Children are like little sponges…or are they?

Children are like little sponges

Is there fake positivity towards being bilingual?

 Mother Tongues has polled parents about their experience of raising bilingual kids with Irish or any other language.  We were interested in finding out more about parents’ experiences and challenges, and whether they felt supported by individuals around them in the journey to bilingualism. These are our main findings:

7.8% of parents do not feel confident passing on their mother tongue to their children.
15.1% of parents feel confident “sometimes”

Responses highlighted the great importance that others played in parents’ own choices and strategies, leaving them vulnerable to opinions, comments, and passing remarks that ultimately can impact the parent-child bond and overall family well-being.

21.1% of parents raising bilingual children in Ireland have faced concern from others that their children are exposed to more than one language.

The main areas of concern from people surrounding the child are that they will “get confused”, that it will “lead to language delay” and that “it may affect their competency in English”.

The two main concerns from parents are that their child will feel or be perceived as "different" for having other languages around them, and being unsure of what language to speak with their child outside the home for fear of how that is perceived by others

The two main challenges highlighted by parents were

“the commitment to stick to the mother tongue”


“a general disinterest in multilingualism and how to foster it from the education settings”

70.5% of parents speak their mother tongue to their children at all times
while 19.9% of parents speak it to their children sometimes
28.9% of children always communicate with their parents in their mother tongue
versus 16.3% who hardly ever do so, deferring to English

Cognisant of the many challenges and opportunities multilingualism poses, at Mother Tongues, we work hard to beat misinformation about language development and bilingualism by engaging with everyone involved in the child’s life and upbringing. When you see how empowering it is for parents and professionals to have access to accurate information and the direct impact this work has on children and families, there is no way back. We want to see everyone in Irish society being positive and well-informed about bilingualism and with our history and linguistic richness, no better place than Ireland to achieve this.

Can a bilingual country have a monolingual mindset?

I listened to the teachers when they were small and didn’t speak my language to them. I feel angry and disappointed in myself as a parent.” Survey comment from a parent.


In some cases, parents have decided to give up their mother tongue after receiving advice from a trusted professional, such as a public health nurse, a GP, a speech and language therapist or an education professional. In other cases, parents tried to shield their children from discrimination by not passing their language on. These children are often expected to be fluent in a language they never had the chance to learn often causing shame and mixed feelings towards that side of their identity. 

Isaac's story

My mother never spoke to us in Irish, her first language. I wanted my children to be fluent in Irish and that’s why we sent them to a Gaelscoil. I love listening to them when they speak Irish to each other. It also saddens me that I am not fluent.” Survey comment from a parent


However, not every aspect of the research painted a challenging picture. In fact, many parents shared very positive insights about raising their children with more than one language. 


It exposes them to culture and identity. It educates them and creates a sense of belonging and acceptance of themselves and others.” 


It can be very challenging at times and exhausting but it is the most beautiful and rewarding experience!


What keeps me going is a strong desire to be able to enjoy a film, a play, a book, etc in my language together when my children are older. To be able to share my culture and my language with them since I don’t have my family of origin close.


Those of us who grew up bilingual understand the complexities of holding onto and embracing either language.” 


It takes a lot of effort and confidence to introduce and maintain a minority language to my child.” 

Your advice matters

Mother Tongues’ advocacy in Ireland involves communicating the value of multilingualism and instilling confidence in parents who want to transmit their language to their children and to practitioners who wish to create a welcoming environment for bilingual and multilingual children. 


Your attitude and advice matter. Find out more about our training and creative multilingual family workshops. If you have any questions, please contact 

*The survey polled 166 respondents nationwide who are parents raising their children bilingually with Irish or a language other than English.

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