Dear Abby : Opinions vary on bilingualism
Universal Press Syndicate
June 24, 2008


By Jeanne Phillips

Tucson, Arizona | Published:

DEAR ABBY: I'm writing in response to "The In-Laws in New Jersey" who think their daughter-in-law is rude for speaking a foreign language to her parents and children in front of them. I'm disappointed you didn't point out the opportunity Carmella has to enrich the lives of her husband's parents.

The United States is one of the only first-world nations that does not require its children to learn more than one language, which has left many people feeling that anyone not speaking English is being "rude." Bilingual people can tell you that the pattern of speaking with family in the native language is deeply ingrained and is not easily broken. It isn't intended to exclude others. The in-laws are not out of line to ask Carmella to translate what she's saying, but they could use it as a chance to be a part of their grandchildren's language development.

I come from a bilingual family. My husband is monolingual. We're aware that not speaking English can make him feel isolated, so we do our best to translate to keep him in the loop. This approach has enabled him to start learning the language and he's coming along nicely. Multilingualism is an asset to society not a flaw. Bilingual and Proud, Alexandria, VA.

DEAR BILINGUAL: Thank you for the input. The "In-laws" had let Carmella know the private conversations made them uncomfortable, and I felt a little more sensitivity to their feelings was in order. However, the responses that have poured in offer varied perspectives. Read on for a sample:

DEAR ABBY: I doubt Carmella was speaking the foreign language to be rude. She may not even realize she's doing it. When you have spoken one language to your parents all your life, switching to another is awkward and unnatural. I speak Taiwanese to my parents, but English to all my friends. Your brain automatically changes languages without you even thinking about it. Carmella's in-laws should know she probably isn't doing it to exclude them, but is only doing something that is second nature. Wan-Jen in Utah

● Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.