A: Absolutely not! I work with a lot of internationally living parents, and this is a common misconception; that it would be more valuable for them to use English with their children, to make sure they have English as a “mother tongue”. I’ve even met families who want me to help them change their child’s mother tongue. This is of course not possible, you can change a child’s dominant language, but you can’t change their mother tongue. At the root of the question of prioritising English over a home language is the belief that English is the language their children need most to “get ahead”. It is true that for most internationally living families, English is important. It is also true, however, that English is the language that needs little help in becoming important. We have a very small window, when our children are young, to pass on as much of our minority languages as we can. From the moment our children start in English-language school (or pre-school), English begins its journey to take over. I chose the photo above for the little Pac-man like creature in the corner – I tell parents all the time that English is a Pac-man language; it comes in and starts gobbling up all the other languages that children know, until they are left with only English. That may sound dramatic, but most parents of English-schooled children will find this to be true, and the minority languages become increasingly more difficult to maintain and develop.
So if you are raising a child who will eventually need English, don’t let that interfere with your job of passing on the family languages to your children. Those languages are connected to who they are and where they come from, and will be a critical part of their identity. The early years, before English becomes omnipresent, are the time to develop the family languages as much as you can. Trust that the English will come, and that you don’t need to start any earlier than necessary.