How can a grandmother support her grandchild’s bilingualism?


I was at one of your lecture/workshops recently – it was really interesting. Thanks for organising this for the community. It was great to get some ideas about supporting minority language retention. As I was walking home, I was contemplating the situation I find myself in as a grandmother. My (the maternal) side of the family all are monolingual English speakers. The paternal side are native minority language speakers. Their small nuclear family came to NZ some years ago. Two of them speak the minority language exclusively to my 2-year-old grandchild. I am interested in learning how I can be supportive of the minority language. What should I not do?


Many thanks for coming along to our workshop. Thanks for the question! As a grandparent, I think there are a number of things you can do:

  • Be careful only to make positive comments about the child’s language skills.
  • Read with the child (I’m sure you do!), and maybe talk about what things might be called in the minority language.
  • They only have your side of the family doing grandparent things in English, so don’t miss out on that input. Things like playing board games or cards that they may do at home, but with you, they will do it in English. Having you boosting the child’s pre-literacy will mean the parents can relax a bit about the child’s English language development. That is one reason why many minority-language-speaking parents abandon the minority language – they feel the child won’t be prepared for ECE/school
  • Learn something of the minority language. This will be a powerful indicator of your approval and that you value the language. Using even a few phrases, e.g. greetings, or table expressions, maybe not with the child, if the parents are using the one-person-one-language approach, but with the adult minority language speakers. Try Duolingo!
  • Make it clear to the adults that you are comfortable with the minority language being used around you, and that you expect and accept that you won’t catch every word, at least until the point above is in action
  • Ask the child’s parents to give you some minority language materials to display on the wall. Linguistic landscape is subtle, but a strong signal that the language is welcome and valued
  • See if you can have some treat material in the minority language at your home which you can produce if you are caring for the child without the parents, e.g. cartoons that the child might normally not be able to watch – Disney films or the like, or maybe some kind of talking book (like a board book that speaks when you press something) or something for the iPad. This will depend on the age of the child.

Hope this helps!