deal with any conflict around language use in the family. If your child rejects or refuses  to use the heritage language, it is difficult not to take it as a personal rejection of you. You might feel that you are “a different person” depending on the language you speak, and that, for your child to really know you, you both need to share your language.

Such an emotional connection can have a genuine impact on your mental health – especially when those around you do not understand your needs clearly. Thankfully, in recent years, talking about emotional needs and mental health has become more and more common in society. Unless you articulate your emotional connection, somebody with a different attitude may struggle to understand your needs, leading to potential conflict and misunderstandings. Of course, if everybody in the family shares an equally emotional connection, then this will lead to an intrinsic motivation on the children’s part to maintain their language skills. Remember, however, that needs can and do change, and children (or partners) may have periods in their lives when other needs are more important to them: fitting in at school, or the societal language. At such times, it is especially important to communicate as a family, and to try and find solutions jointly.

Try making “talking about” the language as important as “talking in” the language – not grammar points or tenses, but helping those around you understand the deep emotional connection and need you feel. In some families, this need may come from external family pressures (such as family still living abroad, with high expectations for language maintenance). In such cases, the emotional need to maintain the language can be directly linked to feelings about what it means to be a “good parent”. It is important for you to understand whether your emotional need is internal, based on your own perceptions and beliefs, or external, i.e. imposed by others.

Helping those around you to understand your position may not necessarily make all language-related troubles go away, but it will make sure family discussions around language use happen from an informed perspective. If you are in a relationship and are planning to have a child in future, discussing the roles languages will play in the family can be an important opportunity to get off to a good start.